The Quick Guide to Being Irish-American

If you were lucky enough to have ancestors from the Emerald Isle, there’s a good chance that you consider March 17 an unofficial national holiday. On St. Patrick’s Day, thousands of folks claiming Irish heritage will drink green beer, dance jigs, talk about leprechauns and pots of gold, and celebrate the land of shamrocks and Guinness. As the saying goes, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, so here are a few facts to keep handy when you join in the festivities.


Saint Patrick – The man of the day is known as the legendary figure who drove the snakes from Ireland. Born in England around the year 387, he was brought to Ireland as a slave, escaped, and returned home, only to return to Ireland as an ordained bishop to spread Christianity. March 17 is widely believed to be the date of his death.

Corned beef and cabbage You might hear many people discussing boiled dinner or corned beef and cabbage. This is actually more of an Irish-American custom; the dish is not traditionally Irish. Corned beef is salt-cured and is usually served not only with cabbage but also with potatoes, carrots, and turnips. When cooked correctly, it makes for a delicious dinner.

Gaelic – Also known simply as Irish, Gaelic is the historic language of the people of Ireland and is the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. Though its use declined during British rule, recent revivals of the language have led to more than a million Irish citizens speaking it at least occasionally. Some phrases you may hear on March 17 include sláinte (a toast meaning “health”), céad mile fáilte (“a hundred thousand welcomes”), Éirinn go Brách (“Ireland forever”) and Póg mo thóin (“Kiss my ass”)

The Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland – The island of Ireland is actually split in two: The Republic of Ireland, to the south, is a sovereign state, while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Though much of the military activity surrounding the conflict between those content with British rule and those opposed to it has died down, some tension between the groups remains to this day, particularly in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is traditionally represented by the color green, while orange is more often associated with Northern Ireland (and Protestants). The Irish tricolor flag represents aspects of these two groups, with white symbolizing a hope for peace between them. In the U.S., the Irish flag and its colors are often used simply to display Irish heritage.

Guinness – No discussion of Irish (and Irish-American) St. Patrick’s Day celebrations would be complete without a discussion of the island’s most famous export: Guinness. The stout, originally brewed at St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, is sold in countries around the world and will be consumed by many celebrating the feast of St. Patrick. Popular slogans used to market the drink include “My goodness, my Guinness” and “Guinness gives you strength.” If you’ve never tried a pint, now’s your chance. Sláinte!



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