Today is St. Patrick’s Day, created to celebrate a monk who drove the snakes out of Ireland. Well, not real snakes, just those pesky Celtic pagans. Thanks to my latest writing endeavor, I’ve been researching Vikings, which landed me in scads of fun information about Ireland, particularly St. Patrick. Though history favors the tales of Viking’s invading Ireland and taking slaves to bring back to Scandinavia, it would also seem that the Druids routinely went across the channel to pillage England. Originally, that’s where St. Paddy hailed. Born a rich aristocrat, he only briefly flirted with the church as an occupation before, at the tender age of 16 (or thereabouts), was snatched up by pirates and taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. Held in County Mayo for six years, he tended sheep on cold hilltops. This is where Patty found God.
He wrote a memoir called The Confession that details his enslavement and how his experiences allowed him to comprehend Christ’s suffering. In a dream, an angel came to Paddy and told him it was time to pull up anchor and overthrow the yoke of enslavement. Abandoning his flock, he walked to the coast and negotiated passage back to England where he was reunited with his family and joined the seminary. It wasn’t long before Ireland was calling St. Patrick back, in the form of another dream where a letter spoke to him, saying, “Holy boy, please return to us. We need you.”
You’d have to be a pretty forgiving person to get back on a boat and head across the sea to the land that tethered you to a cold hillside with a bunch of sheep for little more than a crust of bread. Catholicism was just starting to find a footing and it would seem Patty was going to bolster their number. He was a clever man and realized many of the Druidic rituals could be incorporated into his own faith. This left the people with their traditions but allowed them to embrace the Christian god. The Celtic Cross was born from just such an amalgamation. The sun was widely worshipped so St. Patrick took the symbol and superimposed a cross over it to combine the two images. But even though he managed to incorporate many of the pagan rituals (Easter eggs anyone?), there are still many Stone Circles that have survived. There is even one in County Mayo that overlooks the most western point, and I have the pictures to prove it. The Celts used these stone circles (think of smaller, tidier versions of Stonehenge) during their ceremonies and possibly to mark the stars.
St. Patrick’s ministry lasted for over 29 years and seeded over 300 churches. He died in 460 AD and to this day we celebrate his contribution to Christianity as only the Irish can; with copious amounts of beer and merry making. And what would be a trip to Ireland without a visit to the Guinness or Jameson factories for a wee bit of beer and merry making?
The Guinness tour is slick and modern. Located in the heart of Dublin, it was tailored like a Disney experience, herded through levels to ensure proper digestion of guests, information and of course the beer drinking. You start by learning how beer is made, particularly Guinness. Now you aren’t going to get any trade secrets, but the set up is crafted to be an engaging learning experience dotted with waterfalls and equipment from times of yore. Ushered up to the next level, you are entertained by the marketing materials that have dotted the ages encouraging beer drinking by stating its obvious health benefits to its likelihood to make you more attractive. It is cleverly done embracing both old print collateral as well as television and radio commercials. Next, it is all about the perfect pour. As every beer fanatic knows, there is a distinct skill involved, particularly for the pork-chop-in-a-glass that is Guinness. Everyone gets to belly up to the bar, and after brief instructions, shakily attempt a cascading pour resulting in a black glass topped with a caramel colored foam. The best part is yet to come; you now get to drink it. Throughout the tour you have been ushered up floor after floor, each attempting to entertain and educate, but now you are presented with your golden ticket (in the form of a frothy beer glass), and ascend the final steps to their brilliant rooftop bar with 360 degree views overlooking Dublin proper. This was the only congested part of the tour; no one wants to leave.
I know in my previous blogs I give the impression that my alcoholic preferences only skew to wine, but I would never discriminate against a good Scotch or Whisky. In fact, is there anything better than a measure with a dash of water while smoking a stogie on a patio? With that said, there was no way I was going to miss a tour of the Jameson Factory located in the small town of Middleton, about a 3 hour drive southwest of Dublin. It is called the Jameson Experience for a reason, but unlike Guinness’ Disney presentation, this was altogether grownup, dare I say even sophisticated. Located on sprawling lands with farm-chic type buildings, you are worked across their grounds and outbuildings to gain a formative education on the processing of hard alcohol and the love/hate relationship they have with their cousin Scotch. I could inundate you with the particulars but instead I have one strict piece of advice: when you are ushered into the room holding the aging casks and are educated on ‘angel shares’ (the alcohol that evaporates during the aging process while still in the casks), they will ask for several volunteers. You won’t know exactly what it is for but, by god, raise your hand. I’m an introvert but was having a moment of clarity and found my voice. I wasn’t disappointed.
They led us into their tasting room where the lucky volunteers were given 3 different kinds of liquor to taste. One was their flagship Jameson, another an unnamed Scotch and the final an American Bourbon. It was a Pepsi Challenge sort of thing where we had to decipher through taste the superior alcohol. I swear they put out the 20 year or something and found some bottom swill for the others because I had never tasted anything so sweet as the Jameson that was offered in that tiny shot glass, manna from heaven.
On this Irish day of celebration I will tip back a wee drop of whisky in the name of St. Patrick. Sláinte!