Today, March 17, is Saint Patrick's Day. Which means that it is once agan time for my annual holiday-themed public service announcement:

REAL Irish folks don’t care whether or not you wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day, and they don’t go around pinching those who don’t. So stop it!

I don’t have to wear green every year on March 17, or eat a bowl of corned beef and cabbage, to prove that I’m Irish. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Murphy; you just don’t get any more Irish than that!

So there.

Now, where was I...?

When you grow up in a household where the mother is of Irish descent and the father is particularly proud of his Scottish lineage, there’s bound to be a certain amount of Celtic and Gaelic influence in your upbringing. That was certainly true in my case.

I have written in the past about my father's large and incredibly eclectic music library. Dad's record collection contained what I’m still convinced was the most Scottish bagpipe albums outside of Glasgow and Edinburgh - but it also included nearly as much Irish music, as well.

And I’m not just talking about some of the so-called standards like “Danny Boy” or “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Thanks to my father, when I was very young I developed a love for the work of such Irish folk groups as the Irish Rovers and the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem. 

The famous Clancy-Makem concert album In Person At Carnegie Hall was a special favorite of mine; I put it on Dad’s turntable so often that he became concerned that the record might get worn out, so it became one of the first albums he recorded onto cassestte tape so that I would have a copy of my own.

A few years after that, Dad became enchanted with another Irish folk group - the Chieftains - and began buying every album of theirs he could find. Consequently I, too, became a fan; their tune “Boil The Breakfast Early” still holds a special place in my heart - for reasons that are probably best left to be explained another time - and their group’s several albums of duets with such acts as Van Morrison, Mick Jagger and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band demonstrate in a most entertaining manner how the traditional folk songs paved the way for country and rock music.

Dad and I also developed a love for the solo work of the Chieftains’ founder and front man, Paddy Moloney, the virtuoso performer on the tin whistle, uilleann pipes and bodhrán. As the band leader, he was the primary composer and arranger of much of the Chieftains' music, and composed for such films including The Grey Fox, Braveheart and Barry Lyndon. But Moloney also performed as a session musician for a number of artists, ranging from Paul McCartney and Sting to Don Henley and Stevie Wonder. 

When Dad found out that it was Moloney who played the uilleann pipes on McCartney’s 1984 song “Raindrops,” which appeared as the B-side of the McCartney-Michael Jackson single “Ebony And Ivory,” he went out in search of a copy of that record. As far as I know it was the only Jackson song in Dad’s otherwise extensive collection.

Dad so loved all things Irish that one would have thought that it was him, not Mom, who was the one of Irish descent. His favorite addition to a cup of coffee was Irish cream liqueur, and he always made sure to drop hints to buy him a new bottle every year when Christmas rolled around. His bookshelves were lined with volumes about Irish history and folklore, and some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around Dad reading bedtime stories about the Tuatha Dé Danann, a race of mystical beings from Irish mythology who created a magical storm to drive away Milesian invaders and brought four magical treasures with them when they first came to Ireland. 

As I grew up and became a fan of Star Wars, I often found myself thinking that George Lucas could have made a heck of a movie about the Tuatha Dé Danann; years later, when Lucas developed the story for the fantasy film Willow, I wondered if perhaps those Irish tales might have helped to inspire him after all…

As for Mom - the true Irish scion in the family - she demonstrated her love for that heritage in other ways, particularly in the kitchen. 

As noted earlier I was not - and still am not - a fan of corned beef and cabbage. (I like the corned beef well enough; it's the cabbage that I can’t abide.) Thankfully, that wasn’t the only arrow in Mom’s culinary quiver. I remember she would occasionally make an Irish stovetop potato dish topped with Cheddar cheese that was absolutely incredible.

And then there were the Irish desserts in her recipe box. One, for something she called “Murphy’s Tea Cakes,”  involved combining blueberry muffin mix with cornstarch, sour cream and grated lemon peel, and topped with a simple glaze made from  one egg and one teaspoon of water. 

She made these for a school party one year - I think I was in the first or second grade at the time - and a couple of my buddies liked them so much that they would sometimes beg Mom to make them again even when we were in high school. 

And then there was the time Mom tried a recipe for an Irish cream chocolate tart that proved to be especially a hit with Dad - until he found out that she had raided his stash for the third of a cup of Irish cream liqueur that the recipe called for. 

There was no real argument or the swinging of an Irish shillelagh, but Dad did make sure from that point on that Mom always had her own supply of the liqueur for her baking. 

Mom loved telling stories about her family - and because Grandma’s Murphys were such a big clan, they tended to be the focus of many of those stories. She also loved a good Irish joke, and shared a few of them with me over the years as I was growing up.

One of her favorites involved a rich oilman from Texas who is traveling overseas and includes a visit to Ireland in his itinerary . One night while visiting a town in County Cork, the Texan wanders into one of the local pubs and proceeds to issue a challenge to the local drinkers.

“I’ve always heard that nobody can hold their liquor like an Irishman,” he proclaims. “So I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give $500 in American money to anyone who can drink 10 pints of Guinness back-to-back.”

Nobody takes him up on the challenge - one fellow even gets up and leaves - and the Texan decides that the Irish reputation for hard drinking was undeserved. 

But half an hour later, the fellow who left - named, you guessed it, Murphy - returns and asked the Texan if the bet is still good.

“Why, sure it is,” the Texan drawls as he asks the bartender to line up the 10 pints. When Murphy downs them one right after the other, the Texan expresses amazement and pays up. 

Then he asks, “By the way, if it’s any of my business, where did you run off to after I made the challenge?”

And Murphy repsonds, “Oh, I just went down the street to the other pub to see if I could do it first.”     

(Copyright © 2022 by John A. Small)