I grew up identifying as Scottish. My name is Scottish. My family went to the Minnesota Scottish Fair every year. We were no strangers to shortbread cookies and bagpipes. The first time I traveled overseas was on a family trip to the motherland. I can tell the difference between casual and dress sporrans, I know how to spell ceilidh, and I’m familiar with every kilt joke on the planet. I’ve also tried haggis. Like I said, Scottish.
But the years passed, and my Scottishness got complicated. I married an Irish-American with dual US-Irish citizenship, a working knowledge of the Irish language, and the ability to do multiple Irish accents (implemented from time to time for great effect). I had an Irish-American daughter, who also – after an enormous amount of paperwork, a government-issued photo ID, and a few hundred dollars – has dual citizenship with Ireland. And my dad did some ancestral digging, which, along with a DNA test, showed that our genes were, in fact, not Scottish, but Irish.
After years and years of Scottish heritage and culture, I suddenly found myself to be Irish through and through. So here I am, slowly figuring out how to imbue my life with Irishness. And as St. Patrick’s Day approaches – the holiday whereupon Americans, no matter their ancestry, celebrate all that is Irish – I’m figuring out how to pay respect to Irish tradition while still embarking in some good old American appropriation and hooliganism. Here are three simple tips to jump-start the process.
Tip #1: Don’t dye anything green.
If we’re being honest, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t really a holiday for the Irish. Ireland didn’t start widely celebrating the holiday until about 20 years ago. Before that, it was primarily an excuse (opportunity, perhaps) for ex-pats to laud their culture and heritage. As it involved drinking and debauchery, Americans snapped it up enthusiastically! And that’s okay. It’s fun to celebrate a nationality, and it’s fun that everyone gets involved, whether or not they’re Irish. Just don’t be gross about it. Nobody wants green beer, or green rivers, or green cereal milk. Okay, some of our toddlers probably want green cereal milk. But ewww.
Tip #2: Learn something!
Admittedly, the Irish language is a little complicated. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Just kidding, it’s insanely complicated. While incredibly poetic – ”good morning” is awfully pedestrian next to “top of the morning to you” – Irish words have many letters that make many unexpected sounds. Niamh? Say Neeve. Siobhán? Shovawn. Saiorse? Seersha.
But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it. Give it a shot with Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh! Now say it with me – Law Ay-luh Paw-drig So-nuh Dweev! Congratulations! That was quite the journey, but you’ve learned a little something about Irish!
Tip #3: Embrace culture through food.
When in doubt, head to the kitchen. Making food endemic to Ireland is an excellent (and delicious) way to embrace St. Patrick’s Day. While there are countless options – boxty, colcannon, black and white pudding, coddle – I’m partial to baking and particularly enjoy a good loaf of Irish soda bread. Every Irish family has its own soda bread recipe, likely hand-written on a heavily stained and thoroughly loved piece of scratch paper and handed down through the generations. There are any number of variations, but it’s always served the same – sliced and slathered generously with butter. What could be better than that?
Irish Soda Bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons sugar
2 cups buttermilk
½ cup currants
Preheat the oven to 450º. Mix dry ingredients together, then add currants. Use enough of the milk to make a soft dough. Working quickly, knead gently a few times to just bring the dough together. Shape into a round loaf, somewhat flattened, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a deep X into the top of the loaf. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400º and bake for another 10 minutes. Bread will be golden brown on top and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool before serving with butter and a loud declaration, Éirinn go brách!