As a result of St. Patrick’s Day falling on a Monday, it was "St. Patrick’s Weekend" here in the UK. So what was it like, compared to the same event in the US?
On Sunday, the very popular rugby team, London Irish, played a match at the local stadium. They brought with them hordes of fans; absolute mobs of them disgorged from the train station and flooded through town, wearing all manner of green clothes, jackets, and hats. I happened to be up at the station and got first-hand exposure to them. Amongst the unusual paraphanelia I noted were little fake leprechaun beards worn by quite a few.
Did I mention that this is all taken very seriously? At the rugby stadium, which sold out (22,000+ fans) for this party, something called The Guinness Village is set up and a serious effort is made to set a record for the number of pints consumed. The news reported that a very fine time was had by all (except perhaps the team, which lost the match). Surprisingly, the town was not torn up or damaged as far as I heard, so this was a polite, well-behaved mob of noisy and very enthusiastic fans.
On St. Patrick’s Day itself, I decided to get over to the nearest Irish pub, O’Neill’s, around 2 PM, for a quick pint and a look at the festivities. Just a fast in-and-out, then back to work. As it turned out, however, it was actually around 8:30 PM when I left for home, clear evidence that I had a very fine time!
In the US, you order a Guinness and you get this black, bitter stuff that’s never suited my taste. Here, there are three flavors: Guinness, Guinness Extra Cold, and Guinness Red. The latter is smoother and more like my favorite, Cafrees, so I’ve become a Guinness Red fan overnight. O’Neill’s itself is a very nice pub, with plenty of room and a terrific staff. There were a lot of revelers, to be sure, but it never became oppressive and it was never packed wall-to-wall the way American bars are on St. Patrick’s Day.
I met three sisters, Erin, Lorraine, and Katrina, sporting "FBI" badges (Full-Blooded Irish), and Sala, a high-school French teacher from Algeria. The sisters were really wild, dancing and hooting and having quite a ball. The whole place seemed to know the lyrics to all the Irish songs the live entertainers played and everyone sang along frequently. Sala wanted to talk very seriously about the choice between Obama and Clinton!
I found it interesting that most name brand draft beer is served to you in a glass with the logo of that brand. So the pub has a stock of glassware dedicated to each brand of beer.
Here’s how Guinness is really meant to be served: the bartender draws beer from the tap and stops about 1" from the top, then sets the glass aside to settle for a minute or two. Then he or she puts the glass back under the tap again, and using a very thin stream, fills the glass while drawing a perfect shamrock in the foam. The glass is delivered to you with a stiff head on it and the neat shamrock etched into it. A very nifty presentation!
One extremely nice thing about the evening was that smoking is no longer allowed in pubs, so I didn’t get a huge dose of second-hand smoke nor did my clothes reek of cigarette smoke when I got home. Quite an improvement over the old days.
St. Patrick’s Day was a lot of fun for me and apparently you can’t go wrong with Guinness because I was fine when I got home and had no ill effects in the morning. Or perhaps it’s my 50% Irish heritage at work? Erin Go Bragh ("Ireland Forever")!
Here are a few photos of the festivities down at the stadium: