St Patrick’s Day is fast approaching, and for the 10% of Australians with Irish heritage – and any others who enjoy a good time – that means a day of fun! Irish culture, immigration and settlement in Australia as well as the man himself St Patrick will be celebrated on the 17th of March, the date of the Saint’s alleged death in the 5th century.
St Patrick’s Day
Although technically the holiday is in honour of the most famous of Ireland’s patron saints, St Patrick, it’s really about all things Ireland. That’s food and drink, music, folklore and culture, and of course dancing.
The St Patrick’s Day parades in Sydney and Brisbane are always an impressive site, featuring all the tropes of a traditional Irish celebration – shamrocks, leprechauns, pots of gold, and lots and lots of green.
The Irish were some of the first European settlers to reach Australia in the 1700s as a convict settlement, and over the next 200 years another 300,000 non-convict Irish moved to Australia to make it their home. It used to be that the proportion of Australians with Irish heritage was much higher, although nowadays it’s around 10%, thanks to the influx of other immigrants.
Who Was St Patrick?
As with any historical figure, there is some debate as to St Patrick’s true identity, although it’s commonly accepted that he was a devoutly religious Englishman who converted vast swathes of Ireland from Paganism to Christianity. He is most well-known as the man who drove snakes out of the country, although it’s incredibly likely that these are metaphorical snakes which symbolise Paganism.
What are the Symbols of St Patrick’s Day?
One of the most popular symbols used to celebrate the life of St Patrick is the three leaf clover, or shamrock. This leaf was allegedly used by the man himself to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity – three spirits within one god. They are still often worn on St Patrick’s Day.
Everything tends to be converted to green for St Patrick’s Day – in Chicago, Illinois they even dye the city’s water supply green. Last year the Sydney Opera House was lit up in a bright green at night.
Food and Drink
St Patrick’s Day is a Christian holiday as much as an Irish one, which means that the excessive consumption of alcohol often seen in depicitions of the holiday can seem a little strange. However, Lent restrictions were traditionally lifted on this day to allow the Irish to celebrate their patron saint with alcohol and meat.
Guinness is a favourite drink for the holiday, as the quintessential Irish alcoholic beverage. Other drinks emerge on this day though, including the Irish cream liquor Baileys, Bulmers Cider and any number of excellent Irish whiskeys.
To set yourself up for a day of green food and green drink, why not indulge in an Irish coffee?
An Irish coffee looks a little like a pint of Guinness; a very dark brown body topped with a creamy white head.
- Pour freshly brewed black coffee into a mug, and then add a shot of Irish whiskey and a teaspoon of brown sugar.
- Stir in fully until the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour thick cream over the back of a spoon, raised above the coffee surface – this will help it to float without melting in (whipped cream can also be used).
- Drink through the cream, not allowing it to mix.
And there you have it – a warming, boozy beverage fit for St Patrick himself!
However if your tastes are a little more substantial, try out this recipe for the traditional Irish dish, Colcannon. Pair with soda bread and make a crumble for dessert, and you’ll turn all your friends green with envy.
Colcannon Creamy Mash
- 1kg potatoes
- 1 bunch spring onions
- 250g savoy cabbage or kale
- 2 tbsps butter
- 75ml milk
- Salt and pepper
- Prepare the vegetables by peeling and dicing the potatoes, and slicing the spring onions and cabbage
- Add the potato to a large pot with cold water, cover with the lid and then leave over a high heat until the water boils. Reduce the heat and then simmer. The potatoes should be easily pierced by a fork when cooked.
- In another pot, position a metal steamer, add some water and then bring it to the boil. Add the cabbage (or kale) and steam till tender.
- Remove the potatoes from the heat and drain, then put them back into the pan or a bowl and add the milk and butter. Add more if you like, and mash.
- Add the fresh spring onion and the steamed cabbage or kale, then season to taste. Mix well together.
With this delicious treat and a little imagination, you can transport yourself to the Slemish hills where St Patrick once tended sheep!