Saint Patrick’s Day

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City took place in 1766, and was organized by the Irish members of two British Regiments that were stationed there, organizing themselves into The Society of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick.

Their observances included military men and civilians, who would toast the King (of England, damn it!), as well as the prosperity of Ireland — at least until the American Revolution started.

As the Irish population grew in New York, the celebrations spread to various parts of the city, and yes, to bars and taverns. The “Marching Tradition” took hold when different Catholic parishes around the city organized processions from their churches to the original Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was downtown on Mott Street.

Interestingly, the old cathedral was once attacked by Know-Nothing nativists, which led to a number of riots and other physical exchanges. Part of what led to the friction was a book supposedly written by a young, mentally challenged woman (I’m not making this up), who had converted to Catholicism and purportedly was forced by nuns to have sex with priests for the purpose of providing newborns for some kind of bizarre sacrificial ritual.

Like the Know-Nothings of today, no evidence was required for believing these ranting, leaving them to conclude that the only logical course was to attack the cathedral. They didn’t reckon that the parish fathers might resist, which they did — firing their muskets through holes hastily cut through the church’s outer walls. To keep a watchful eye on the premises, soon afterward the Ancient Order of Hibernians set up headquarters across the street.

It was the Hibernians who In 1891 laid out the parade route that’s still followed, which runs up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, and passed in front of the new St. Patrick’s cathedral in midtown.

Even though there are no floats, autos or exhibits, over 150,000 people march. That would be like lining up every man, woman and child in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and marching them a couple of miles — many in bizarre costumes, some playing archaic musical instruments while others dance. To top it off: they get it done in about six hours.

I’ve gone to the parade before, but usually watched for only a little while because I was supposed to be doing something else — like working.

This year, I decided to make a special trip and bring the camera. The scale of the parade really is astonishing, and it’s amazing that it goes on while all other business in New York proceeds with little disruption.

This year it was very cold, and despite some shivering, I managed to get some interesting shots of the marchers, and a few of the LGBT protestors.

The parade allows no political groups to march, so in effect they ban any group that isn’t concerned in some way with Irish Heritage. I’m not sure they’ll ever change these rules (as the Irish are known for being a bit stubborn), but it is ironic that the parade has become as much a platform for dialog over inclusion, as it is for being a fine way of displaying one’s Irishness.

Here’s the slide show:

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Everything Reminds me of Something Else

I included a picture of New York City landmark bar, P.J. Clarks. Part of my plan was to stop in on my way home for a Pint of Guinness, which would be keeping with a tradition of at least having a pint of Guinness (but not necessarily at P.J. Clark’s).

Alas, the bar was packed to the rafters with similarly minded revelers and I just wasn’t in the mood for fighting my way to the bar. Instead I partook at another pub over on First Avenue, which I would not have done had I known that it would be served to me in a plastic cup.

A beautiful Pint

A beautiful Pint

Guinness Stout is never to be served in a plastic cup, but if there is one day above all others when it should not be, that day is St. Patrick’s day — and they charged me eight bucks, too, which really got my Irish up (which believe me, is none too fearsome).

Did you know that a true vegetarian will not drink Guinness Stout, no matter what kind of glass it’s in? It’s true.

When brewing beer, there’s a process called fining where unwanted solids are removed. To quicken the process, certain agents which are called finings are added to the brew (it’s done in making wine, too), which absorb these solids and are then filtered out of the final product.

I’ve written before how a recipe change can sink you in the brewing business, and this is especially true of a product like Guinness that has a near mythical aura surrounding it. Wisely, the brewers of the product are in no rush to make any changes, so they’ve been making it pretty much the same way since 1759.

The fining Guinness uses in its beer is called isinglass, which is made from dried swim bladder, which is an internal fish organ that helps the creature regulate its buoyancy in water. As a result, a really, really dedicated vegetarian will avoid drinking Guinness Stout.

It hasn’t kept me from having a Guinness from time to time (alright, probably a bit more often than from time to time), but I’m not a vegetarian. I try not to think about the isinglass, as its image wants to crowd out the normal, pleasant evocations brought forth by the black, white-foamed brew, and dampen them with disagreeable memories of cutting bait.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Joe

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