Food and Drink 

Going green for mighty Ireland

Here comes St. Paddy's Day, just one week from today and, though I doubt the RMOW will be dying the local river green like they do in Chicago, a week's notice gives plenty of time to come up with creative ways to celebrate all things Irish - other than sucking back a pint of green beer. Ugh.

Why celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Canada? For starters, many an Irish soul has shaped our fair land over the years, including my great grandparents, who were among the millions who migrated here starting in 1825. Historic painter Paul Kane was also in that early rush.

I like to think that maybe one of my smarter ancestors took up with the pirate queen and chieftan, Gráinne (Grace) O'Malley, likely the best-known person from County Mayo. But in reality they were, variously, ordinary weavers and farmers who got out of Ireland just before the worst of the great famine set in.

About 14 per cent of Canadians - Stompin' Tom Connors, Mary Walsh and Brian Mulroney among them - claim at least a quarter Irish blood today, making them the fourth largest ethnic group in the country.

We Canucks can also lay claim to the longest running St. Patrick's Day parade in North America. Montreal, which sports a shamrock on its city flag, has been hosting a St. Paddy's Day parade every year since 1824. And Labrador and Newfoundland have even made St. Patrick's Day a provincial holiday, with a day off for everyone just as they enjoy in Ireland.

It's also worth a tip of the Irish cap to such a small country if for nothing else than pumping out so much talent: U2, The Chieftans and The Pogues; Gemma Hayes; Roddy Doyle, Oscar Wilde and Mr. Joyce; the whole darn Cusack family, Richard Harris and Patrick McGoohan. I mean, only an Irishman like McGoohan could have come up with the cult TV show, The Prisoner. And Francis Bacon could only have been from Ireland.

Then we've got the potatoes. After a pint of rich and creamy Guinness - one could be grateful enough for that alone - potatoes leap to mind as symbol of all things Irish. And so they should, given they pretty much supported the nation for some 300 years after Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the tuber from its origins in Chile and Peru.

Before the famine years, my ancestors were likely subsisting on three potato meals a day. The potato, mixed with milk, provided a bland but balanced and reasonably healthy diet for farmers. Then the potato fungus hit and half of Ireland emptied out.

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