The Costumer's Manifesto: Russian Stories, St. Patrick's Day in StPetersburg, 1995 Russian Stories
ST.PAT'S IN ST.PETE 1995
When on the 17th of March the normally dull and staid Anglo-speaking Expat community suddenly goes about dressed in green, our Russian readers might reasonably wonder what is going on.When evening comes, and Irish, English, Canadians, Americans, and Australians all converge in a body on Mollie's Irish Bar and The Shamrock, to drink more beer than even the most liberal minded Russian would describe as advisable, Russians may reasonably fear that the Expat community has collectively lost it's mind.However, not to worry, nothing out of the usual is happening, it's just St. Patrick's Day, one of the more unusual of Western holidays.
It's all connected with the Irish you see.While the Republic of Ireland (Eire) is a small country now, of only 3&1/2 million inhabitants, it once (in 1841) contained 8 million people.When in 1847 a fungal smut on potatoes began to destroy the majority of the food source for the peasantry, people starved in droves, and, more importantly left Ireland in droves.From 1847-1852 over a million Irish came to the USA alone.Irish also emigrated to England, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Canada, South Africa, in short, to anyplace that would take them.Even before the potato famine, Irish had a long tradition of going abroad to seek their fortunes.That famous fictional Irish soldier/adventurer of 18th Century British literature, Barry Lyndon, was drawn from real life.A large proportion of the British army was composed of Irish soldiers right up to WWII.English literature was also significantly impacted by Irish, and Irish descended, authors Sheridan, Wilde, Shaw, LeFanu, Conan-Doyle, Stoker, etc.The English town of Liverpool is almost exclusively inhabited by persons of Irish descent, and Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr, are, you guessed it, Irish surnames.
Emigration to America was much the same.From 1820-1991 nearly five million Irish came to the USA.My own Irish ancestors moved to the USA in 1810, long before the famine, in order to buy a farm, then unobtainable in Ireland.There were Irish born signers of the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, and Irish defenders of the Alamo in 183?, Irish mobs rioted in protest of the Draft during the Civil War in 1860-64, and formed their own Mafia in late 19th Century New York called Tamanny Hall.By 1900, Tamanny Hall was practically City Hall, so thoroughly did the Irish descended control the city governments of New York and Boston.In 1962, John F. Kennedy, the son of an Irish-born bootlegger, was elected President of the USA.Stories are similar in countries all around the world, the Irish came, and stayed, had large families, and climbed their way to the top.So while there are only 3&1/2 million Irish in Ireland, there are 40 million Irish descended in the USA alone, and a completely unknown figure worldwide.They form the largest single ethnic groups in Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand, and are the second largest in England after the English themselves.
This is why St. Patrick's Day is as big a holiday in these countries as it is in Ireland.St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland, because in the early Middle Ages he converted the Irish to Christianity by explaining the notion of Consubstantial Trinity (how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one and the same God, not three gods) by comparing the trefoil leaf of the shamrock to the tripartite nature of the Deity.He and the shamrock (a small clover-like plant) were ever after regarded as sacred symbols of Ireland, much celebrated on his Saint's Day, March 17th.In the 18th Century, an unsuccessful Irish revolution was repressed by the English, who then made speaking the indigenous Irish language (Gaelic), and wearing clothing of the Irish Nationalist color (green) hanging offenses.Irish who wished to defy the British without getting hung wore shamrocks in their caps and buttonholes:shamrocks were green, but not clothing.The Saint's day too became a kind of subversive Nationalist holiday that could not legitimately be suppressed because of its religious nature.
All these traditions were carried abroad with the Irish Diaspora, in particular, to the USA where unusual variations on the holiday sprouted up and spread to the non-Irish population.In America for instance it is so imperative to wear green on St. Patrick's Day that businessmen often own a bright green necktie that is saved for use for that one day a year.The other children without mercy traditionally pinch any hapless child who goes to school without wearing green.Grown adults of Irish descent wear buttons proclaiming, "KISS ME I'M IRISH!"And persons of all nationalities converge on bars with Irish names to drink Irish beer, or even plain American beer dyed green in honor of the holiday.Not only Irish-descended Christians participate in this unusual method of celebrating a Saint's Day, but persons of all races, creeds and National origins (wearing "HONORARY IRISHMAN" buttons) do so as well.More staid celebrations also happen in Irish-American homes, where a traditional meal of Corned Beef and Cabbage (an American dish that was commonly eaten by poor 19th Century Immigrants, mainly Irish, as well as Russian & Polish Jews) is served.Large cities often have parades of Irish-American policemen, war veterans, dancers, and bands on this day too.
Similar celebrations occur all around the globe, wherever Irishmen and their descendants congregate.Moscow even has a St. Patrick's day parade these days.Now that this city is home to not one, but two Irish bars, it is inevitable that this year we expats will be bringing St. Patrick's Day to St. Petersburg.Daniel Hourihan, manager of Mollie's Irish Bar is planning to discount price "all Irish products" ie-Guinness, Harp, Kilkinney, etc. for the day, "pump Irish music" and have employees "dress in fancy costumes" on Irish themes.So if you see leprechauns or archbishops at 36 Rubinsteina on the 17th, you're not hallucinating, you're just having reduced cost Irish beer at Mollie's.
Martin Healy the manager of The Shamrock Irish Bar (adjacent to the Mariinsky Theatre) says of this year's first St. Pat's Day in St. Pete:"I don't think there will be a parade this year here, but we definitely will be creating a real Irish atmosphere at The Shamrock."According to Irish expat Healy this will include not only their usual special dish of Irish stew, but covering the premises with shamrock decorations, Irish live music, and if they can find green food color for sale in the city, green-dyed beer "like they do in New York."How did the find an Irish band in St. Petersburg?They didn't, they got hold of a talented Russian band, which has been practicing Gaelic music since February. Healy thinks it will create the proper Irish-Russian atmosphere for the newest city to embrace the Irish Diaspora.If history is anything to go by, it is likely to be a long and happy love affair for both the Russians and the Irish-Russians.
This article was one I wrote in 1995 for the St. Petersburg Press, but which was never published.