Opening Letters

Don't Kiss Me, I'm Irish

not everyone with Irish roots celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

Katelyn Derricott, photos by Josh Smeltzer |

Of course, it all starts outside of Shenanigans. As my friend and I are walking home from the UW-Eau Claire campus, a drunken guy in a green top hat stumbles right into us. Why is every bar on Water Street packed on a seemingly normal Wednesday night? When I see a girl in a green dress and a headband with glittery shamrocks dangling off the top of her head, I realize what’s going on. It’s St. Patrick’s Day: National Pretend You’re Irish Day. I’m not trying to be the St. Patrick’s Day Scrooge … at least I hope not. I just never associate Irish heritage with “KISS ME I’M IRISH,” pots o’ gold, “cute” little leprechauns, or binge drinking.

Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the Irish. I am Irish. It’s the fact that my family never bought into the St. Patrick’s Day thing. Growing up in the Twin Cities, I felt like I wasn’t a part of my own holiday. In grade school, the “real” Irish kids left school with their parents so they could march in St. Paul’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Meanwhile, all the “non-Irish” kids – decked out in green shirts and eating shamrock cookies – repeatedly pinched me because I forgot to wear green. Wasn’t I Irish enough to ditch school for the parade? I could have avoided all this if my parents celebrated St. Patrick’s Day like the other “real” Irish kids.

Similar to some Euro-American families, my pride in my heritage has been diluted over the generations. While my mom didn’t care enough to take me to the parade, my Irish “Nana” would have made it a mandatory family event. In fact, if she lived closer, she probably would be leading the parade. She and my grandfather – who incidentally is a potato farmer – always sport matching green outfits on March 17. I wouldn’t be surprised if she is making corned beef and cabbage at this very moment.

My Irish father has also been diluted. He is a great listener, calm, and doesn’t drink – the exact opposite of what comes to mind when you think of a stereotypical Irishman. Then there’s my sister, who gets annoyed by every negative Irish stereotype and hates when people abbreviate St. Patrick to St. Patty … or worse, St. Paddy. I’m still trying to make sense of where I stand. Being the youngest, I hardly ever question what the family does. I’ve never received the “be proud of the green, white, and orange” talk, and my mother has never made corned beef in her life. St. Patrick’s Day is just another day on the calendar for us.

If there’s one exception to our Irish ambivalence, and one thing we all can agree on, it’s Van Morrison. Van Morrison (from Northern Ireland) is part of our family at this point. His voice is a regular at our family meals, Easter, Christmas, and my parent’s anniversary. In the summer, my mom props the speaker out the kitchen window, so Van can sing to us when we are outside on the back patio. The whole neighborhood is forced to listen to “Moon Dance” while she shouts along to the words. When I was young, I assumed every family listened to Van Morrison all the time. I think my father still assumes this. All I know is that Van Morrison-filled holidays are essentially the only Irish thing about my family.  

Almost everyone loves St. Patrick’s Day. For many people, it’s just like UW-EC Homecoming: another reason to go out drinking, but this time with a glittery shamrock headband or a leprechaun green top hat. While the Water Street crowd – Irish and non-Irish alike – will be out drinking green beer, my mom will probably be at home cooking something that isn’t corned beef for my dad. My sister in Chicago will walk by the Chicago River downtown and roll her eyes that it’s dyed green. As for me, I’m still not sure where I will be on March 17. I guarantee you that I do not own a glittery shamrock headband, and I have no plans to drink green beer. I guess my only plan is to try to go the entire day without anyone pinching me.

'I don’t dwell on my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day … or any other day. But whenever I hear “Crazy Love,” I think back to when my sister and I were kids, peaking around the corner to see our Irish parents slow dancing in the kitchen. No green top hats. No glittery shamrock headbands. Just a happy Irish couple and Van the Man singing their song.