The “wearing of the green” is mandatory. It not only symbolically pays tribute to the mother country, but also protects the wearer against “being pinched.” Lengthy parades are popular. The one in New York City lasts for many hours and stretches for miles down Fifth Avenue. Boston, which has a large Irish population, also brings out the organizational bands and Irish bagpipers.
It is no secret that the Irish have a reputation for quaffing numerous pints of Dublin-brewed Guinness. On St. Paddy's Day the bars and pubs dye the libation green and it is served generously alongside mounds of corned beef and cabbage. In many a watering hole, from New Orleans to Seattle, it is not unusual for Irish tenors and Celtic harpists to entertain the customers throughout the day (and well into the night.)
Ireland itself is a lush country, noted for its breathtakingly beautiful mountains and picturesque valleys. It is no wonder Irish immigrants loved Harlan County when they ventured to these shores and settled here. It was so much like home to them.
I have visited Ireland several times and have found the people to be friendly, hard-working, hard-drinking, pink-cheeked and full of stories of fairy rings and “the little people.” While they are a superstitious lot bursting with musical talent, they all seem to have “the gift of the gab.”
In other words, they love storytelling and are “full of the blarney.” The word “blarney” has found its way into the English language and means “pleasant talk, flattering and flowery, intended to deceive without offending.” Where did Irish blarney originate?
Five miles from Cork City is a famous castle, Blarney Castle. Legend has it that a person can instantly receive the gift of the gab if he kisses a certain stone on Blarney Castle's outside wall, lying on his back, leaning over backward over a parapit. That's what happened to a shy lad centuries ago, when he was too self-conscious to woo and win the colleen of his dreams. A leprechaun instructed him to do that ritual with the help of four boon companions. Although the instructions were dangerous and the act a seemingly silly thing to do, it worked instantaneously. The tongue-tied lad became an eloquently smooth talker and easily won the affection and hand of his lady-fair.
Hundreds of years later, individuals have continued to believe in the magic of the Blarney Stone. Every day during tourist season, thousands of people line up to lie flat on their backs on a woolen pad, bend over backwards while being held at the ankles by a castle assistant and lowered to a certain stone for the mandatory “kiss.”
On my first trip to Ireland back in the early 60s, I kissed the Blarney Stone on a rainy day. All days in Ireland, mind you, are rainy, although the natives won't admit to it. They refer to the precipitation in the air as its being “a soft day.” Then, it wasn't difficult to climb the 135 circular steps to the top of the castle. On subsequent trips, however, I enjoyed a cup of tea in the gift shop luncheon area while younger legs bounded up the narrow stairway.
“To attain the gift of the gab,” one doesn't actually have to kiss the Blarney Stone in person. If someone, who has actually kissed the stone, kisses someone else, the “gift can be transferred.” I used to tell my Harlan Junior High School students the story of the Blarney Castle ritual. I also told them I could give one of the boys “the gift of eloquence to assist him in courting his sweetheart more effectively. All I had to do was to kiss him.” At that point in the story, I'd grin widely, pucker up and start toward one of my shyest male students. When I reached his desk, he'd invariable bolt for the door and all of us in class had a hearty laugh.
The laugh was on me, though, at the castle during my second visit several years later.
While I was having the aforementioned tea, the courier (tour guide) and I struck up a conversation. He seemed so knowledgeable, I asked him if my family name, Nolan, were a respected one, and does it go far back in Irish history? The guide caught his breath, got a pained expression on his face and started to explain as tactfully as he could, “Well, (pause), the name “does” go waaaay back in Irish history... (another pause), but in the early days, they were awl harse thieves.”
Despite my Irish ancestors being horse thieves in the early days of Celtic history, I'll be a-wearing-o'the green on St. Patrick's Day and leave all those who celebrate with this Irish blessing: “May you have good food and raiment, a soft pillow for your head; May you be 40 years in heaven before the Devil knows you're dead.”