Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, or so the saying goes. But a plastic derby and green beer does not an Irishman make.
More than 80 percent of my DNA comes from Great Britain, and more than 50 percent is Irish. With my Celtic roots planted in Counties Clare, Tipperary and Wexford as a descendant of the Kennedy Clan, my kin have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with fervor and reverence.
My upstate New York town was peppered with O’Connors, Dalys, Ryans, Harrigans, Kellys, and a few Smiths and Sheehans thrown in for good measure. As a waitress, I was honored to serve Irish men who crowded around the east end of the bar, smoking pipes filled with cherry tobacco and sipping whiskey, at Horigan’s Tavern and Pub. As they sat on their stools, one foot on the brass rail and one on the floor in case the missus found out and they had to hightail it out of the pub, I picked up a quite a few authentic Irish terms that I will share with you to prepare for the big holiday.
Brilliant: Everything is brilliant to Irish folk. Every. Single. Thing. Food, parties, job interviews, flat beer, a night in the slammer or a trip to the loo (toilet) can be brilliant if you’re Irish. Good, bad, cynical, sad, funny – it’s all brilliant. It just depends on how you say it. “She’s brilliant!” followed by a snort and a chuckle could mean, in it’s U.S. South translation, is something close to “bless her heart.” “He’s brilliant!” uttered with a big earnest smile could mean he’s a great catch of a guy. “Oh, brilliant!” muttered with a sigh could mean the train is late. And so on.
Crack: This is not the same term for an illegal substance. Crack in Irish terms means a good time, news, gossip, conversation or entertainment. It’s used almost as much as brilliant. “That was a right good crack last night!” could be interpreted as “I’m terribly hungover and possibly still inebriated.” “What’s the crack?” is a greeting to a friend.
The Jacks: The restroom. Very important to know after several pints of beer.
Bucketing down or lashing: Ireland gets its fair share of rain so take your pick of the many terms to describe the types of precipitation. Bucketing down or lashing means it’s raining so hard that you really should cancel all your plans and stay in because an umbrella isn’t going to help at all.
I will, yeah: When an Irish person says this, it most certainly means he or she won’t do what you asked.
Grand: Again, meaning the opposite, grand is used when something is mediocre, ordinary, alright or downright bad. However, it can mean good or super depending on how you say it. It’s a lot like brilliant. Grand! Brilliant! We’re covering a lot.
Let’s set the record straight on a few other Irish housekeeping items:
Corned beef: Not Irish, but an Irish-American dish accompanied by cabbage, potatoes and carrots that must be boiled until everything is mushy and several shades paler than before it was cooked. Tastes grand, though.
Beer: Guinness is the most well-known stout, but there are others such as Murphy’s and O’Hara’s or Beamish. If you must drink something other than a stout, try Harp or an Irish red ale.
Liquor: Irish whiskey like Jameson or Bushmills is the drink of choice and should be savored, not shot down like tequila. Baileys Irish Crème or Irish Mist liqueurs provide a tasty alternative.
Music: My suggested playlist for the wearing o’ the green holiday folk songs includes “Whiskey, You’re the Devil” and “Finnegan’s Wake” by The Dubliners, and “Seven Drunken Nights” by The Clancy Brothers.
“Mountain Dew” by The Clancy Brothers “The Unicorn Song” by The Irish Rovers and “Rattlin’ Bog” are fun, PG-rated singalongs enjoyed by little leprechauns everywhere.
If you’re game for Celtic punk, give a listen to “Irish Rover” by The Dubliners and The Pogues, “Shipping Up to Boston” and “Rose Tattoo” by The Dropkick Murphy’s, or Flogging Molly’s “Devil’s Dance Floor.”
“Whiskey in the Jar” by Ireland’s Thin Lizzy is a 1970s bluesy version of the folk song originally made famous by The Dubliners.
With a final rousing rendition of “Irish Washerwoman” by John Sheehan, you’ll be grand and have a brilliant, right good crack of a time. Let’s hope it won’t be bucketing down for celebrations this weekend as we drink our Guinness and wait in the muddy queue for the jacks.
I’ll probably stay in if it's lashing. I will, yeah.
Elizabeth Durocher is a freelance writer living in Mooresville.