Luck of the Irish


For people who like to par-tay, St. Patrick's Day is a gluttony of beer swilling while trying not to heave. But let us remember: St. Patrick is a religious saint, an icon of godliness.

Yet, apparently, he wants you to toss back treacherous volumes of alcoholic fluids? Doubtful.

I rang up Dublin native Keith Roberts to discuss that. Roberts and his Irish-American rock band Young Dubliners headline Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday.

He says St. Patrick's Day is hedonistic only in America. In Ireland, you're supposed to go to Mass.

"St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. That's the big one. It's a big religious day. And the only thing we did in Ireland was: It was a day off from school, and there was a big parade in the middle of town.

"And the parade was the most uneventful parade you've ever seen in your life."

He says older Irish-Americans would travel to Ireland and march in that parade.

"So we, as children, were scolded to town, all wrapped up in the cold, expecting to see big floats and Mickey Mouses. And all we could see were hundreds and hundreds of elderly Americans in golf pants walking around, waving at us.

"We could never understand why they were in the parade -- what that had to do with anything."

Then, Roberts moved to America. When he was 19, on St. Patrick's Day, he sauntered into a pub called Molly Malone's in Los Angeles. He was a student of acoustic guitar. His heritage was spotted. Someone brought him a guitar and asked him to play a few Irish songs.

"I only knew a handful of Irish songs, because I'd been brought up with straight-ahead rock 'n' roll from Ireland and England.

"Irish music was just something you did in the pubs late at night. You'd sit around with somebody for a laugh."

But at Molly Malone's, he played the Irish songs he knew. Someone put a tip jar in front of him.

"All of a sudden, all these people started throwing money in it. That had an amazing impact on my life. I realized all I had to do was sing a few songs on St. Patrick's Day, and I could be living off that for the rest of the month."

In 1988, he and his buddy Paul O'Toole formed a singing duo, Roberts on guitar and O'Toole on mandolin and harmonica. Then they added American-bred musicians to make it a full band.

Ever since, they've played "massive shows" on St. Paddy's Day. And they do drink. But to reiterate, drinking to excess and rocking big Irish shows on St. Paddy's was at first foreign to the Irishman.

"It's something I'm not sure we could do anywhere else in the world. The whole drinking part of it is really an American phenomenon.

"I never want to burst (a fan's) bubble by appearing totally sober to anybody, either. If they really want to believe that, who am I to take that away from them?"

He claims, if you look at the top drinkers of the world, Ireland's not even in the top 10.

"America is ahead of us. Germany is ahead of us. Russia is way ahead of us."

He thinks the Irish got this overdrinking reputation because pubs are so welcoming. Pubs were "the first Starbucks, if you know what I mean," he says.

"Before there were coffee shops, there were pubs in Ireland on every corner," he says. "That was your whole social life, your whole feeling of community."

Ireland's different now, he says. Coffee shops have come in. Drinking and driving is "a big no-no."

"There weren't a huge number of accidents at 6 o'clock at night on Irish roads. It was never like that. It just became politically correct.

"Now there's a different vibe in Ireland, and it's kind of sad, because I used to love the fact you could hit the pub at 5 or 5:30, and at least three or four of your mates would be there, and you could say hi."

He's never found that exact vibe in an American pub.

And he's not shaken the stereotype that Irishmen drink their pints off. But he doesn't get his knickers in a twist about it.

"I just don't overanalyze life," he says. "People talk about calling Irish people 'paddys,' and I don't give a (expletive). It's a joke.

"(Joking) is part of how we all grew up. We all joked with each other. The man who can't take a joke is the man who would get the most stick.

"And it's a lot better than people going, 'Oh you're Irish, do you wear flowery dresses?' "

Contact Doug Elfman at delfman@reviewjournal. com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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