Irish or not, dance a little jig!
You’ve heard of the luck of the Irish, but how can you get as much good fortune as possible on St Paddy’s Day? Discover authentic Irish past times you didn’t know about, and learn the surprising history of others.
“Drowning the shamrock”
St Patrick’s Day, March 17, was originally a religious feast honouring the patron saint of Ireland but has turned into a day to celebrate all things Irish. Legend has it that the good luck of the shamrock began when it was a revered pagan symbol, with the missionary Patrick later using its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity (whether he actually did so is up for debate). Today, however, the shamrock remains a secular token of good fortune. In Ireland, it’s considered lucky to “drown” the shamrock. “Traditionally, the shamrock was dunked into a glass of whiskey, the whiskey was then drunk, and the shamrock at the bottom of the glass thrown over the drinker’s left shoulder,” says Christine Kinealy, PhD, director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute and professor of history at Quinnipiac University. “Allegedly, it was St Patrick himself who first dunked the shamrock in the glass of whiskey, after wearing it during his feast day – but this is highly unlikely as he died on March 17, before the day was celebrated.”
“Letting the devil out” of Irish soda bread
Many variations of so-called “Irish soda bread” made with eggs, butter, raisins, seeds and sugar are eaten on St Paddy’s Day. But if you want to keep to the traditional Irish soda bread recipe, use only four ingredients: flour (often wholemeal flour), baking soda (called “bread soda” in Ireland), buttermilk and salt. Historically, this recipe could be made by anyone thanks to readily available ingredients, including using soda instead of yeast for leavening, and because it could be cooked in a cast-iron pot over a flame, as opposed to an oven, which most people didn’t have. But for the bread to be lucky, you have to cut a cross on the top “to let the devil out,” as well as to release steam during cooking, Kinealy says. “In both Christian and pagan (Celtic) traditions, the cross is meant to ward off the devil and protect the household. But, the baking of soda bread was not really a custom until the late 1800s.”