In 2009, Jared and I quit our jobs in London, rented a Wicked campervan, and drove off into the sunset.
We actually drove to Nottingham, where the closest thing to Robin Hood was this:
They could have used a band of merry men, because the local youth didn’t have much else to do besides loiter around the local Sainsbury’s and ask strangers to buy them cigarettes. (We refused.)
We drove through England to Scotland, took a ferry to Northern Ireland, then coasted across the border to my motherland.
Yes, I’m one of those Americans who feels like she has Irish heritage just because her last name is ‘Fitzpatrick.’
Before you start – I get that I’m not Irish. I am American, through and through. But I still feel a right to make the claim because, dammit, some relative of mine lived there at some point so that blood still flows in my veins.
Also, I’ve got so many freckles I’d like to blame someone.
That’s probably why I always loved St. Patrick’s Day. That, and green is my favorite color.
Or is it my favorite color because of my deluded sense of cultural heritage? We’ll never know for sure.
I’ve been to Ireland three times, but never made it there for the festival of festivals on March 17th.
I didn’t let that stop me from sampling the brew.
I had to. It’s in my blood.
They say the Irish love to drink, but I think they’re missing the point. At the risk of stereotyping an entire country in one sweeping statement, the Irish like to have fun.
You’ve heard about the craic, right?
It’s a whole word that sums up the fun-loving Irish spirit. If a smooth, delicious, calorie-laden pint is part of that fun, then who am I to turn it down?
In the movies, Irish pubs are portrayed as tiny holes-in-the-wall packed with sweaty, laughing people, traditional bands, and impromptu dancing.
It’s all true. The pubs are actually like that.
We found one such pub in Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is one of my favorite towns in Ireland. I am always thrilled by its giant stone castle, because it looks exactly as a castle should – impenetrable, with turrets towering from the vivid green grass to the watercolor blue sky.
As a bonus, it’s home to Kilkenny beer, something I got hooked on in Australia (of all places). I was pumped to drink a Kilkenny in its hometown, wrapped in a shroud of Irishness.
It would be like coming home. Because, you know, I’m Irish and all.
When we arrived in The Field pub, it was late on Monday afternoon. There were three old men hunched over on their bar stools, nursing pints of Guinness. We enjoyed a pint and went back out to explore the town.
When we went back later that night, it was rammed with people. The band was in full swing. The lead singer, a wrinkly, white-haired man, brought down the house with every song. Couples of all ages twirled around the dance floor, clapping and shouting to the music.
A young man from Dublin took the mike for a killer version of “Brown-eyed Girl,” in honor of his birthday.
When he finished, the music stopped abruptly. The old man took control of the mike.
“We’ve got a little entertainment for you tonight,” he said. “The chef here has got a special trick.”
Magically, the dance floor cleared. A stool appeared, topped with a perfectly poured pint of Guinness. The chef strode out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on the back of his checkered pants.
The crowd cheered wildly. These were regulars. They knew what was coming. Jared and I, having no idea, moved from our table to get a better vantage point.
“This man is going to neck his pint of Guinness in under four seconds,” he announced.
“Big deal,” I said.
“…without using his hands!” he finished.
Okay, this I had to see.
The chef put his hands behind his back, bent down, and took the rim of the glass in his teeth. In one swift motion, he straightened up, throwing his head back and necking the entire pint in less than four seconds.
It was one hell of a party trick.
We joined in with the thunderous applause. Jared may even have thrown out a catcall or two.
“All right, all right,” the lead singer said into the microphone. “Now,” he paused dramatically, “do we have any challengers?”
People laughed, but no one stepped forward.
Call it coincidence. Call it fate, if you want. At that moment, the man with the mike cast his gaze on Jared.
“You,” he said. “In the Wombles shirt.”
It wasn’t fate. It wasn’t coincidence. It was because Jared was wearing a t-shirt with a Womble on it.
The crowd threw up their arms as one and roared their approval.
The man took Jared under his arm.
“Where ya from, lad?”
“Australia.” Jared’s deep voice was a stark contrast to the man’s leprechaun-like accent.
“Australia!” he couldn’t believe his luck. “Get this man a pint of Foster’s!”
If you know anything about Australians, you know that they don’t actually drink Foster’s. It was all a big advertising campaign to feed lies to the rest of the world.
A pint of Foster’s was placed on the stool. Jared laughed, started to lean over, then shook his head.
“Okay lad, ya don’t have ta use yer teeth.”
The band and the audience nodded. They didn’t want to be responsible for the poor foreigner injuring himself.
In a move that did Australia proud, Jared sculled his beer in a respectable time. He was allowed to slip back into the crowd, where everyone wanted to buy him a Foster’s.
We returned to the campervan several hours later, sweaty, tired, and full of craic.
Those Irish. We sure know how to make you feel welcome.
So this St. Patrick’s Day, grab yourself a pint of Guinness (Foster’s if you’re Australian). Go nuts.
Don’t worry if you’re not Irish. I won’t tell.