Kiss Me, I’m Irish (and sober).

It’s my tenth Saint Patrick’s Day without getting rotted in the name of celebrating my “heritage.” And yet this is the first time I’ve really sat down and attempted to write about what that means.

It’s funny. My last name is McColgan. My mother’s maiden name is Flaherty. HER mother’s maiden name was Coyle. McColgans, Flahertys, Coyles, and Dorseys are all over my family tree. It can’t be mere coincidence that I grew up to be a writer, AND an alcoholic, right?

Nobody loved to get stinking blotto on Saint Patrick’s Day more than I did. It was a lot of fun, until it stopped being fun. And I never wanted to be one of those people in recovery who sneered at everyone drinking their green beer (although even when I WAS still drinking, I never would resort to that fuckery). I do, now, question the sense in honoring what it means to be “Irish” by promoting the stereotype of the falling-down drunk.


(Google “simian caricatures of the Irish” sometime, and then I would respectfully ask you to think about that before you hit the bottle.)

Last year, around this time, I wrote a poem:

Roud 1173

a toast of jameson at the grave
plastic cups a quarter full of
brilliantine amber all around me
as we sing the wild rover and
for the briefest of seconds I forget
that I’m supposed to refuse the cup

we usher our dead through
with tears and poitín
and my hand grasps at air
as I stare at blanched ground
thinking I’ve betrayed my own

an old man next to me
elbows my arm
and whispers

sometimes it’s better NOT to drink

and he hoists his empty hand
to the sky – sláinte – and beams

I can celebrate what it means to me to be an American of Irish descent without a pint (or three) of Guinness. I am not “missing out” on anything today. I was brought up with many other values, and absorbed and observed many fine characteristics and talents from my Irish, and Irish-American, relatives. I love a good story. I can tell a good story. In the bleakest moments, I can find humor. I am fiercely loyal to those who have shown me kindness.

Beannachtaí na Feile Pádraig! Be careful out there.

4 thoughts on “Kiss Me, I’m Irish (and sober).

  1. As an Irish-American (and a former low-grade Irish Dancing champion), this holiday is my least favorite of the year.

    Why? For years and years, I spent the month leading up to St. Patrick’s Day performing in some of the most gawdawful places, and the day itself was usually a dead run of performances from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next morning, for crowds that were increasingly rowdy.

    But, reading this as I drink my coffee, I am reminded of what I do like about St. Patrick’s Day in the States. It really is that one day of the year when being Irish is seen as near-magical.

    Sláinte to a fine writer and a finely written meditation, Ms. McColgan!

    Later this evening, when I curl up with a glass of ginger ale and an old movie, I will think of this essay, this poem, and you, and toast again. Sláinte.

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