Real Irish Not Dancing Jig Over Bawdy St. Patrick's Day Hi-Jinks

Categories: Local News
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It takes more than a green suit and a buzz to make you Irish...
Bridget McManus' sister-in-law is in town from Ireland this week. And, as you can imagine, today is a momentous day for an Irish visitor. Naturally, she went to church first thing in the morning. After all -- it is St. Patrick's Day. Where else would you go?

While the popular mantra on March 17 is "Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day," the San Franciscans who are Irish the other 364 days a year aren't universally comfortable with that notion. For folks who actually worship instead of worshiping the porcelain god, it takes more than a green, plastic bowler and an elevated blood alcohol content to become Irish.

"There's all that stage Irish stuff -- which gets a little old," said Washington Square Bar and Grill bartender Mike McCourt, brother of Angela's Ashes author Frank. As anyone who's read that memoir could tell you, there were no plastic bowlers in the McCourt household. "On one side I laugh, and on the other it just kind of pisses me off. I call 'em 'Uncle Tom Irish.'"

Joe O'Donoghue, the former longtime president of the Residential Builders Association, hails from Limerick City, same as the McCourts. He notes that, before the San Francisco St. Patrick's Day parade reached its current incarnation of politicians in convertables, green beads, and plentiful girls in short shorts with green stockings, it was a far more solemn and resonant affair.

"It was a day of defiance when laborers, hod-carriers, and plasterers walked down Market Street dressed in their Sunday best," he said of the San Francisco parade's late 19th and early 20th century iteration. "It was an act of defiance to the establishment that still had traces of bigotry in it. It was a marshalling of the forces of Irish men and women getting together and saying 'here we are.' This was the way we celebrated and it was done in a dignified manner."

But those days -- and their "No Dogs or Irishmen Need Apply" ethos -- are long gone. Now everyone wants to be Irish; even Americans with roots in country tracing back before the civil war still raise Irish immigrants' eyebrows by claiming to be "Irish." The subtle religious processions of McManus, O'Donoghue, and McCourt's childhood have given way to large, secular -- and fun -- parades through the streets of Dublin, modeled after American celebrations of the "Irish holiday."

"Oh, Budweiser's taken over there now," says McCourt of the Dublin parade. "Strangely enough, all the kids are drinking Bud -- typical of kids, they rebel against their parents and don't drink what their parents drink. They'll grow up and find out."

He laughs; Irish music loudly blares at the WashBAG, where he's tending bar.

"It's an excuse to go insane, I guess. I would say St. Patrick ruined our culture by showing up. We were fine, happy pagans worshipping trees and jumping each other all over the place and he ruined it by bringing in Christianity." He laughs again.

But St. Patrick's day is at least good for business, no?

"It is. It is."



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