We all start becoming a little Irish as St. Patrick’s Day approaches and we dig deep into our gene pools to find a speck of Irish ancestry. According to the 2008 census, almost 12 percent of the US population identify themselves as Irish (not just on St. Patrick’s Day).  The Americanized St. Patrick’s Day has morphed from a religious celebration of the patron saint of Ireland into a drinking fest that has very little to do with the origins of the day. In the spirit of truth, let’s discuss the most common misconceptions about beverages, food and images of the Irish. And, answer the question about the pig.

A popular drink served in American and English pubs is the black and tan. This is the combination of lager beer (usually Harp) and a porter beer (usually Guinness), the dark beer being poured carefully over the light beer so that they do not mix. This drink is not commonly consumed in Ireland, and originated in the pubs of England around 1889. The Irish associate “black and tan” with the Royal Constabulary Reserve Force, nicknamed the “Black and Tans” for the color of their uniforms. The Black and Tans were established in 1920 to suppress revolution in Ireland. Their purported mission was to target the IRA (Irish Republican Army), but they became notorious for brutal attacks on the Irish civilian population. Still craving a Black and Tan? Go politically correct and order a “Half and Half”

On to our favorite Irish beverage – Guinness, one of the only beers that cannot be turned green on St. Patrick’s Day. Ten million glasses of Guinness are served around the world each day and a whopping 1.8 billion pints per year. The Guinness slogan “Guinness is Good for You” may not be scientifically proven, but it is better for you than most other beers. Because of its dark toasty color and rich flavor, most people assume that it is high in alcohol and high in calories. Not true. Let’s compare Guinness to a few other American favorite brews by calorie and alcohol content (per 12-ounce serving). Coor’s Light, 4.2 percent alcohol and 102 calories; Budweiser, 5 percent alcohol and 145 calories; Foster’s, 5.1 percent alcohol and 156 calories; Sierra Nevada  Pale Ale, 5.7 percent alcohol and 175 calories, Sierra Nevada Porter, 5.7 percent alcohol and 194 calories. A 12-ounce Guinness? Four percent alcohol and 126 calories (AlcoholContents.com) A fruit smoothie? Zero percent alcohol and 330 calories.  Smoothies and Guinness are both high in antioxidants.

The Guinness Brewery was founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759 at St. James Gate in Dublin Ireland. On Sept. 23, 2009 a series of music events were organized to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Guinness. The celebration was called Arthur’s Day and raised more than 6 million Euros for the Arthur Guinness Fund. The Arthur Guinness Fund awards monies to social entrepreneurs who are making changes in the world that address anything from bereavement support services to recycling computers for African children. So, 17:59 (5:59 p.m.) is Guinness Time; raise your glass in a toast to Arthur!

And what is our favorite meal to serve on St. Patrick’s Day with our pint of Guinness?    Corned beef and cabbage is so American that President Abraham Lincoln had this dish served for his inaugural dinner on March 4, 1861. In many cultures, salted or corned meats (that were stored over the winter) were brought out in spring to celebrate the change of season. When Irish immigrants started flooding to the United States in the 1800s, they were unable to find their traditional ham or bacon joint to cook with cabbage and potatoes. Many Irish settled in large cities near Jewish communities and found that the Jewish corned beef or brisket had a similar taste and texture to the Irish bacon. And so the tradition began … in America.

Cows were far too expensive and valuable to be slaughtered unless they were no longer producing milk. Cows, if owned at all by the Irish, were used as a nutritional source from milk, cheese, butter and cream. Ironically, County Cork in Ireland was the biggest exporter of corned beef to the world until 1825. The British Army sustained its troops during the Napoleonic Wars on corned beef from Ireland. Francis Shilliday’s poem called “Good Grief — Not Beef” lampoons the American belief that corned beef is a traditional Irish meal in this excerpt:

I just want to put something straight
About what should be on your plate,
If it’s corned beef you’re makin’
You’re sadly mistaken,
That isn’t what Irishmen ate.

To understand some of the stereotypical images of the Irish, a brief history lesson is necessary. Irish independence was fought bitterly by Great Britain. As early as 1798, the Irish were portrayed in British publications as uneducated, lazy savages and incapable of self-rule. If the Irish were able to win independence, then what about India and other British colonies? Irish independence was viewed as a threat to England and to the British Empire. In the 1870s, the British press began dehumanizing the Irish as drunken monkeys, the “Paddy” monster and pigs wearing green bowler hats. The American press, in response to the huge wave of Irish immigration, also began printing insulting images of the Irish in Harper’s Weekly and the Puck.

“You’re as Irish as Paddy’s pig.” Whoa! Pigs became an icon of the Irish around 1840.   The British press used the image of the Irish as pigs to portray them as agricultural, rustic, as well as having an indifference to filth and squalor. The Irish were caricatured as pigs incapable of learning to spell or do tricks and wearing muzzles in an attempt to tame them to British rule. The Irish were portrayed in the press as peasants who wore shabby clothing and carried a clay pipe. They were lazy, drunk and resistant to authority. “Paddy” was the generic term given to this character.

In Victorian England, it was a widely held belief that the Irish and Welsh were more closely related to Cro-Magnon man than the Anglo-Saxons and might even be the “missing link.” Author Jeet Heer (2009) postulates that Homer Simpson’s simian appearance is an evolution of Victorian Irish caricatures of the Irish as ape-like. To this day, it is deemed acceptable to be openly derogatory toward the Irish in the public media.  During a town hall meeting on Sept. 21, 1998, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) declared that “there’s only one ethnic joke that can be told in American politics, and that’s an Irish joke.” Then he proceeded to tell a joke about drunken Irish twin brothers.

There is not much to say about green bowler hats as they did not exist until modern-day St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The green bowler hat was seen in cartoons of Irish statesmen entering into British Parliament after they were first elected in the 19th century. Bowler hats were worn by statesmen and gentlemen during the 1800s. The green bowler hats made fun of the Irish by implying that they did not know how to properly dress and that they were not gentlemen.

So, on St. Patrick’s Day 2011, before you lift your pint of Guinness, take a moment to think about misconceptions we all have toward those whom we perceive as different. Think of the countless immigrants that have faced anger and prejudice. Then don’t forget that 17:59 is Guinness Time and drink a toast to Arthur and his continued good deeds.  Not the least of them was bringing us “The Black Stuff.” Slainte (cheers) and have good craic (fun) on St. Patrick’s Day.  “May the road rise up to meet you”F

Deanna Flanagan is one of the 36.2 million persons in the United States identifying herself as partially Irish American. She works as a nurse practitioner and enjoys a good pint of Guinness.

Patrick Mullins (who claims his parents were up all night thinking up this name) is an Irish national living in the United States.  He owns Celtic Carma, an Aveda salon on Main Street in Ventura.