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How to Fake Being Irish On St Patrick's Day

You're going to do it anyway, so you might as well do it properly.

by Wallace Arkwright
15 March 2013, 12:23pm
(Top photo via)

Pretending to be Irish has long been one of our favourite sports. And you can see why: if you're unlucky enough to have been saddled with a British passport, claiming that your heart belongs in the Emerald Isle because your nan's nan was born in County Wicklow excuses you from being associated with such shameful fare as the Easter Day massacre, the invention of the concentration camp and an unending preoccupation with the Falklands. As the 17th of March comes round again, it's never felt more embarrassing to have a British accent. Sean Connery's retired, George Best is dead, Nigel Farage exists and Ian Watkins is currently a Welsh emo singer in prison on child sex charges. Meanwhile, if you're a Yank, being distantly Irish means you can wear a vest with a flat cap and cry at Dropkick Murphys shows without anyone calling you out on it.

But if there's one day a year when we can forget about all that, it's St Patrick's Day – the day of the great genetic con. St Patrick's Day is Notting Hill Carnival for people who prefer promotional top hats to dreadlock wigs; it's the boat race for people who prefer their homoeroticism with a dash of sentimentality. In America, St Patrick's Day is great; everyone gets really pissed and there's a parade and the mayor talks about how he's got a "little bit of Green" in him. In Britain, however, it's largely terrible, a jamboree of unloved humans annoying the weary minimum-wage staff of Leicester Square chain pubs on freezing Tuesday nights.

This year though, it's on a Sunday, which in Gaelic translates to "Saturday night". So at least you won't have to suffer the effects of those drinks that insensitive, imperialist Brits – one of whom you definitely, definitely aren't – insist on calling "Irish carbombs". It's a terrible time to be British right now, so why not get so drunk you don't remember what country you're from at a quasi-religious festival that has no relevance to your life whatsoever? Here's a quick guide on how to be fake-Irish this St Patrick's Day.

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Look: just because you're a tourist in someone else's (often quite bloody and tragic) past, doesn't mean you have to act like one. If you've got any faint trace of Irish blood in you at all, it'll help when it comes to making small talk at the bar with IRL Irish people. The key is to embellish just how recently and how many of your ancestors stepped off the boat onto the unforgiving docks of the Mersey.

If your nan happens to be from Bicester, just lie and tell your new friends that she's actually one of the few remaining relatives of James Joyce left in Rathgar (this will be a lie, there are shit-tons). Tell them that she kissed the Blarney Stone with Stephen Gately and Brendan Behan; tell them that she did Steve Collins' laundry. Because, unless they happen to have a battered copy of the 2001 census to hand, nobody will ever be able to prove that you're lying. For one brief, dishonest night you'll be alleviated of all that guilt your forefathers laid upon you with their endless "An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman..." gags.

If you don't have the prerequisite drop of Celtic in you, don't worry, there's another way of buying rounds without it looking like some kind of post-colonial appeasement. Claim that Ireland is not just a giant green rock off the coast of Wales, but something more ethereal than that: a feeling, a movement, an idea. Ireland is a state of mind, and that giant green rock is just its central booking HQ.

Claim that you never really understood why British people don't smile at each other on the tube. Tell everyone you saw Lord of the Dance with your mum at the Wimbledon Theatre, and didn't get why the rest of your family preferred Stomp. Emotionally recount how you saw that Aer Lingus advert with "Saltwater" by Chicane soundtracking a raven-haired beauty riding a wild horse down a deserted beach and thought, 'This is where I want to be, and I can get there for just £39.99 if I book before April.'

In Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire), the St Patrick's Day parade is big news. The whole town comes out, they turn the water in the fountains green, there's massive floats made by kids from Southie and Mark Wahlberg makes a speech (I think). It looks awesome, somewhere between a Disneyland ride, a Caffrey's advert and Good Will Hunting. In London, however, it's just like any other crap parade you can think of – a procession of community do-gooders driving around in circles in borrowed flatbed vans.

It starts really early in the morning and no one goes except tourists and people who know other people in the parade, so stay away. Mikey from Boyzone will probably sing a song, but not any of the songs you really want to hear on St Patrick's Day. It's sober, politically correct and you get the impression that Boris Johnson would scrap it if it didn't cost more than £200 to put on.

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Despite the fact that they are to traditional Irish music what Los Lobos were to cumbia, The Pogues aren't actually Irish. While I don't want to become embroiled in a debate about what's on Spider Stacy's passport and what it really means to be Irish, the truth is that while The Pogues have soundtracked a thousand Jameson-induced Christmas Eve snogs and cop show funerals, Shane MacGowan was actually born in Pembury. Which is in Kent, in case you thought that might be somewhere on the outskirts of Limerick. His back-up boys Spider Stacy, Jem Finer and James Fearnley are from Eastbourne, Stoke and Wormsley respectively.

Of course, this is absolutely fine, because what The Pogues actually document is the experience of the misplaced, second-generation Irishman, the one who longs for the old country rather than waking up every day with the sound of flutes in his ears and the smell of peat in his nostrils. It's odd to think that Daniel O'Donnell, The Script and Samantha Mumba are more Irish than The Pogues, but it really doesn't matter. The Pogues are about mythology, heritage and history, and seem to understand what it means to be Irish from a state of exile rather than immersion, like they devoted their lives to doing what you'll be doing on Saturday night. Also, they're just fucking great, so listen to them all the time.

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't really sound anything like the bit in Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping" in which singer Alice Nutter (yep) inexplicably breaks into a kind of Cool Britannia version of it. It's actually quite a sad, down-tempo song that's probably best appreciated as a solo piece by one man refusing to drink up for last orders at a wake rather than a mass sing-along at the Temple Walkabout. It's a song of solace rather than silliness, although chances are that's going out the window as soon as the funny hats come out.

Also, it being written by an Englishman and being relatively un-political or religious, you can probably get away with claiming that you "just like the tune" if somebody calls you out on being British when you're standing on a table belting it out. You can't really do the same for "Fuck The British Army", "Come Out Ye Black and Tans" or "Ooh, Ah, Up the 'Ra", although coincidentally they all also have good tunes. Pussy Riot aside, I guess there's something about political repression that brings out the best in songwriters.

As much as the dancing bit in Titanic would have you believe that all Irish pubs are a guaranteed rollicking good time, that's as much a cultural fallacy as Tom Cruise's Irish accent in Far and Away. Chances are that seeking out the "real" Irish pub experience will probably just get you a couple of funny looks and much slower service if you bust in to a council estate pub in Kilburn wearing your comedy top hats and shamrock sunglasses. In the licensing industry, St Patrick's Day occupies a similar sort of territory to pub golf, an easy money-spinner for chain pubs to capitalise on.

Photo by Flickr user Sebastian Dooris.

What is it with saints' days and dressing up as crappy mythological beasts? Instead of celebrating Isaac Newton, David Niven or Slick Rick, the English insist on dressing up as a Maltese fantasist who claimed to have murdered a dragon with a sword. The Welsh don't even do that, I think they just sort of wave leeks around like something out of a Viz sketch.

As for St Patrick's Day? Well, in a display of respectful subtlety, people get drunk and dress up as leprechauns. Imagine for a second if the French all pulled out strings of onions and rode around on bicycles shouting "onk-ee-onk" at each other and you've got a grasp of what kind of idea that's perpetuating. Also: it's just not a good look, is it? Look at that guy up there; imagine what his penis looks like. I propose that from now on, all Irish people should dress up as WB Yeats or Colin Farrell; dark-haired, devilishly handsome and talented boozers, rather than ginger-bearded career-drunks in dirty green suits.

You think The Simpsons is a pretty smart, well-informed show, right? On the whole, you'd be right. But the fact that in their St Patrick's Day episode (which seems to have been removed from the internet in video form, understandably), there's a scene in which the street parade turns into a riot between the Northern Irish people and the people from the Republic. And it The Simpsons makes such a hash of grasping the Troubles, what makes you think you'll be able to after 12 pints? 

For drunk people with a point to prove, it's even harder. As much as you might want to vent your newfound hatred for the Black and Tans in public, it's probably best to avoid that sort of thing, as: a) you don't know who your audience is, and: b) watching the James Nesbitt version of Bloody Sunday just isn't enough to prove you know what the fuck you're talking about. Swag it out like Obama when he went to Ireland – a friendly visitor indulging in all the local cliches. Just have a nice time and celebrate your 24 hours of Irishness rather than stumbling home bellowing "Tiocfaidh ar la!" into the cold night air like the Martin McGuinness of the taxi rank.

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God knows what they put in that stuff, but you'll wake up with a sink full of foaming Wine Gum-green vomit and a headache like you've just been clubbed with a shillelagh. It'll give you a hangover so bad you'll stick to a quiet, sober St David's day with a Leek Casserole next year.

Follow Wallace on Twitter: @mrwallaceark

Some more stuff about big events everyone gets excited about:

How to Conquer Notting Hill Carnival

A Big Day Out at... the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Party!

A Big Saturday Out at... the Boat Race!

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