In the aftermath, there’s whiskey and blood soaking into the varnished wood floors. The stains grow wider with each St. Patty’s Day past and gone. The shards of broken glass from another wild night fill in the cracks, where the barmen and their push brooms can’t get to them. Another year over, by the Irish calendar.
Although it bears the appropriate nickname “amateur drinking night,” it still stands that if you fail to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day, you fail at life. But before heading out for that first fine taste of spirits and knuckles to the gob, there are some things to take into consideration. Namely, the tunes; the Irish are defined by their legendary music as much as their resilient livers, and you can’t have one without the other.
The conversation can begin in only one place: the Clancy Brothers (and their oft collaborator Tommy Makem) and the Dubliners. They’re the auld Irish standards, ubiquitous entries on any sort of Irish Drinking Songs compilation you might find. Their big red cheeks and silly Aran sweaters might as well be on Erin’s flag.
So that’s where we’ll start, with the eminent singalong chorus “All for Me Grog.” Grog – typically a hot, water-distilled rum with spices – tastes like ass, though, and at this point of the night it’s wise not to have moved onto whiskey yet. Ah, what the hell. A little Bushmills never did any (permanent) harm. Shane MacGowan would approve, and he’s up next with the Pogues featuring the Dubliners doing “The Irish Rover,” a jaunty romp to lift lasses’ skirts to.
Who knows how these things happen? One minute you’re sipping along, listening to the Dropkick Murphys’ “Finnegan’s Wake,” the next you’ve got a pint of Killian’s smashing down on your head. The row and the ruction thus begin. Fists fly, bottles smash; good times. The general frenzy speeds up as Flogging Molly’s “Drunken Lullabies” starts up. The adrenaline’s pumping, so we’ll keep the pace up by going right back to the Murphys and “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” another Irish-traditional-via-punk.
As the first tooth flies out of your mouth, let’s go half-whistling along with some mid-’90s Pogues (when MacGowan was still comprehensible) on the frantic Dylan cover “When the Ship Comes In.” If you aren’t already winded, it’s time to move swiftly to Dublin classic-rockers Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey in the Jar.” It’s not the most toe-tappin’ version you’ll come across (no tin whistle?), but it’s good punch-in-the-ribs music, and the list seems empty without Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott’s wistful rasp.
Now help your fellow Irishman off the ground and get lost in the muddy, post-scrum haze of the Wolfe Tones, John Sheahan and miscellaneous fiddles. A short timeout is called to, ah, refuel as things turn sad. Not sad sad, but musically depressing; someone decided House of Pain’s “Jump Around” would be a funny addition here. Despite numerous groans, we magically find that everyone, somehow, remembers the lyrics. Perfectly. The throbbing knuckles take a break for singalong time and we all hate ourselves for it.
Shane MacGowan’s back on our list again, now in full mumble mode, to call us all gay for that last bit of unity. He pulls the main singing duties on the Dropkick Murphys’ “Good Rats,” a warm and fuzzy ballad about the rats allegedly found at the bottom of Guinness vats way back when in Dublin. It doesn’t dampen the mood, though, mainly because you can’t understand a word of it.
As the last bottles of Jameson are drained and smash down on skulls, the empty kegs pile up out back. All known forms of English morph into a mix of slow Lebanese and slurred gibberish. It’s the quick-paced, Irish talking blues, the ones with lots of fo-le-rahs and hi-de-diddles. This turns things into a comedy bonding session, morphing fighting buddies into singing buddies. Aptly, it’s the Clancy Brothers again – hey, nobody claimed Irish drinking music was diverse – this time with “Johnny McEldoo.”
The Brothers’ canorously whistled opening to “Mountain Dew” turns into a wordless tongue twister in your state, sending spittle arcing across the bar and onto some unappreciative soul. And we’re back at it. Flying elbows and crimson streaks abound. But, hi-de-diddle! A new buddy takes up your cause. It can’t last for long: The pub’s been drunk dry.
Now it turns sad sad. While everyone sorts through the pile of broken teeth for their own, it’s only right to end where we began, with the Clancy Brothers’ “The Parting Glass.” You can sling your arm around your new friends and sway while having a good drunken cry at the sorrow-filled closer; the whispered lyrics echo across the now-silent pub before you wander home, or at least in that general direction.
If you can’t remember any of it the next day, that means you did it right. Apply ice where it hurts and just think: only 182 days until Halfway to St. Patty’s Day. Fill ’em up again quick, lads! Sláinte![email protected]