By Beth Perretta and Amy Jeter
WASHINGTON – While more than 600 Catholics packed the aisles for 10 a.m.
Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Baltimore on Wednesday, a sea of people dressed
in green were greeting the bartender at Looney’s Pub across town in Canton.
Everybody may be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but not everybody celebrates
the same way.
“The young people are in the parades and partying. The old people are in
the churches,” said Richard Farley, president of a Baltimore division of the
Ancient Order of Hibernians. He said “authentic, old-time Irish” are distressed
by the Americanization of the holy day.
But most people contacted Wednesday — even those born in Ireland — said
St. Patrick’s Day does not need to be taken so seriously.
“Everybody wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and I am Irish and I welcome them with open arms,” said Tony Kelleher, an Irish-born musician who
runs Irish and Celtic Treasures in White Marsh.
For the rest of the year, about 4.7 percent of Marylanders are full- blooded Irish, or just over 222,000, according to the 1990 census. That percentage of Irish descendants is 26th highest in the nation — just below
Nevada and just ahead of Texas — and lower than the national average of 4.9
The surge in “Irish” Marylanders Wednesday could be seen at places like
Flanagan’s in Bethesda, where general manager Dennis Walsh said he anticipated
more than 1,000 customers. The restaurant, which usually goes through six or
seven kegs of Guinness beer in a week, expected to tap 40 to 45 kegs for St.
Michael Fahey, who moved to Maryland from Galway 12 years ago and now runs
European Union in Baltimore, said St. Patrick’s Day’s is more popular in America
than in Ireland. He believes it evolved as 19th-century immigrants here “pined
for their homeland.”
Timothy Meagher, director of Catholic University’s Center for Irish
Studies, agreed that, “St. Patrick’s Day as we know it is really an invention of
Meagher said it started as a holy day of obligation to honor the patron
saint of Ireland. But Irish immigrants to America in the late 19th century
brought carousing and revelry to the day when they blended it with celebrations
more typical of Irish agricultural fairs, Meagher said.
Farley, of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, said he believes that many Irish resent the Americanized version of their holy day. He conceded that he was
heading to J.Patrick’s Irish Pub for lunch with his father — but he was going
to Mass at St. Patrick’s first.
“St. Patrick’s Day is a great day for the Irish, but everybody else uses
it as an excuse to get bombed and wear green plastic hats. We don’t appreciate
that,” he said.
But not all Irish agreed that the “blarnification” of the day, as one put
it, is a bad thing.
Mark Daley, better known as “Alien” on WHFS-FM, said that while the day is
replete with gimmicks and stereotypes, it also offers the chance to focus
attention on his homeland. It is “really a great PR gimmick for Ireland, I love
it in that,” said Daley, who is from Belfast.
Kelleher, who moved to Maryland from County Kerry 22 years ago, said that
he had always heard that St. Patrick’s Day was a big occasion in America. His
verdict on the celebration here: “It’s fabulous.”
Kathleen Kilpatric, manager at Misty Isle Imports, said that the store had
been bombarded with business Wednesday. Irish-American Kilpatric said she did
not understand why some were upset about the American version of the holiday.
“There’s no reason people can’t go to Mass in the morning and drink
Guinness at night,” Kilpatric said. “They can do both.”