When waves of Irish settlers arrived on the American shores, they quickly became an unsettling presence. The largely Protestant population was appalled by the potential impact of this new influx of “papists” on their recently established way of life. “Idolatrous” Irish Catholics were persecuted and their property destroyed, all of which has surely contributed to a strong sense of Irish community in areas such as Boston. Today Irish culture is one of the most widely celebrated in the USA, and in other lands far from the ports from which those first emigrants set sail.
The presence of Irish culture beyond the Emerald Isle has long been pervasive. Its music, with its cheerful tunes often accompanied by paradoxically melancholy lyrics, has always been alluring. Its poets offer us beautiful reflections on the frailty of the human condition. The proliferation of Irish culture into far off regions was echoed in the words of Irish athlete Conor McGregor who, in the early days of his career, proclaimed from the fighting ring that he and his compatriots where “not here to take part, but to take over”. Despite this bellicose rhetoric, Irish cultural imperialism is one that is usually readily welcomed and seldom – if ever – imposed. We need think only of St Patrick’s Day which will soon be celebrated all over the world by people with little to no relation to Hibernia.
It is no secret that Irish culture is often enjoyed alongside a good drink. Whiskey accurately captures the paradox of the Irish allure, blending the ability to lift the spirits while also packing a punch. More commonly associated with Scotland, the drink was most likely an Irish invention. Some say Irish monks invented the elixir, which is sometimes known as “aqua vitae” or the water of life. Whatever the true origins of the drink may be, it is clear that it is of Celtic pedigree and was drunk by the Catholic religious orders of the Middle Ages. This strong alcoholic drink was celebrated as having life-giving qualities, and yet the earliest mention of whiskey in Ireland comes in the seventeenth-century Annals of Clonmacnoise, attributing the death of a mediaeval chieftain in 1405 to “taking a surfeit of aqua vitae” at Christmas.
God’s gifts can bring life, but when abused can lead to corruption and, in some cases, demise. In life, as in so many Irish cultural exports, beauty and pain are never far apart. We see this clearly in the persona of Conor McGregor, that athlete who proclaimed the arrival of the Irish in his sport of mixed martial arts. Despite having a braggadocious demeanour, the Irish bruiser is also frequently photographed at churches and Catholic events. In some shots, he is even surrounded by the friars and religious whose forebears established Catholicism in Ireland and may have invented its national drink. McGregor himself has created his own Irish whiskey, called Proper No.12. Hitting you first with a strong blend of flavours and then slipping down your throat with a charming smoothness, its flavours are a mirror for the contrasts of the culture from which it emanates.
READ ON BELOW…St Patrick’s Day: Irish whiskey is Catholic to the core – Catholic Herald
St Patrick’s Day: Irish whiskey is Catholic to the core – Catholic Herald