Some but not all Irish Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day

I am (half) ethnic Irish and I grew up in a city that was as Irish as the Blarney Stone itself. When I was a teen armed with a false ID and a strong sense of purpose (that being to get drunk with my friends) we'd cruise the bars, starting on or near Madison, Lark and State (where I generally lived) in our regular hangouts, but quickly working our way up to the nominal Irish Bars (they were all Irish bars, but only some had Irish names). Somewhere between GJ's and O'Heaney's we would find the bar where Charlie Tapps was hoofing his Irish Tap Dancing act and ... well, join in. If I recall correctly. Which, to be honest, I don't.

O'Heaney's was good to us because they would pretend to not notice the very large coat I would wear. In the coat would be one or two cases of beer (no, this is not an exaggeration). We'd each order a draft Pabst and spend the next hour or two filling that glass with canned whatever-was-very-cheap brand beer from the Pric hopper ("Price Chopper" after we shot out the E and the C). Ah, those were the days.

Saint Patrick's Day in my Home Town

On other non-Saint Patrick's Day days my family would sometimes visit the Hibernian Hall. My father, a player in local politics and related activities, needed to go there on a regular basis just like today, I, as a blogger, have to comment on certain other blogs now and then to show my solidarity with the broader community and stuff. And at the Hibernian Hall we'd see the big glass jar being passed into which Irish Americans who have not been back to their country in decades we were expected to put money to help fund the Revolution.

Well, Fuck the Revolution.

Anyway, later I moved to Boston. This move involved several steps, and step one was visiting my friend Deborah, who was the main motivator in my move (she was trying very hard to get the place she worked ... a small college in Cambridge ... to hire me). I remember now that I visited on March 16th and the next day went into downtown. It was rainy and empty. It was raining because of the juncture of pressure, temperature, and humidity that causes it to rain. It was empty because it was March 17th, and March 17th is a city holiday in Boston.

"Really" I asked Deborah. "Boston makes Saint Patricks Day an official holiday?"

"Not really."


"This is Evacuation Day. By happy coincidence it lands on Saint Patrick's. Ce vrai."

(Deborah often lapsed into Le Francais.)

Evacuation day is this: First there was the Shot that was Heard Around the World, in Concord and Lexington. The British were well ensconced in Boston Proper which did not include Charlestown, north of the city. The Rebels gathered at Charlestown to thumb their noses at the British, so the British sent a well armed and well trained force over the river to kick their collective asses.

(This is where the phrase "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!" was uttered, by a colonial officer as advice to the troops. Useless advice, as it turns out, though we still repeat it today.)

Having been defeated at that battle, known today as The Battle of Bunker Hill, the colonists went to Plan B.

Plan B involved enlisting the help of the enemy, the illegal and largely Libertarian settlers of "Vermont" (not a state or named colony at the time) who were in turn led by the infamous and widely feared (by the British authorities) Ethan Allen.

Ethan Alan and his Green Mountain Boys, "led" by the later to be traitor Benedict Arnold (a distant relative of my bff Lizzie) then marched on a major British Fort that the Americans knew from military intelligence (which up to this moment was very accurate, but apparently not thereafter) contained powerful and movable cannon. The same military intelligence indicated that the fort, Fort Ticondaroga, was garrisoned by a significant British Force. That bit of intelligence was wrong. There were hardly any British troops in the fort. But you couldn't tell that from the outside.


So the colonial force marched up to the force and Benedict Arnold ordered "his" men to stop. He then pranced on his great white horse, adorned with a large feathered cap and a dandy uniform of his own design (Arnold, not the horse, wore the cap and suit) and decalired to the sentry standing above the fort's giant gate: "I am Colonel Benedict Arnold of the American Army. I demand in the name of the Continental Congress that you surrender this for immediately. We have you surrounded and you have no..."

And he was inturrupted by the crack of a bunduerbus as the sentry shot the dandy colonel's hat right off his head.1

Meanwhile Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys snickered in the background well aware of how absurd Arnold must have appeared to the men in the fort.

After Arnold and his Great White Horse hightailed it to a safer position behind some large and sturdy oaks, Ethan Allen himself stepped out of the treeline and approached the horse. He intended to make a medium-length speech that he had been working on, in his head (he could neither read nor write2) for a week.

"My name is Ethan Allen and I am here to de ...."

And he was interrupted by the sharp CRACK of the dead bold on the giant door of the fort being thrown back. The Sentry pushed the door open and exited the fort with his hands held high, and he was followed by six of seven men ... the entire garrison. There was no one else in the fort.

The colonials then seized the cannon, the ammo, and three boxes of uneaten snickers bars, and headed east.


They took the old Mohawk Trail, stopping at the high point near the switchback to grab a snack and look out at Five State Lookout. When they got to Boston, they came to the city from the southwest, and mounted Dorchester Heights, a spot of land that overlooked what was then known as Fort George, the main British stronghold.

The Colonials announced to the British that they were now to leave Massachusetts as soon as possible or their fort would be fired upon by their own cannon, mounted on the Heights. The British refused and sent a company of troops by boat to Dorchester Flatts. Dorchester Flats, as you may guess, is a flat muddy place at the base of Dorchester Heights. The colonials fired at them and drove them back. The British tried a couple of other moves, but eventaully realized that they had been had.

Overnight, the British left the fort via ship, and set it afire. On the morning of March 17th, the Colonials could observe the last details of the Evacuation of Boston, as British Flagged boats set sail towards the Horizon.

And ever since then (or some unspecified time thereafter, I'm not sure) March 17th has been Anti-Gay day, oh, I mean, Saint Patrick's Day in Boston.

When Deborah first told me that story I was charmed, and loved Boston right away. But after a few years, I changed my mind. You see, I moved to Boston right after the famous Bussing Riots, when white Irish yahoos from Dorchester and South Boston were busy burning buses come to take their children to mainly black schools in Roxbury. And soon after my arrival, the Boston Irish got busy making sure that Gay Irish Americans were not welcome in the Saint Patrick's Day Parade. And there was a big fight about that which ultimately lead to this.


I only lived in the city for several months, them moved to Cambridge (got that job at the college) and lived thereafter in Cambridge, Somerville, and Arlington, but never Boston (but it is all one big sprawling metropolis). And over the years I observed this Saint Patrick's day parade fight. And I spent a lot of time at Reproductive Rights clinics battling Ethnic Italians and Ethnic Irish with their holier-than-thou "I'm in charge of your body" shit. And so on.

Boston alternated between annoying me and charming me, and I alternated between being a Boston-Symp and a Boston-Disliker (though never a hater). But Saint Patrick's Day? Kiss my ass, mighty-white anti-gay pro-war holiday!


1It is possible that some of this, especially the dialog and details about gunplay, are made up by the blog author.

2Actually, he wrote a book or two, including: Reason, the Only Oracle of Man: Or, a Compenduous System of Natural Religion

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Ethan Allen published a couple of books. Are you suggesting he dictated them? One, by the way, is an early book on free thought, scathingly critical of traditional religion.

Half the details in that story are made up. The stuff of legend. And an object lesson for all in reading footnotes.

Or, maybe that other guy was the one with the furniture.

Its not cheating. It's revising on the basis of helpful suggestions.

The first footnote ... that much of this was made up .... was there all along. The link to his book, however, is based on your helpful suggestion.

It is interesting that he had this deisitic anti-organized religion book. Often left out of the standard more revolutionary war oriented bios of him.

We also used to celebrate Bunker Hill Day (Flag Day) in June.
And Patriots day (around April 19) often gives us an extra day to work on tax returns.
I've been in this area all my life (thusfar), still haven't been to a Southie St. Patrick's Day parade. Sometimes you need an out-of-town visitor to find an excuse for doing the touristy things.

Patriots day is a Commonwealth ("State") holiday, as I recall. That is the day the shot was heard around the world. In Concord. Concord MA. Not Concord NH.

Greg, Just read this post. Your reference to GJ's brought back memories. It was actually GJ's Gallery located at State and Lark streets. I was a bartender there for about three years in the early seventies. Wild times. I wonder if I ever asked you for your proof of age? You had to be 18 to 'get served' in New York then. I usually worked the Friday and Saturday shifts.

By Larry Delaney (not verified) on 17 Mar 2011 #permalink

Larry, of course I remember you, we've met and you served me a number of beers. Maybe the occasional shot of Jack Daniels. I used to live on the fifth floor over GJ's. I don't remember if you asked me for proof, but I had it handy just in case.

I used to hang out with Steve, who lived in the converted Wells Fargo carriage house and drove the 1K cc Honda, Mike and his brother, Mary Beth from down the street, Applebee the 'Nam chopper pilot, Tex (the guy with the cowboy hat who was not me) to name a few.

I'm blanking on the names of most of the other bartenders... Jack (the silent J in GJ) was my landlord, as he owned the building.

Larry, what I'm not remembering is the other link to you. All the other bartenders, I knew as GJ's bartenders, but in your case there was a second link. Something via SUNY, Archaeology, BOCA, City Hall, Joy Tribe, Refer/Equinox, the Boulevard Bookstore, something. Can't put my finger on it.

Or maybe you worked at a second bar? Justin's? Lark Street?

GJ's was an OK everyday bar, but on St.Patty's Day there was no place better than "The WT" ( the Washington Tavern). And there was certainly no better host than WT owner Michael Byron -- he's still there, still runs a great pub, still does free corned beef and cabbage to the first x customers on St. Patty's Day!