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Gate B

On Thursday, we packed out bags and embarked upon a weekend trip to Ireland. We were excited, as much for the airport Burger King as for the trip itself. We arrived – as suggested by a company whose name rhymes with CryinMare – 3 hours early. This was no problem since that gave us plenty of time to enjoy the aforementioned BK treat. But it did promise a long day.

Our flight time was 15:15, which got us into Dublin at 16:40, which in turn gave us lots of time to meet our friend and to enjoy many Guinness and whiskeys before they gave last call at 11:30. This, naturally, was not to be.

You have no doubt flown and understand the sequence of information one wants and one doesn’t want as regards to your flight. You get in the airport, you check-in, you expect to get a gate and you expect to get calls to go to gate and to board. On a bad date, you find out your plane is late and this puts a crink in any travel day.

As we walked through Duty Free, we noticed that next to the word Dublin was only Gate B. So we went to Gate B. With lots of time to kill, we slept a little, read, deeply considered buying a bag of M&Ms that would feed Guam. I walked around, and cast occasional glances at the pub. But something dawned on me at about 14:45 – we were still only Gate B. No number, no late notification, nothing. Just Gate B.

We felt as if we were lost at the end of the world. This is because the lack of information enhanced an already eerie atmosphere at the airport. These days the airports are slender on staff and as a result they are a shell of their former selves. Shops are gated off, cafes shut down, their chairs stacked on tables. The vending machines are dilapidated, the check-in desks are almost nearly all dark and quiet. It’s as close to the post apocalypse as you might get without actual zombies running around. So not only did we not have a gate number, there was nobody at all to ask. Information desks were empty.

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I Dream of Emails and Movies

The best thing about writing is that you learn something every time you do it. This is true whether it’s information or style that you happen to be learning. Some of my best evolutionary periods as a writer have been when writing a format that’s new to me.

About 7 years ago I got a job writing at Sparknotes. This involved writing humorous short listicles on literature. Sounds right up my alley, yes. However, each section had to 1. be six sentences at most, 2. be funny, 3. convey a lot of information, 4. be an enjoyable read to our target audience, which was teenage girls. This meant my entire catalogue of M*A*S*H references and Johnny Cash jokes were as useless as a bag of popcorn in combat (as were tortured metaphors).

So what I once thought would be right up my alley was a lot harder than it seemed. However, I learned to write for audience and edit down to the demi-glaze of a paragraph. In the end, I developed a whole new level of skill. And plus, I now know that I can make teenage girls laugh.

In a recent moment of insanity, I decided to pitch a screenplay to a director. In an act of almost blatant cruelty, she accepted it and then, in a war crime act, asked me to write it.

“Wait. Write what?” I thought.

It hadn’t occurred to me that she would actually want me to write the film. And so in what can only be described as a mix of horror and terror that we’ll call terrhorr, I sat down at my computer and began writing this screenplay. Fun fact: did you know that a screenplay is made up almost entirely of dialogue!? And with that dialogue and some of your “imagination” a screenwriter is expected to tell an entire story!? And that story is meant to be told in 95 pages most of which is dialogue that’s rarely more than a line? Nope, it’s true.

But wait. There’s more.

I recently apparently drank a waterglass filled with peyote and when I had come to, I had accepted a job as a copywriter for an investment firm. Though I don’t do drugs, it’s the only explanation I have for why I would do this. Now I write copy, emails, SMS templates, and, oh it should be mentioned, I have no idea how to do that!

I sometimes sat alone in my kitchen looking at my computer and wondering what had happened. I never had the answer. But I got to work. And I get to work.

And then, here’s the thing, I am getting better. The first draft of my screenplay was a whopping 180 pages (yes, that’s literally double what it should be). The second draft was 140, the third 120, and now on draft four or five, we’re at about 105. Concepts and edits that were once out of my realm of understanding I have adapted to and can now deal with. Amazingly, what has happened is the creation of an almost-passable screenplay. The evolution is amazing to watch.

At the same time, I find that my brain sometimes now locates the language of corporateese, a language I was an A1 beginner in just two months ago. Not only that, business email structure has become second nature and I have a whole new appreciation for the versatility of verbs.

In sum, don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what it’s going to lead to and how it’s going to help you.   


The Kid Calendar

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Things change for me all the time in my 40s. I wake up to new aches and pains and each week seems to bring with it a new thing on or in my body that has decided to stop working like it used to. I discover hair where once there was no hair and no hair where once hair reigned. My doctor is on speed dial. I look in the mirror and say “huh” a lot and then I invariable follow that with “oh well.” It’s quite a show.

One of the things I miss most about being a kid is enjoying the Kid Calendar. You know, the phases, feelings, and events that influenced and were influenced by the changing seasons and months. When I was a kid, the Kid Calendar was a wholly different one than the one our parents followed. Each event and date on the Kid Calendar meant some new shift or focus for my kid brain.

While my parents’ calendar read June, July, and August, the Kid Calendar combined those all into one thing: summer. This was a huge highlight of the Kid Year. As such it was earmarked for freedom, fun, sunburns, tick inspections, and wounds that would turn light pink under said sunburn. There might be a trip to the ocean, a leniency period on bedtimes and curfews. Summer was a time to spend outdoors. The woods and the Neshaminy River were our daily venue, adventure was the name of the game. If a summer day ended without bleeding or at least one run-in with a deadly creature, then it was not a successful summer day.

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Meditations on Getting my Cat Stoned

The dog loves to play. This is hindered by the fact that the cat hates the dog, everything about the dog, and all things the dog represents and embodies. The cat voices this distaste with an almost constant meowing that sends my blood pressure through the stratosphere.

Oh, this wouldn’t be so bad (I can always drink) except the cat comes equipped with scimitar-like claws and the dog has no snout. My nightmare machine produces lots of clashes between those claws and my dog’s unprotected eyes. We have considered getting the dog a pair of goggles, but then that would raise lots of internal questions about who I have become as a person that I’d rather avoid right now. Instead, I brought the cat to the vet. The veterinarian found that the cat has a minor back problem and suggested CBD (cannabis) oil to help her relax and to not be such an asshole.

It’s an unusual event leaving a vet’s office with a bottle of cannabis oil for your cat. I was reminded of those days in college when I’d leave a shady house with a baggie paranoid that I smelled like a skunk. I went to the grocery store and bought the cat some treats as the vet said her appetite would increase. Or, in the parlance of the lifestyle, she would get the munchies. Instinctively, I picked myself up some cookies and a can of Pringles, because you never know when you might get a contact high, or accidentally take 4-8 drops of the oil yourself.

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On the Road Again

It’s on the tram on Monday morning that I realize I’m having something of a lowkey panic attack. To be fair, I’m not hyperventilating and my heart isn’t racing. It’s more that I am sweating and wishing everyone around me would magically rush off the tram at the next stop.

It occurs to me that it’s because I am doing something for the first time in two years. I am going to work. In pants. Oh, like many, I’ve worked solidly throughout the pandemic. I’ve taught, edited, given workshops, and written coursebooks and magazine articles consistently over the last 19 months. All online. All in loungewear. There is very little traffic between my bed and my computer in the living room twenty feet away. I have to contest with a grumpy cat and a permanently hungry dog, but that’s all.

This is the first time I’ve been on public transport, surrounded by commuters, early in the morning in almost 18 months. And I don’t like it.

OK, I like it a little. I’m out of the house, I’ll see other people today in person. This means I can pat a friend’s shoulder or, theoretically at least, pummel into oblivion a student who refuses to do their homework. My lunch is in my bag, my shoes are tied, I am reading. I feel almost like I’ve been removed from the workforce and this is my first day back, which it sort of is. I decide to enjoy it.

I do. But I don’t. Did you know that when students are sitting in front of you in the same room, they can see when you scratch yourself? They can also hear the aggravated asides you make even if you hit the ‘mute’ button. There’s no escape. There are no breakout rooms. You can’t put students into breakout rooms to talk while you go get a drink of water. And there’s very little chance of a cat walking across the screen and cheering everyone up.

By afternoon, I am exhausted. I’ve only taught two classes, but I’ve been on my feet all day, a thing I’ve only just remembered. I tuck myself in the corner of my office and plan for Tuesday. My colleagues and I chat while I do it. I am taken away from my work by a couple of questions and by the time I get back I have to fully work my way back into what I was doing. I cut my tomatoes and eat my lunch without the benefit of a sitcom I normally watch while eating. And at the end of the day, very tired, I head down the steps towards the tram stop and home.

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Thoughts While Waiting for a Dog to Pee

It’s in the middle of a dream that I hear a light whine. Our Shih Tzu seem to have a wheel of fortune made of up whines, squeaks, and trills at different pitches, tones, and volumes. I can now interpret each as a different signal. A really high-pitched feathery wail conveys: “You best be getting back in this room, chunky, or I’m gonna wake up this whole building.” A soft snort followed by a single whine in the nose-throat (throse) means “I’m about to bark the fuck out this room if you don’t share that thing you’re eating with me, I don’t care if I don’t know what it is.” Though I have been marginally wrong before on the meaning, I’m getting better.

So I prop open an eyelid at 3:21 am. Two clear, rough, whiney comments from the foot of the bed chime up at me and I know I’m hearing: “Yo, up and at ‘em my man or else you gonna be cleaning up some urine.”

Like a firefighter, I’m up, and with no less heroism, either. Missing a pee means taking part in activities of frustrating futility. First, you still have to take the dog out. But you’ve both missed the opportunity and now you just walk around the lawn, the dog sort of overjoyed but confused and me sort of confused and depressed.

Tonight, this morning, I groggily put on my sweats, my jacket, my crocs designated for walking around the minefield of our front lawn, I grab my equipment (bags, flashlight, two treats). I tuck the dog under my arm and we walk down the stairs. As we go, she licks my cheek, perhaps showing appreciation, more likely drawing off the night sweat that bedewed my cheek.  

Lots of things come up when you’re aiming a flashlight at a dog’s ass on a lawn at 4 am. Life decisions, the irony of status, the task, deeper implications of.

I never realized how much I was missing encouragement in my own bathroom experiences. I follow the dog and congratulate her each time she poops and pees. I wonder at the possible outcomes were I to be extended the same courtesy. Healthier. Happier.

We had started giving her a treat each time she peed, but she would look up at me with a quietly intense gaze every of the four magnanimous times she’d squat to pee as if saying: Where’s my treat, Bojumbo? I would gladly hand down a treat to her little lips, which she would take with slow reproachment. I’ve since stopped when realizing that every time she’d come up after peeing four times and unload a stream of urine onto our rug. We deduced that she’d figured out the code and would fake pee to get treats only to forget to actually pee. I was mildly annoyed by this, but not only would it be a boldfaced lie to claim that I wouldn’t do the same, I’m not altogether certain I never have.

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Hemingway: Birth of a Booze Lover

“Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” – Ernest Hemingway (informal travel advice)  

When he wasn’t on safari, catching a marlin, or leaving one wife to marry another one, that’s just where Ernest Hemingway was. Perhaps the only stories more famous than the ones Ernest Hemingway wrote are the ones about his drinking exploits. Hemingway drinking lore has him running up a tab of 51 martinis during the liberation of Paris, inventing the Bloody Mary, and measuring F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s evidently undersized…pen. But whether Hemingway drinking stories are apocryphal or not, he is synonymous with the drinking writer.

He was born into it. Over half of the American writers renowned for their drinking were born in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century. One theory for why they were such drinkers is that they fought World War I, which pitted new weaponry, such as mortars, artillery, and Gatling guns against the slightly less effective method of walking slowly towards trenches with bayonets. In reaction to these horrors and inconceivable loss and waste, they felt lost and disillusioned and were so dubbed the Lost Generation. And in 1919, the Lost Generation needed a drink.

Hemingway among them, for a few reasons. While serving in the Red Cross Ambulance Corps on the Italian front, he was wounded by mortar fire. He recovered in a hospital where he fell in love with a nurse who tore out his heart, leaving an empty gap which Hemingway promptly filled with wine. Brokenhearted and most likely suffering from PTSD, he returned to America, where he drank and he fished and he drank. Then he moved to Paris, where he drank and he wrote and he drank. For Hemingway, moving to Paris and drinking there were acts of freedom and rebellion towards the mores of the U.S., a country which had sent him off to war and then would not let them have a drink to help him deal with it.

In Paris, Hemingway continued engaging in the two things he had a special talent for: drinking and writing. His tolerance was unmatched and he consumed large quantities of booze with little physical effect. He attributed this to a rigorous physical regimen of boxing, wilderness sports, and writing really mean things about his friends. By sheer physicality he remained healthy and by determination he was also productive. He drank constantly but refused to have a drink before he had reached his daily writing quota of 500 words, zero adverbs, and at least 3 friendships irreversibly damaged. If he was ever tempted to drink while writing he needed only visit his friend, the walking cautionary tale named F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald tried to inspire creativity and writing with alcohol, only to kill his creativity and writing with alcohol.  

Drinking, among other issues, caught up to Hemingway’s in the 1930s. For the first time, his drinking caused his work to suffer and his mental health to deteriorate. He was depressed, so he drank, which made him more depressed, so he drank more. Stabs at his manhood came in the memoir of a former ally (paybacks = a bitch) and what followed was the Hemingway many now think of – cartoonishly macho, drunken fights and wrestling matches, and spewing proclamations of his manly abilities to “outdrink, outwrite, and outfuck” anyone who isn’t Gertrude Stein.              

But more important than his own drinking is the deep reverence to alcohol and its rituals that permeate the fictional worlds that Hemingway created. Each book depicted a culture’s alcohol traditions and ceremonies surrounding it. In The Sun Also Rises, two men in Basque country are taught to drink wine from leather flagons like the locals. In Paris cafes they drink wine, champagne, and absinthe. In the Hotel Montoya in Pamplona, they drink rioja alta and fundador. In Islands in the Stream his characters in Cuba drink doble daiquiris. His characters drink what Hemingway drank, their livers become secondary characters, and they all follow the lesson Hemingway himself followed: “travel globally and drink locally.”           

Just as culturally significant to the cultural rituals in Hemingway’s fiction are the bars, which are treated as sacred places. The actions within a bar are purposeful, meaningful, and result in deep consequences. Confrontations are made, allegiances forged, critical decisions taken. Hemingway created a language for those who inhabited his bars. Unlike other writers who made the dialogue in bars raucous, vulgar, or chaotic, Hemingway’s characters spoke in a laconic and controlled way and thus existed in a secret community of drinkers who knew how to handle their alcohol. This was of utmost importance to Hemingway’s characters and clearly to Hemingway himself.

“I like to see a man drink. A man does not exist until he is drunk.” – Hem

Or, to paraphrase Descartes: “I drink, therefore I am.”

Let’s have a cocktail that would do old Hemingway proud. He drank everything put in front of him (or in front of the people to his left or right). But he especially liked to modify cocktails to his own specifications. He drank gin and tonics with a few drops of Angostura bitters (try this!) and on fishing excursions he modified a Tom Collins by omitting sugar and replacing the soda water with coconut water (dubbed the Maestro Collins). He loved Campari and the Americano, but with gin instead of sweet vermouth. We at Hammered History recommend his favorite drink from El Floridita Bar in Havana – The Doble Daiquiri (link is to the 1934 menu of El Floridita and apparently Hemingway usually went for daiquiri #3 and modified it as follows)   

The Doble daiquiri (ingredients)

–          4 ounces white rum (this is the double part, start your engines)

–          ¾ ounce fresh lime juice (half a lime)

–          ½ ounce fresh grapefruit juice

–          6 drops maraschino liqueur

–          Ice (shaved if possible, broken or small cubes if not)

–          Metal shaker  

–          A liver the size of Toronto

–          A designated driver, preferably a combat hardened ambulance driver

Instructions from Hemingway *

Chill a martini glass before you go to work making the drink. Next, reach into a bag of shaved ice or ice cubes and bring out a handful. It will be cool and your hand will be cold, but you will feel good because of the cold. Put the ice in a metal shaker. The ice will frost it. Measure two full jiggers full of good white rum and add it to the shaker. Squeeze one half of a lime into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the lime juice to the shaker. Fresh lime juice is best, but Rose’s is fair if you are in a combat zone or in a cave. Squeeze a quarter of a grapefruit into a jigger. When it is full and there and good, add the grapefruit juice. Taste it. If it lacks authority, add more rum. If it is too strong, add more rum. Like a man. The cool liquid will jewel the sweat on the shaker. Don’t add any damned sugar. Add 6 drops of maraschino liqueur into the shaker with an eye dropper or a spoon. Enclose the shaker with a rocks glass or a pint glass. Shake well. Pour it into the chilled martini glass. Drink 5 of these until you are true and real. If you don’t, add more run.              

* outright lie, instructions from me

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William III Wins the Battle of the Boyne and Gives the Protestants a Drink

The armies of James II and William III were squaring off across the River Boyne near Drogheda, Ireland. Roman Catholic James II was making a push to regain the throne, from which William had deposed him the year before. James’s 23,000-strong army was mostly made up of Irish Catholics, but he had several regiments of French soldiers, as well as Scottish and English Jacobites. His soldiers were armed with outdated muskets and his Irish soldiers were mostly pressed into service and poorly trained; some were armed with scythes.   

But there was brandy. According to John Stevens, a soldier at the Boyne, there was perhaps too much brandy. It was meant to calm the nerves of the untested men, but was so effective that more than 1,000 of them passed out drunk in the fields.    

On the other side, Protestant William III (William of Orange) had 36,000 troops, half of which were British, the rest were made up of soldiers from Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. They were better trained and equipped with more modern weapons. We don’t know if William’s soldiers were drinking, but they won. (Irish Catholics never win.) In the aftermath, James II ran off to France, where he would spend the rest of his life presumably eating cheese and bitching about French employment laws. His flight earned him the nickname within Ireland of Séamus a’ chaca (James the Shit), so we probably wasn’t in a rush to put that on a customs card anyway.   

Though not a decisive win, William’s victory had important implications. William was fighting to keep Protestant control over Ireland and to forestall future Jacobite (et al) attempts to restore James to the throne. James II had put forth the Declaration of Indulgence, granting freedom of religion for all of Ireland – which just about everyone saw as a sneaky way to reestablish Catholic rule. Victory at the Boyne helped William establish Protestantism in Ireland because his supporters were both Protestants and zealots. They were victorious, they needed a drink, and that drink need to be “Protestant.” But what?

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The Explorer Drinker’s Club

One of the downsides of a global pandemic is what it did to my pub intake. Say what you will, but there’s nothing like a good pub. Even if you’re one of those sociopaths who drinks tea at one, a good pub is warm, inviting, and makes you relax. And COVID took that away.

Because of this I was forced to drink at home, which is just not as fun as drinking in a place where you get to pay people to bring you alcohol while you judge others for getting drunk so early in the day. I made it a habit of swinging by our local pubs once a week to get beer from the tap. But it’s not the same.

Good news was heralded with the vaccination numbers, the low numbers of infections, and the reawakening of the city’s pubs. But as I am not yet fully vaccinated, I didn’t want to go inside and I didn’t want to sit within big groups of drinkers. I yearned for a pub, but one in which I could sit outside and not near anyone else. I now consider everyone diseased and riddled with the pox. And I don’t think this makes me a bad person at all.

I enlisted Burke in my quest for such a pub. As she is also interested in getting tipsy in the waited-on great outdoors, she was in.

The first place we found was in the shadow the Ferdinand I’s summer palace. Its foundations were laid in 1555 by his son (the predictably-named Ferdinand II). The park which I walk in almost every day was a game reserve also established by Ferdinand I.

By game reserve, we are referring to a fenced-in hunting ground stocked with various exotic animals. These included antelopes, gazelles, camels, a plethora of exotic birds, some cheetahs and a great ape. These animals were locked in with slate fencing, unlike the large walls that are there these days and which frankly seem a hell of a lot better suited to keeping in cheetahs and orangutans. These animals apparently thought so too, as they occasionally escaped and caused what must have been considerable ruckus in Prague 6 environs. Though one has immense joy imagining a 16th century Prague 6 farmer try to scare a cheetah away from his radishes while wondering just what in the hell the neighbors were feeding their house cats.   

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On March 17, 1766, New York has its first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

At dawn in New York city on March 17, 1766, a group of Irish soldiers serving in the British Army marched and paraded with fifes and drums. Records suggest they were heading to the Crown and Thistle Inn on Whitehall Street, others that they blew into bagpipes. There are no records about the reaction of the locals to bagpipes at 5 am, but it was no doubt colorful. The revelers breakfasted and then “spent a joyous tho’ orderly evening at the house of Mr. Bardin in this city.” They gave speeches and offered toasts to various entities, including “the glorious memory of King William,” “the memory of the late Duke of Cumberland,” and “the Protestant Interest.” Their last two (19 & 20) toasts were “May the enemies of Ireland never eat the Bread not drink the Whiskey of it, but be tormented with itching without the benefit of scratching” and to “our Noble Selves.”   

This was fitting, as their noble selves had just put on the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. It’s also probably the first time an angry New Yorker shouted “stick yon bagpipe up thine ass!” at Saint Patrick’s Day partiers. This celebration is nowhere near the first celebration for Saint Patrick in North America. A Saint Patrick’s Day celebration took place in St. Augustine, Florida in 1601. Probably marking the first time an Irish festival was celebrated while dodging alligators. There were celebrations in Boston in 1737, in New York in 1762, and at Fort William Henry in 1757. In 1778, George Washington, honorary member of the Friendly Sons of Patrick, issued an extra grog on Match 17 for his soldiers. In 1768, African slaves on the island of Montserrat planned an uprising on March 17, because they knew their Irish overseers would be drunk. The Irish got wise to the uprising and squashed it…and then got really drunk. The 1766 New York parade is arguably the beginning of Saint Patrick’s Day as a day of tipsy revelry, which primarily took place in Colonial America.

If you’ve never perused one of the 14,000 articles that come out about him between March 15th and March 17th every year, Saint Patrick is a fifth-century Anglo-Irish saint who is surrounded by myth. He rid Ireland of snakes, a feat made more impressive by the fact that no snakes existed there. I could be heralded for ridding the Czech Republic of tarantulas, but I don’t think I’d get a Saint Day. Saint Patrick is said to have brought Catholicism to Ireland and likened the triumvirate of the Catholic Church to the ubiquitous shamrock. There’s a pretty good chance he did neither, but evidently he had the same PR rep as a lot of Catholic saints. The real Patrick was born in Roman Britain and was kidnapped by Irish pirates. He spent six years as a slave in Ireland, where he spent much of his time looking after animals (not snakes). He eventually escaped back to Britain, but after he became a cleric he headed back to Ireland and became a bishop. By the seventh century he was the Patron Saint of Ireland.

Like many religious festivities that turned into booze fests (hello, Mardi Gras), Saint Patrick’s Day started out as a pious event. Pubs were closed in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day until the 1970s. In 18th century Canada, the celebrations were temperate, pious, and probably very cold. Even in early America, the celebrations differed greatly between the two religious groups of Irish Americans. The Protestant celebrations were evidently formal, elite, and rife with speeches. In the afternoon, celebrants would go to mass and think about Saint Patrick. And as much fun as it is to think about a saint, America’s Irish Catholics had a different celebration in mind.  

Catholic St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were typically more working class and public, and they involved alcohol, green, and shamrocks. This seems to have carried over from traditions within Ireland that had been celebrated for at least a century. When Englishman Thomas Dineley travelled the island in 1681, he noted the three tenets of a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration were alcohol, wearing a green ribbon, and wearing shamrocks. They “drowned the shamrock” by placing the shamrock worn on their lapel in their beer, whiskey, or punch. St. Patrick’s Day would become a more festive occasion in America when it became considered a “day off” in the middle of Lent. Self-bans on alcohol and meat were encouraged to be lifted and Irish Catholics in America took advantage. This festive St. Patrick’s Day was propelled forward in America by heavy Irish Catholic migration and the rise of Independence movements and Irish patriotism societies. This took a step away from the Protestant celebrations in the mid-1700s and by the 19th century, the Catholic ones had all but taken over. In a word, for probably the first and last time in history, the Catholics were the fun ones.  

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