Five reasons to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

ST Patrick’s Day: is it a religious observance, a celebration of Ireland and its culture, or an extended session at the pub?

In truth, it’s often somewhere between the three - not least in Scotland. Whatever your reasons for commemorating St Patrick’s Day, Scots share a historical and cultural lineage with the Irish that stretches across centuries, and so it’s no surprise that March 17 is celebrated so, ahem, passionately. As The Scotsman discovers, there are many reasons for Scots to raise a toast to Irish culture. Like you need the excuse.

Mutual migration

Scotland’s geographical proximity to Ireland meant that migration to and from both nations was inevitable, and stretches back centuries. Contemporary records suggest that 100,000 Scots had emigrated to Ireland by the end of the 17th century. Likewise, thousands of Irish migrants settled across Scotland as a result of devastating crop failures in the 19th century; Glasgow, in particular, saw a concentration of Irish migrants that came to work as dockers and miners. Though such population shifts were not entirely free of friction, these migrations largely served to bolster ties between the two nations.

Fiddle me this

Though each nation’s body of traditional music retains its own distinctive identity, there are clear (not to mention sonorous) ties between Scots and Irish folk music. The Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow has acted as a contemporary focal point for these synergies since its inception in 1994; going further back, early American folk/roots music owes a not inconsiderable debt to Scottish and Irish forms. If you find yourself in County Kerry this weekend, you could do worse than drop by the Scoil Cheoil an Earraig, a workshop-style mini-festival which runs from February 15-19.

Dress to kilt

The kilt is rather more synonymous with Scots than the Irish (there are hundreds of clan tartans registered to various regions, families, organisations and commemorative events throughout Scotland, and even a dedicated body to register this much, the Scottish Register of Tartans), our Celtic cousins adopted the kilt as a quasi-national dress at the turn of the 20th century.

A mother tongue

Recent efforts have been made to arrest the long-term decline of Irish and Scottish Gaelic in the public sphere, and there are many for whom the extinction of these languages, which share remarkable lexical and phonetic similarities, would be a great shame. If your Irish is a little rusty, tomorrow might be a good time to reacquaint yourself: “Pionta Guinness, le do thoil.”

Whisky or whiskey?

You know the saying - save the best till last, and all that. While there’s little doubt that Scotch whisky is the more famous of the two tipples, the myths surrounding whisky’s provenance has long been a source of (friendly) debate. Though Scotland claims the first recorded existence of whisky in 1494, evidence suggests that the practice was already well-established by that point; others argue that Irish monks were distilling it as early as 500AD. Worth noting that the Irish produce their own, equally veritable variation, called “whiskey”.