Things to know about the Irish
The Irish spend many of their hours in pubs (bars), drinking whiskey, beer or ale. Pubs are also the scene of traditional music sessions, which are associated with the craic (pronounced “crack”). This is an all-around term for having a good time that can include playing and/or listening to music, joking, story telling, drinking pints, or flirting with members of the opposite sex. “The craic was mighty” means that someone had a good time. The Pub, known also as the “Public House” is where the Irish conduct business & family meetings, celebrate life and death, the pub is the meeting house for the folk to socially congregate and arrange mutual help within their communities.
Other popular leisure-time pursuits include chess, cards, darts, gambling, fishing, hunting, walking and reading. The Irish are famous for their hospitality, which dates back to olden times. It was believed that turning away a stranger would bring bad luck and a bad name to the household. (According to one Christian belief, a stranger might be Christ in disguise coming to test the members of the household.) The front doors of houses were commonly left open at meal times. Anyone who passed by would feel free to enter and join in the meal. While many of the old superstitions are a thing of the past, Irish warmth and hospitality toward strangers remains. Hospitality is practiced not only at home, but also at the neighborhood pub (bar). Anyone joining a group of drinkers immediately buys a round of drinks for everyone at the table.
Ireland’s legal holidays are New Year’s Day (January 1), St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, bank holidays (days when banks, schools, etc., are closed) on the first Mondays of June and August, Christmas (December 25), and St. Stephen’s Day (December 26). St. Stephen’s Day is referred to as “Wren Day,” reflecting the ancient druid belief that the wren was sacred. On this day, young men (“Wren Boys”) dress in outrageous costumes and paint their faces. They go from house to house in a silly parade “hunting the wren,” and people may throw them a few coins. In addition to these holidays, a variety of customs and celebrations are associated with various saints’ days. St. John’s Day (June 24), for example, is traditionally the time to dig up and eat the first new potatoes. On the night before, bonfires are lit on hilltops throughout the west of Ireland. A dish called colcannon, made from cabbage, potatoes, and milk, was traditionally served on Halloween with a ring, coin, thimble, and button inserted into it. Whoever found the ring was supposed to be married within a year. The coin symbolized wealth; the button, bachelorhood (a man who never marries); and the thimble, spinsterhood (a woman who never marries). Sometimes, the colcannon is left out on Halloween as a snack for the fairies.