You won’t have to look far in Phnom Penh for a cold pint of Guinness, a savoury Irish stew and a friendly chat to commemorate this year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations
Green Vespa owner Alan Haire and friends prepare for tonight's St Patrick’s Day festivities.
The saint behind the shamrock
It is believed that Saint Patrick was born around 360 AD to wealthy parents in Wales. When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by Irish invaders and forced to travel to Ireland where he lived and worked as a slave for six years. Finally, he escaped his captors and fled back to Wales, where he entered the church to study the Catholic religion. Patrick was ordained as a priest at the end of his studies. Legend states that shortly thereafter he had a dream that told him to go back to Ireland and convert the Irish to Catholicism. So Patrick became one of the earliest Christian missionaries and spent the remainder of his life teaching Catholicism to the people of Ireland and making scores of new converts. One famous example of his teachings is that of the shamrock. Patrick used the three-leafed plant, which is native to Ireland, to demonstrate the concept of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is also said in legend that St Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland. While it is true that there are currently no snakes on the island, evidence points to the fact that there probably never were any snakes to begin with. The banishment of the snakes is more likely a metaphor for ridding Ireland of pagan beliefs. Patrick died on March 17, 461 AD, in Ireland, and although never officially canonised by a pope, he has become one of Christianity’s most famous saints in Ireland and abroad.
March 17 is the day that people all over the world don the colour green and celebrate all things Irish, including shamrocks, leprechauns, Guinness beer, Irish whiskey, traditional Irish food and music, and especially good old fashioned craic.
St Patrick's Day has been celebrated in Ireland as a Roman Catholic holiday in observance of the death of Ireland's patron saint for centuries. But the annual worldwide St Patrick's Day parades, parties and veneration of everything Irish are largely North American constructions.
As long-time Phnom Penh resident and Belfast native Michael Clifford says, "St Paddy's Day with the green and the shamrocks is really an American creation. It is celebrated in Ireland as The Feast of St Patrick and is a national holiday, but it used to be simply a holiday of obligation for Irish Catholics, or a day to go to Mass and pray."
Roots in Catholicism
As Clifford explains, St Patrick's Day generally falls during the middle of Lent, a time when devout Catholics give up or sacrifice things that they love such as sweets, alcohol or meat. But St Patrick's Day is exempt from the strict rules of Lent. Thus, children can eat sweets and adults who gave up alcohol can have a tipple on this day without breaking the Lenten fast.
The first St Patrick's Day parade was held not in Ireland but in Boston in the United States in the mid-18th century, and was followed shortly afterwards by a parade and celebration in New York City in 1762.
As Irish immigrants flooded the US following the potato famine of the 19th century, the parades and celebrations grew in size and proliferated across the country, and today New York City holds the largest St Paddy's Day parade in the world, with an average of 2 million spectators and 150,000 marchers.
PEOPLE WERE DANCING ON THE BAR, AND THE PARTY WENT UNTIL ABOUT 5AM.
"In the not so distant past, American tourists who claimed Irish descent would travel to Ireland to celebrate St Patrick's Day, and Ireland took this on. Today, the celebration in Ireland is a carbon copy of that in the US", said Clifford.
Generally, wherever St Patrick's Day is celebrated, on that day Irish pubs and bars are filled to capacity with revellers enjoying delicious Irish food, beers and spirits, and Phnom Penh will be no exception.
"Last St Paddy's Day we were full," said Irish-born Alan Haire, owner of Green Vespa Pub and Restaurant. "This year, I don't really know what to expect, but I'm thinking it could be a late one," he said, laughing mischievously.
Looking for local craic?
Green Vespa will offer specials all day at the restaurant including a traditional Irish breakfast, Irish lamb stew, a savoury bacon and cabbage dish with champ (mashed potatoes with butter, milk and green onions), and Baileys ice cream for dessert.
On offer at the bar will be Guinness draft in cans, Jamesons Irish whiskey, Bushmills Irish whiskey, Sheridan's coffee and cream liquor, and Baileys Irish cream liquor, original and flavoured, along with the usual bar staples.
Green Vespa will also have traditional Irish music, possibly with a piper, dancing, singing, prizes, free giveaways and a whole lot of craic.
"Basically craic means chewing the fat with someone, getting to know someone, talking about whatever comes to mind and generally having a laugh and enjoying yourself," Haire said.
Green Vespa typically has a healthy following of Irish clientele, and St Patrick's Day will be a chance for many to celebrate a bit of home and enjoy the craic.
Honouring the homeland
"There are quite a number of Irish in town from Cork," Haire said. "They're quite different from the normal Irish person, which you'll see and understand if you meet them here on Tuesday night."
Rory Barry, owner of Rory's Pub, and originally from Dublin, also describes craic as laughter, fun and joviality. "We have a saying, ceol agus craic, which means ‘music and fun'," Barry said.
And music and fun is exactly what will take place on St Patrick's Day at Rory's Pub.
"St Patrick's Day will be a free-for-all," Barry said. "All the current and former staff will be here, and pretty much anything goes on that night. Last year, we had a full house with standing room only. People were dancing on the bar, and the party went until about 5am."
St Patrick's Day specials at Rory's today will include free Irish stew with every drink bought, baby Guinness shots for US$1, and draught beer for $1.
Music will be a mix of everything but will focus heavily on Irish music, traditional and modern.
"I want to play all the classic Irish bands like U2, Van Morrison, The Pogues and The Dubliners, to name a few," Barry said. "I just hope the people in the guesthouse rooms upstairs are up for some fun and music."
Murphy's Lakeside will also throw a St Paddy's Day bash with Guinness on special at $2 a can, and a "buy three Guinness get one free" deal to boot.
Also available will be a traditional Irish breakfast of pork sausages, black pudding, bacon, beans, fried tomatoes and mushrooms, eggs, toast and coffee or tea for $4.50, and special prices on Jamesons Irish whiskey, Baileys Irish cream liquor, and Irish coffee.
Murphy's manager Vibol says, "This is the first year that we have decided to throw a St Patrick's Day party. I don't know what will happen, but I hope a lot of people will stop by and enjoy the event."
To celebrate St Patrick's Day today and take part in the craic, head to Green Vespa at 95 Sisowath Quay, Rory's Pub at 33 Street 178 or Murphy's Lakeside on Street 93, Boeung Kak lake.