The Night Time St. Patrick's Tradition That Involves Dunking A Shamrock In Whiskey

St. Patrick may be Ireland's patron saint, but March 17 hasn't always been a major celebration in that country like it is in the U.S. While St. Patrick's Day has been seen as a holiday of sorts for the past 1,000 years or so, in earlier years observations were primarily centered around attending church services. (It's a holy day of obligation in Ireland, so mass is mandatory.) In fact, it wasn't until fairly recent times, 1995, to be exact, that the Irish government decided to make a big deal out of the saint's day in order to attract its share of tourist dollars (otherwise known as the sharin' o' the green).

This doesn't mean that people didn't celebrate in a low-key way before the '90s, though. As a special treat, parish priests might suspend Lenten prohibitions against eating meat – even on a Friday! – in order to allow the faithful to feast upon bacon and cabbage (corned beef being more of an American thing). Festivities may have been somewhat hampered by the fact that bars were closed on St. Patrick's Day up until the '70s, but once they were allowed to remain open on the day, people could gather in public to celebrate a fun little ritual called drowning the shamrock.

Drowning the shamrock is done to honor a saint who never touched whiskey

Of course there's a charming story behind the shamrock-drowning, and one which is entirely apocryphal. As the legend goes, St. Patrick walked into a bar (whether or not he was accompanied by a minister and a rabbi, the storytellers do not say) and ordered a shot of whiskey. His pour was a bit skimpy, so the pissed-off saint retaliated with threats of a vengeance-minded demon in the basement. Needless to say, the bartender mended his mendacious ways ASAP, so the saint decreed that his special day should henceforth be celebrated with whiskey.

The story is pure nonsense, as St. Patrick died around A.D. 461 and we've found no evidence that spirits of any kind were distilled prior to the 9th century. In fact, whiskey itself may not have been invented until sometime after A.D. 1100, more than 600 years after the saint's death. Still, it makes for a good excuse for indulging, as does the shamrock drowning itself. The shamrock, which has long been associated with the saint, is something that most Irish people wear on his day. At night, whiskey drinkers drop it into their last shot, then toss back the drink without swallowing the greenery. The sozzled shamrock gets plucked out of the glass and tossed over the left shoulder, an action that we presume is meant to bring good luck – unless it winds up in the eye of whoever may be standing behind you.