"May the frost never afflict your spuds.
May the outside leaves of your cabbage always be free of scorns,
May the crows never pick your hay stack and may your donkey always be in fool."
These are the sayings Jack McGowan might use in proposing a "good wish" toast as he peeks around to see if everyone is holding an Irish whiskey.
McGowan, who is a vice president of the Irish Distillers Group in Dublin, Ireland, and a self-proclaimed expert on Irish toasts, stopped by the other day to tell a few stories, propose a few toast and take the curse off Irish whiskey.
The 39-year-old, husky, exrugby player who donated some of his features to the game) talked about toasting as he sipped from a cup of coffee.
"The toast itself began as early as the 16th century, when people actually flavored their drinks with pieces of toasted bread. By the 18th century, the word, 'toast,' when used in connection with a drink, had taken on its present meaning."
The hovering waiter looked vrey Irish and proved it when he invited himself into the conversation by asking McGowan where he was from in Ireland. When you're out selling something you're polite to everyone, so McGowan told him, "A suburb of Dublin, my wife and I have a little house and a son and a daughter."
The waiter, now feeling a kinship, touted a couple of local Irish pubs to McGowan, who although he sells whiskey doesn't look like he uses it too much. He sipped his fourth cup of coffee and went back to toasts: "A graceful thought adds more flavor to a drink than toasted bread."
"There is a basic rule of toasting," McGowan said. "Do it in a way that is most comfortable for you. You may remain seated. The clinking of glasses derives from the belief that the sound drives out evil spirits."
McGowan talked of Ireland with seas of green, mist-covered hills, and of her poets and writers. "The Irish never use one word when 10 will do; it is the birthplace of literature."
Ireland for McGowan is "a place where people will take the time to stop and talk, where they put booze in a gracious setting and the troubles in the North are ignored."
But he was here to sell whiskey, and to enhance its image. "We would like them to drop the word 'whiskey' when they order 'Irish.' A lady doesn't come into a bar and say, 'Scotch whisky,' she says 'Scotch' and names a brand."
McGowan's firm represents the seven brands of Irish whiskey that come into this county. When he speaks of them it is like a memorized brochure. "Uisce beatha was the Gallic name," and he pauses to let the soft words sink in, then like a man turning out the trump card, "A means the water of life."
Well it didn't take long for the "water of life" to find its way into Ireland.
It might have been around 500 A.D. when missionary monks returning from the Mediterranean area brought along the quiet, refined business of distilling whiskey. Around the 12th century, the troops under Henry II invaded Ireland, found the amber colored "water of life," anglicised "unisce" into "whiskey" and floated back to England in 1170 A.D., speaking of little else.
The word reached Elizabeth I of England, who took a few ounces now and then, "neat."
Sir Walter Raleigh (not yet into tobacco), stopped off in County Cork on his way to what is now Guyana, and listed in his diary, "A supreme present of a 32-gallon cask from the Earl of Cork."
Next up to the rail was Russia's Peter the Great, who said. "Of all the wines, the Irish is the best."
Pat Flood, who in the '60s wore the apron behind the bar at Gough's saloon just off New York's Times Square, put away an ounce an hour, knowing it was all his liver could handle. His brand was Paddy's, and only on holidays or special occassions did he give his liver the extra work.
McGowan had more to say, but time was running out, and with one foot pointed toward the airport he gave a closing toast.
That a doctor might never earns a dollar out of you and that your heart may never give out.
That the 10 toes of your feet might always steer you clear of misfortune, and I hope, before you're much older, that you'll hear much better toasts than this. Sleinte!