*Ten ways to celebrate St. Patrick's Day:
*Drink Irish coffee. It has had remarkable success in this country despite the story Irish journalists love to tell of how it was almost torpedoed by a visiting official of the Irish government. Irish coffee, which had recently been invented at Shannon airport, was making its way onto New York menus and, to speed the process along, an Irish promoter primed a journalist to ask the official what he thought of this newest drink.
"Ah," sighed the Irishman. "Irish whiskey, which you who know me know I occasionally let pass my lips. And then, good strong coffee, a wonderful habit you Americans have, and we've come to like it, too. And rich, thick cream from Irish cows. Wonderful products each one, and I'd like to know what fool decided to put the three together and ruined them all."
*Stage a donnybrook.
*Sing sad songs about that land across the sea and grow weepy.
*Before sadness sends people home, tell a string of jokes about "The Kerryman who . . ." the poor fellow from Kerry being the butt of more than one Irish joke.
*Eat a potato. And then another.
*Drink an Irish whiskey. And then another.
*Have a reading of Synge's The Playboy of the Western World.
*Have a poetry reading, where only the Irish need apply.
*Hire a fiddler or a bagpiper to play while people dance.
*Insist that all guests wear green.
What you must not do is dye mashed potatoes green and expect your guests to eat them. Yes, I know it is St. Patrick's Day and the two things that immediately leap to mind are spuds and shamrocks, but some temptations must be resisted and the urge to merge those two symbols of the Emerald Isle is one of them.
Nor is the traditional dish of St. Patrick's day -- corned beef and cabbage -- one that suggests itself as a party piece. Irish stew is a bit better, but best is to accept the fact that food is not what the Irish are famous for. A friend who served her Irish father-in-law a dish of fresh peas on his first visit to the United States was informed that not only were they the wrong color -- proper peas being a grayish green -- but who ever heard of storing peas in pods when everyone knew that they belonged in tins.
If you must have food for your St. Patrick's Day celebration, spend the money on black bread and smoked salmon. For the rest, fill the evening with sonnets and song and dance and drink, taking a cue from Yeats:
For the good are always
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle,
And the merry love to dance.
If you can't afford to hire a fiddler, there are records aplenty full of Irish song. Like the woman who "when she had her wellies on could dance as well as any one," your guests will find that the music will teach them to dance.
If Irish jigs and country dances seem too strenuous for your set, put out Irish whiskey and Guinness Stout and fill the evening with words. Take turns reading aloud from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Macmillan).
Or track mad Sweeney, that cursed king of Irish folklore, on his flight through the forest in Sweeney Astray by Seamus Heaney (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Or let each guest dip into a delightful collection called Irish Folk Tales (Pantheon) and read aloud such ramblings as the one that begins, "Old thorns and old priests should be left alone: there's power in the pair of them if they want to use it."
To invite guests to celebrate St. Patrick's day with the words of the Irish and their music is a more appropriate celebration than a dinner would be. It is, after all, a country where food has often been scarce, but humor, never.