Just about wherever you find Irish people, you’ll find an annual celebration (usually with–a lot of–booze) of St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland and the one credited with bringing Christianity to the island.
It may come as a surprise that the holiday is not nearly as big of a deal in Ireland as it is around the world. Perhaps those Irish who have never left Ireland don’t feel the same need for one day of the year on which celebrate their Irish heritage. I mean, that’s fair.
It is a popular time of year, though, for the Irish diaspora to descend upon their homeland en masse, or, if stuck abroad, honor their heritage through eating, drinking, wearing green, and, for reasons I do not completely understand, dying liquids green.
If someone you love is of Irish descent, help them celebrate their heritage with one of the gift ideas below (and if that someone is you…it’s fine. I don’t judge.)
I mean, for St. Patty’s Day, beer and whiskey are a must. Guinness and Jameson are classic, of course (and for a reason), but don’t let that stop you from stepping off the beaten path in search of unexpected deliciousness.
The classic step up (debatable, depending on who you are) from Jameson is Redbreast 12. This delightful single pot still whiskey is nutty and citrusy with a creamy finish and should have a place on the bar of every Irish whiskey lover.
For such an auspicious day as this, however, I recommended dropping the extra bucks and picking up the Redbreast 15. Think of this as the more powerful older brother of the 12. Same great DNA with more time to mature. Grow a little chest hair. You get what I’m saying.
Of course, if the Jameson label is important to you, don’t hesitate to snag a bottle of their 18 Years Reserve. This whiskey is rich, spicy, and fruity–a bottle worth saving and a gift that won’t be soon forgot.
There are many, many other worthy additions to the Irish whiskey canon. Yellow Spot–with chocolate and caramel notes–is one, and Writer’s Tears Double Oak (a personal favorite–still dessert-like, but more on the fruit or pie side) is another.
But don’t limit your Irish beverages to whiskey. A pint of Guinness has to be the most recognizable beverage to come out of Ireland. While best served as a draught at a pub in a small Irish hamlet or downtown Dublin, the canned version, with a little plastic ball that releases hydrogen giving your beer it’s classic foamy head, is not a bad second place.
While a Guinness, surprisingly, has barely a higher calorie count than your average light beer, sometimes people just have a preference for a lighter flavor profile. In which case, you can stay in the Guinness family with a Harp lager. This incredibly balanced beer has only a slightly higher ABV than Guinness (45% vs 4.2%), making for easy sipping all day long.
Don’t let one Irish brewer get all the love, though. Murphy’s Stout or Smithwick’s Red Ale will help you build out a fabulous Irish 6-pack. Throw in the unexpected Ireland favorite: a classic hard apple cider for an authentic St. Patty’s Day offering.
If, as is quite possible, their bar is already stocked with booze in anticipation of their St. Patrick’s Day celebration, there are other ways you can upgrade their beverage experience.
The classic option? Waterford, obviously. (While expensive, this is one of those “lifetime” gifts.) These stunning glasses are hand blown in Ireland, and hand cut to achieve their famous, elegant look.
For the whiskey drinkers in your life, a mixed set of tumblers will take care of them no matter how they take their drink. If they’re consistent in their love of a little ice, or maybe a mixed drink, the Lismore 9oz Old Fashioned glass will elevate every sip–whether their drink is Jameson or The Emerald Island Collection.
But hand blown glass is expensive, no matter where it ships from. To maintain the spirit of the day without blowing your budget, try an etched or upcycled glass from one of Etsy’s makers.
Some of my favorites: a pewter clover rocks glass (I mean, just about anything with pewter and I’m sold), an upcycled Guinness beer and shot glass, a rocks glass with an etched map of Dublin, or a glass that reminds you to drink to the good health of whatever company you’re in, inscribed with the Irish cheers “Sláinte Mhaith”–that’s “Good Health,” in case you’re not fluent in Gaelic.
(If you want to say it, and not just lift a glass, it’s pronounced slan-cha-va. Or just slan-cha. “Health.” I’ll drink to that.)
Would it be an Irish holiday without music making? I think not. To take the party to the next level, consider offering your friend an instrument.
The bodhrán is reasonably easy to learn, and is instantly recognizable for fans of Irish folk music. There are options at every financial level, just make sure it comes with a tipper or beater. That’s the drumstick; kinda important.
The tin whistle is also incredibly common in pubs across Ireland. It provides that lilting, haunting sound associated with the genre. This might be a good gift for someone who can pick up and play any instrument they touch without a second thought. Or it could be perfect for that friend who should never sing in public, but always does anyway.
(I jest. All singing is joyful.)
If you’re gifting to someone extra musical and up for a challenge, the Celtic harp is the way to go. Not just the national symbol, the harp has been hanging around in Ireland for over 1,000 years. It was even banned for a bit in the 1600s by Oliver Cromwell (who else?) and were played underground as part of the resistance. So don’t think of this instrument with some kind of chubby-angels-on-white-clouds sentimentality. Celtic harps are punk rock. …or punk folk. Whatever.
If it happens that this person is just not musical at all… don’t let it stop you from bringing some music into their lives.
The Dubliners are well known for their folk music, while Thin Lizzy comes down heavily on the hard rock side. Singer/songwriter Hozier is Irish, as are The Cranberries and U2. Whatever the music taste, Ireland has produced an artist who can satisfy.
What could be more appropriate on the feast day of a man who lived 1500 years ago than a gift of a little history?
Many of us long for deeper connection to our heritage. Hey, look at the success of DNA test sites like Ancestry.com, 23 and Me, and Family Tree DNA as well as the show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Once a person knows they have Irish heritage (and are thus connected to the likes of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, and Samuel Beckett as well as Sinead O’Connor, Maureen O’Hara, Saoirse Ronan, and Ruth Negga–buncha nobodies), they will want to fill in the gaps of their ancestors’ experience.
For Irish-Americans, I recommend The Story We Carry In Our Bones: Irish History for Americans by Juilene Osborne-McKnight. It covers not just the history of the Irish in Ireland, but also what the Irish people experienced after immigrating to America.
For the Irish diaspora everywhere, The Great Courses has a class by Marc C. Connor, Ph.D. called The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature that covers Irish history from the Norman invasion in the 12th century all the way to the 20th. It’s great “ground cover” for newcomers or a refresher course for people steeped in the history. Also, you can pick it up either on video (beautiful pictures of the homeland) or audio (great for commuting or exercising).
These topics may sound like a bummer to you, especially if it’s not your history. But don’t underestimate the importance of knowing where we’ve come from.
While the Irish are notoriously musical people, there are many other art forms that come out of Ireland or that reflect the Irish experience that are worth investing in.
Paul Henry was an Irish painter in the early-mid 20th century. Inspired by the post-impressionists, his landscapes of western Ireland are wistful and evocative. You can find his originals in auction houses across the UK, but a canvas print from the National Gallery of Ireland will also be lovely.
Gail Kelly is based in County Down in Northern Ireland. She also works in landscapes, but uses less common techniques like lithography and lino printing. The combination of traditional technique and Irish landscape will make this a deeply meaningful gift for a lover of Irish art.
Many many many films have been made about the Irish experience at home and abroad.
The Quiet Man is a classic, directed by the Irish-American John Ford, based on a story by Irish author Maurice Walsh, and starring the Irish actress Maureen O’Hara (with a real nobody by the name of John Wayne in the titular role).
Brooklyn speaks to the tension experienced by many immigrants to America between their past and their future and stars one of the best actors in the biz, Saoirse Ronan.
The music-filled (but not musical) film Once will fill your home with soul sweeping songs (that’s a phrase, right? Sure) and the streets of Dublin. If the movie’s a hit, make sure to pick up a copy of the soundtrack, as well.
Totems are things that stand as symbols of something else. Like a lion on a family crest, but also like the carved angel your aunt gave you after your third fender bender that you instinctively touch every time you get in your car.
Here are a few things that can act as a totem, reminding someone of their roots (however recently discovered).
An Irish Woollen Blanket (that’s UK spelling on woolen there) a reminder they can feel.
A Celtic Trinity Pocket Watch so they can count the hours till they return to Ireland.
A Celtic Torc Pendant to keep them safe (and looking fine).
When you give your totem gift, don’t forget to explain why. The thought is the part that counts even when your gift is this good.
Of course, nothing beats the gift of a trip back to Ireland itself.
While I’m sure an all expense paid vacation would be appreciated, sometimes a little push is really what’s needed, so consider a gift card from a major airline who flies from your nearest airport to Dublin (or London; they can always snag a quick flight to Ireland with Ryanair). It might take down a financial barrier or allow them to upgrade their seats for a more relaxing experience.
Airbnb offers gift cards, as do most major hotel chains. Different people have different priorities when they travel (live like the locals or nightly spa treatment?), so make sure you know their preferences before dropping big bucks on a gift card they won’t use.
If they like to plan things themselves, just write a short note committing to covering $X or a certain portion of the trip. Maybe tuck it into the DK Eyewitness Road Trips Ireland book to inspire them.
Acknowledging someone’s Irish heritage–whether on St. Patrick’s Day, their birthday, Christmas, or a Tuesday–is a great way to tell someone you see them. Whether your gift is grand and once-in-a-lifetime or a small moment to treasure, whoever you give to will know they are welcome and wanted in your life. And isn’t that really the point?
[This post includes products from… 1 West Dupont Circle Wines & Liquors, 23 and Me, Airbnb, Ancestry.com, Ashford Castle, Barnes and Noble, Biddy Murphy, Blarney, Bookshop, Claddagh Design, Delta, Drizly, Drumgreenagh, Elderly Instruments, Etsy, Family Tree DNA, Flask Fine Wines, Gail Kelly Printmaker, The Great Courses, Hilton Hotels, J. Hill’s Standard, Lark in the Morning, Marriott, McNeela Music, National Gallery of Ireland, Oaks Liquors, PBS, Ryanair, Tower Records, Trip Advisor, Walmart, Waterford.]