Friends and family have often asked me how a son of Slovenia could be so in love with everything Irish. And I mean everything. My response-“Me ole mither, Vivian, had a great-aunt who was half Irish.” In my younger Pabst Blue Ribbon days at Fredonia, I offered another answer. During those “change your mind after every philosophy class” times, I was a disciple of reincarnation and often dreamt of standing on the steps of Dublin’s post office fighting the Black and Tans during the Easter Rising in 1916. I was Irish! Begorrah.

Back to my eternal love. My favorite color is green. A notoriously fussy eater (blame Vivian for making me a separate meal if I didn’t like what was on the plate), one of the few dishes I loved was corned beef and cabbage. As for grog, if I had a buck for every IPA I’ve chugged down, I could buy a shelter for Herkimer County. Maybe even keep up with the Petkovsek bros. I absolutely love music from the old sod, especially songs sung by the iconic Irish Balladeer, Vincent Colgan. All of his selections told a story. For example, I learned that the Irish people could be rebellious (Four Green Fields), joyous (The Unicorn), mischievous (Seven Drunken Nights), loved the ocean (Home from the Sea) and were intensely patriotic (Ireland, My Ireland). If I’ve piqued your interest, ask Alexa to play John McDermott and/or The Irish Tenors. If their versions of Danny Boy and the Galway Girl don’t stir the romantic heart, nothing will.

My favorite writers (Sean O’Casey, William Butler Yeats and the warrior poets-Padraig Pearse and Joseph Mary Plunkett), movies (The Quiet Man-thought I’d died and gone to heaven when, during a trip to the Emerald Isle, I sidled up to the same bar frequented by John Wayne and sipped a cold one), actors and actresses (Maureen O’Hara and James Cagney), foods (soda bread) and, of course, pubs (Cohan’s), are all Irish.

Probably nothing tickles my fancy more than Irish folklore-particularly the faeries. Theirs is a magical world populated by such creatures as the Fir Darig, a fat, ugly rat-like being which lives in marshes and carries a shillelagh topped with a skull. Got a fireplace at home? Better beware. The Darigs love its heat and are “morally dangerous.” My daughters, Carrie and Jen, loved the good guys-the Geacanach-very small and pixie-like creatures renowned for their mischievous smiles, huge eyes, large ears and small wings. Guardians of home and hearth, they also love its heat and playing pranks. Known for compassion, their acts of kindness are best repaid with a rousing fire and some fresh milk. Note: In Ireland, the first drops of milk from a cow are allowed to fall to the ground for the faeries. And the next time you see a lightning bug, think Geacanach. As for the banshees, female spirits whose screams are harbingers of death, bet most of you guys have known one or two in the modern sense. And speaking of omens of death, there’s the Dullahan. It carries its head in its right hand, has gleaming eyes and is mounted on a black steed whose nostrils emit sparks and flames as it thunders through the night. Wherever it stops, a mortal dies. It can be frightened away only by something made of gold.

Then there are everyone’s favorites-the leprechauns. These small, incredibly agile male faeries ( contemporarily dressed in green, sporting beards and smoking pipes) lived solitary lives and were a source of mischief for the unwary. They are renowned for being extremely difficult to catch or trap. The wee ones’ purpose in life was to guard hidden treasure-especially gold said to be buried at the end of a rainbow. After a summer storm, a bunch of us Furnace Street “Gangers” saw a rainbow and set out to get rich. Never did find its end. Countless stories have been written about the little people to the unmitigated joy of children everywhere. Two of my favorites (yes-I am biased) are Liam Dougherty-The Littlest Leprechaun (illustrated by Benton Hall’s own Joe Long) and Denny O’Toole and the Leprechauns. Make a request and I’ll send you copies (109 Woodview Drive-E. Herkimer N.Y.-13350).

Until now, Irish eyes have been smiling. In sharing my final thought about Ireland, the smiles turn to tears. I’ve never known a people more willing to die for a cause-in this case freedom. Time and again over the last few centuries the old sod was stained with the blood of martyrs like Wolf Tone (Rebellion of 1798), the Emancipator-Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins, among others. Their valiant efforts to shake off the chains of British bondage finally bore fruit when, in December of 1922, the Irish Free State (Saorstat Eireann) was recognized. The black rose had finally turned red. Note: Northern Ireland’s 6 counties opted not to join. The recent election of a Sein Finn (Catholic minority party) prime minister augurs hope for a future unification.

Thousands of men and women of Irish heritage have fought and died in America’s wars to help preserve its freedom-from Antietam to Guadalcanal. Two of the most memorable were chaplains. Father Francis Patrick Duffy served in World War I and while risking his life time and again tending to the flock, he earned the Distinguished Service Cross and Croix de Guerre (France’s highest award). The Army’s highest decorated cleric, his monument stands tall in Duffy Square in New York City. Father Lawrence Edward Lynch (aka the Cyclone) served with the “Fighting 69” in World War II. On May 23rd, 1945, while leaving a trench to administer last rites to a dying soldier, he was killed by an exploding shell. He received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his heroics.

This March 17th, after pinning a shamrock on your coat, complement a noon mass, corned beef and cabbage lunch and a couple of cold ones by listening to the Celtic Thunder croon Willie McBride (CD), watching The Quiet Man (Netflix) and reading a few pages of O’Casey’s the Plough and the Stars. And before you hit the sack, don’t forget to put on your ear muffs and place a gold coin under your pillow. As for Jim O’Lenarcic, I’ll drift off to sleep hoping to dream of walking through the heather with a young colleen named Kay-high above Galway Bay’s waters made sparkling by a full Irish moon. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!