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terry mcdonald: March 2011 Archives

Terry McDonald: St. Patrick's Day Estonian-style


Terry McDonald is a graduate student studying in Tallinn, Estonia

It is a strange marriage of cultures. One tells of a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow while the other warns that just pointing at a rainbow will make your finger fall off. Still, there are those that make this strange, Irish-Estonian mixture work in their personal lives. And what better day for me to observe than St. Patrick's Day?

The day begins with a stroll down an 800-year-old Estonian cobblestone road to the hub of Tallinnian Irish expats (and wannabes), the pub Molly Malone's. I set about building the foundation for the day's culture-crossing by tackling a "full Irish Breakfast" - two sausages, four strips of bacon, two fried eggs, fried tomato, fried potato and toast - all washed down with the finest of Estonian beer, A. Le Coq. My peaceful cultural dabbling is almost ruined by a strikingly unfunny conversation with an alleged stand-up comedian from Montreal who is drunkenly questioning the healthiness of my breakfast choice. I consider countering with something about possibly taking the old drinking adage, "to your health" a bit too literally, but mercifully I am saved when I am beckoned to take the stage.

It is there that perhaps new ground is broken for the already well-travelled Irish cultural diaspora. Dave, Irish as can be, and your pal and gentle author, Terry, break out a 45-minute set of Irish Trad, Irish Rock and even some genuine Newfoundland favourites. Is it a testament to the cultural value of these works - some that have travelled from Ireland with people like my great-grandfathers to points all over the globe - or is just that the Irish write the best party songs in the world? Here, on this day, it doesn't seem to matter.

"It's so lonely 'round the fields of Athenry"

Our encore over, we go head to the bar and grab a round on the house from Patrick Doherty, the Dublin-born patron of our home away from home. Patrick came to Tallinn for a visit - seven years ago next month. Now, he's playing Sam Malone to our group of vagabonds and barflies. I, for one, aspire to the role of Frasier Crane, and fear being cast as Cliff Clavin instead. Regardless, pints drained, we're off to the Embassy.
Granted, the words "off to the Embassy" don't normally factor into a description of my previous St. Patrick's Days (Daze?). Still, there are benefits to being a tagalong on a holiday, so along I tag. We arrive, passing a former Estonian Prime Minister and the current Minister of Communications in the driveway. Then, we enter the world of the least politicized political event in which one ever had a bacon-wrapped scallop.

Right away, we're escorted to an introduction with the Ambassador, a seasoned Irish diplomat with a coy charm and a polished handshake/conversation. From there, we're sent to the downstairs bar. In Canadian political circles, the choice of wine is agonized over as to ensure a proper representation of Canadian interests, both domestic and international. Here, we have two French wines (as chosen by the caterer) and cans of Guinness on ice, or warm, as you prefer. It's not everyday that you get poured a pint by a man in a bowtie, but such is Irish diplomacy, it appears.

From there, we hobnob with everyone, from the Ambassador and his charming wife and CEOs of Irish/Estonian businesses, to the dregs and drifters - like Dave and me. All is in good fun and in a spirit of true community.

Still, we can't stay sensible for too long on Paddy's Day, so our troupe makes its escape back to Molly's. There's an Estonian band playing "Star of the County Down," the place is jammed and the Guinness and A. Le Coq are both flowing. The night goes on, snowflake becomes blizzard, and I, of course, end up sprawled out on those ancient cobblestones - the victim (again) of ice and the spirit of St. Patrick's Day. Still, what else are we to do? As it is so succinctly by our new friend the Ambassador, "Well, there's not enough of us for a parade, so we might as well have a party."

newpaddysday.jpgTerry McDonald with Irish Ambassador Peter McIvor and his wife and the senior Mr. Doherty, founder of Molly Malone's.

Terry McDonald is a graduate student studying in Tallinn, Estonia