Ciara Kenny

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Replicating St Patrick’s Day for my kids in London

Our family embrace all the tacky Paddywackery at an annual party for friends and neighbours, writes Marie-Therese Keegan

Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 01:00


Marie-Therese Keegan

For three years I’ve flown the flag (the tricolour of course) for the Irish in our London suburb on St Patrick’s Day. I welcome any excuse for a party. I bought all the gear that first year, embellishing my collection with garish additions for subsequent parties.

We’ll deck the house with tinfoil shamrocks. They’ll cascade from door knobs and light fittings, press handles and curtain rails. I will pull out the box with the giant cardboard leprechaun who’ll be blue tacked to our front door – arms extended in warm welcome. There’ll be a basket on the hallway stand with silly badges – homage to the risque key game from the 1970s. This time the most daring outcome is a lapel badge with “Kiss me quick I’m Irish”.

Our green-clad kids will hand out our Paddy-o-meter quiz sheets I’ve headed “Plastic, plated or the real thing – you don’t have to be Irish to be Irish – just get a high score”. I’ve pulled together an eclectic set this year – there’s something for everyone – culture buffs, historians and the politically astute. I’ll keep a couple of questions from March 2013 so my return guests can kick themselves that they didn’t pay heed. All of them– bar one couple – got the bonus point for answering in the affirmative to “Do leprechaun’s really exist?” I award prizes for the winner and for the one that comes Paddy last.

Last year our Maltese pals took that accolade. Our Albanian neighbours were just pipped to the post. The questions are multiple choice so everyone is in with a chance, however slight. Though we’ve yet to have a winner who is not a national.

I’ll have baked and assembled for most of the day before. A couple of brown bread loaves (my mother’s recipe), a Baileys cheesecake and a chocolate Guinness cake. The latter I do for visual impact. The dark sponge with a cream cheese topping resembles a pint of Stout and has the subtle kick from lashings of the black stuff. On the night there’ll be a stack of potato cakes cooked on a smoking pan served with salmon and cheeses. I stocked up on Tayto crisps on my last trip home. I found red lemonade and Jacob’s Kimberleys in the world food aisle of a supermarket chain nearby .

We’ll set a fire in the sitting room and attach the laptop to the TV screen. It will be preloaded with Irish ‘nostalgia’ programmes. Last year we had a documentary from 1973 shown on loop with fantastic footage of trad musicians playing on the streets of Listowel. We watched old vox pops from men in flat caps who spoke to the camera – their speak richer and more lyrical through time and distance.

One of our male guests came dressed in a Kelly green polyester trouser suit that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Ireland of that day. Two other TV programmes – one showing highlights from the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979 and the second following the Queen on her recent trip there, waited in the wings for a more inebriated screening later that night.

Karen, from across the road, who grew up with a Lucan mum, will drop a St Patrick’s Day card through my letterbox. My mother will send us one too with a few winning streak scratch cards she’ll slip in the envelope. They’ll sit on the mantelpiece above the roaring blaze .

It’ll be a late night/early morning with the last stranglers fellow compatriots. The following day, already thinking of next years party, I’ll deflate the balloons with a straw giving the kids a giggle as I squeak out the helium. They’ll gather up the foil shamrocks and disassemble our leprechaun. We’ll salvage any discarded pins and green party ware. We should get another few years from the “disposable” crock o’gold table cloth. All this paraphernalia will be returned to the Paddy’s Day party box which will sit in the attic next to our Christmas decorations and wait for its annual outing.