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St. Patrick’s Day Greening

The saint’s day gives us the first green of the year — plus an Old Country lesson in sustainability

With spring one more tantalizing week away, we’re grasping at straws that bespeak the awaited season.
    Meteorological winter is over and temperatures rising, sometimes imperceptibly, but inevitably until July, our hottest month, has us wishing for a trip to last winter’s icehouse. Peepers and their amphibian brethren are singing, as you know or will on reading this week’s Creature Feature. Crocuses are blooming, at least in some sunny yards. Daffodils are rising, their leaves now standing four to six inches above ground.
    Yet on the doorstep of spring, we stand amid winter’s detritus. Salt’s gray pall is everywhere. Roads are scraped and potholed. Roadsides are pocked with litter. Lawns are muddy and leaf-packed. Half your landscaping is dead, done in by salt and cold. Green is a good raking and a few sunny days off.
    In between, St. Patrick’s Day gives us a welcome touch of greening.
    No wonder so much of America goes crazy over this celebration. St. Patrick’s Day is Mardi Gras for Celts and Anglo-Saxons, the first excuse for revelry since New Year’s Eve. Coming out of the season of deprivation calls for a fit of wildness, and both feasts do that, with drink and food and excess.
    Comparing feasts, St. Patrick’s Day has the advantage. Mardi Gras introduces six more weeks of deprivation for Christians observing Lent, while the Irish holiday has been so secularized in America as to avoid the obligations of fasting and abstinence. It’s also easier to remember. Everybody knows St. Patrick’s Day is March 17.
    Until we reidentify as Bayou Weekly, St. Patrick’s Day is how we enter spring.
    This year we’ve taken that celebration to extreme. By way of Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, we’ve not only claimed Irish roots for all of Maryland but also followed them back to the Old Country.
    This week’s feature, A St. Patrick’s Day Visit from Southern Maryland to Southern Ireland, depicts the Greening of the Emerald Isle. It’s not spring I’m writing about, nor Irishmen and women decked out in green for their saint’s day, for they don’t. My subject is Ireland’s emergence as a world leader in sustainability. Its greening began long before the economic crash of the last decade, when the Irish Tiger lost its roar. But that turn-around expanded the island nation’s determination to build on its roots.
    Roots tourism is a major sector of the economy, with an annual influx of visitors larger than the Irish population of 6.4 million enriching the nation by 5 billion Euros. Irish descendants who travel to the Old County to discover their roots find them quite lively. They’ll see Irish printed alongside English in public notices. They’ll eat very well from an Irish table fully cultivated from local seed to local sheep.
    Foraging was a strategy of sustenance for all our Irish ancestors but the richest. Now it’s a revival art. Foraging with celebrity roots chef Darina Allen was the centerpiece of my trip. After my class of about three dozen foragers gathered weeds and wildflowers, seaweed and wild shellfish, Allen prepared a feast. Stinging nettles roasted on a white pizza … sweet Cecily sweetening a rhubarb compote … chickweed, cress, dandelion, sorrel, wildflowers and wild garlic tossed in a salad with smoked salmon … more salmon with horseradish cream, scraped from a freshly dug root.
    The French, whose language gives us Mardi Gras, call it terroir. The English equivalent I learn in Ireland is the grounded table. It’s a nice image, the table spread in green with legs rooted in the earth like potatoes or beets. It’s also a concept strong to hold a sustainable economy.
    Travel with me by story to see what I saw in the environs of Ireland’s Baltimore — including a glimpse into the future of sustainable energy.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; [email protected]