The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 11, 2005


To beef or not to (corned) beef? Three Carlisle families honor the traditions of St. Patrick's Day

Beth Bourque gets straight to the point in her description of an authentic St. Patrick's Day: "No one in Ireland eats corned beef." She says that Ireland has some wonderful cuisine that many Americans are unaware of, and her family's meal on March 17 will center around some of those tastier delicacies. "For our St. Patrick's Day, we'll probably eat salmon and mashed potatoes. Of course, everyone wants green food to be involved, and that can be a bit of a challenge. You definitely have to use a lot of dye."

Patrick Bourque and his dog Finn are all dolled-up in green, ready for St. Patrick's Day.

The Bourque family of Hutchins Road — Beth, Basil and their three children — love to celebrate the holiday devoted to Irish traditions and heritage. Her family comes from County Cork, and the Bourques frequently visit cousins who still live on a farm there. In fact, one year Beth and Basil were in Ireland on March 17, and watched a St. Patrick's Day parade make its way through the streets of Dublin. Despite the general merriment of the traditional parade, she says that in general it's more of a religious celebration than a party day there. When the Bourques celebrate it here in Carlisle, they try to combine the serious side of it with some fun. "We all enjoy Irish music," Beth says. "My kids like the traditional Irish songs that I play for them on my guitar, music I learned from my mother when I was young. My daughter studied Irish step dancing for several years, though she recently had to stop because of other commitments."

Beth and Basil say that they avoid the "campy, commercial stuff, the plastic Paddies" frequently found at this time of year. Their decorations include Irish-American flags and shamrocks, and they burn fragrant peat logs in the fireplace, as is common in rural Ireland. "We always put something green on the dog," Beth adds. The dog's name is Finn, after legendary Irish folk hero Finn McCool.

The highlight of the Bourques' celebration is their annual St. Patrick's Day excursion to J.P. O'Hanlon's in Ayer, which Beth describes as "very similar to pubs in Ireland because going there is a family affair." They will head over once the kids are out of school, Beth says, and spend the rest of the day enjoying the ongoing jam session that the pub always attracts. "People arrive throughout the day with their instruments in hand, and the music just keeps going!"

Corned beef and cabbage may not be popular in the Bourque household, but for Maureen Tarca, it will be the focal point of her St. Patrick's Day celebration this year: not in her own house but at CCHS, where she is chair of the annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon for the senior citizens of Concord and Carlisle, held on March 12 at 11:30 a.m. "We refer to the project as 'seniors caring for seniors,'" she explains, referring to the fact that the event is hosted and carried out by the CCHS senior class. "There will be about forty students serving a full Irish lunch, with corned beef, cabbage, Irish soda bread, a whole typical menu. It's part of the students' community outreach commitment. The kids will provide live entertainment, too: music, singing, step dancing. It's always a lovely afternoon for everyone."

Tarca has helped with the event for the past four years. "I come from a strong Irish heritage and background," she says. "My father's family came from County Mayo. When I was growing up, we always had traditional music, food and celebrating on St. Patrick's Day. Taking part in the CCHS luncheon is my way of keeping my tradition going." Though there is little observance of St. Patrick's Day within her own home, Tarca says that she did have one favorite tradition when her children were young: "When they woke up in the morning, everything in their rooms would be turned upside down. We'd tell them a leprechaun had visited during the night."

Having grown up in Ireland and lived there until the age of 23, when he came to Boston to study electrical engineering, Paul McCormack of School Street has rich memories of celebrating the country's patron saint. "We would start our Saint Patrick's Day celebration by attending church," he recalls. "After church, we would collect shamrocks from the garden to make St. Patrick's Day badges. The badges were made from a piece of cardstock cut in the shape of a shamrock or a flag, and colored green, white and orange. In the center of the badge, we would pin the shamrocks that we picked from the garden.

"Our next big event would be the St. Patrick's Day parade in the center of Dublin. I would go to the parade with some of my six brothers. After the parade was over, we would try to catch a bus home. However, most of the time we ended up walking the four miles, since the buses were full from the huge crowds attending the parade."

As most Americans know, the legend of St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes from Ireland. According to Paul McCormack, it apparently worked: "I never saw a snake until I moved to Carlisle!" He also offers insight into the corned-beef-or-no-corned-beef question by declaring, "The first time that I ever ate corned beef was in Lowell, Massachusetts."

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito