Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

St. Patrick’s Day in Tennessee


We live a short distance from Erin, Tennessee. This is a small town established in the mid 1800’s by Irish immigrants. In the 1840’s the Irish potato blight had destroyed the main food source on the Emerald Island and a quarter of the citizens of that country fled the starvation by getting on ships and sailing to America. One out of four perished on the four-week trip by sea, but it is estimated that upwards of two million Irish arrived in this country by the mid 1800’s. Because the majority of the Irish had no money they were sold as indentured servants to finance the trip and treated as poorly as slaves. Many settled in eastern seacoast towns like Boston, while others traveled farther inland. They were not welcomed in the USA and met with a great deal of hostility where they settled. Poverty was rampant among the Irish immigrants as many businesses posting jobs would state “Irish need not apply.”

In the 1850’s a number of Irish had settled in Tennessee and named their town Erin, after a town in their homeland because the rivers and foggy hills reminded them of where they grew up. Most of them were railroad workers completing the line from Louisville, Kentucky to Memphis, Tennessee. The railroad was finished just two days before the Civil War began. Many Irish men joined the Confederate Army to fight against the Union forces. Their ill treatment by northerners made them sympathetic to the southern cause. Nathan Bedford’s Third Cavalry was all Irish soldiers and the Second Tennessee Volunteer Infantry were called the Irish Regiment.

So, we jump forward a century and in 1963 the city of Erin held their first St. Patrick’s Day celebration. There is a parade, a king and queen are crowned and lots of food is served along with a carnival on Main Street. The town swells by 10,000 people that weekend as people come to party. And March in Tennessee is fairly balmy compared to Minnesota.

My wife is Irish and she suggested we drive over for some authentic Irish food. I am always ready to eat and there was a live band playing on stage in the town square, so a great day was certain. There were forty food stands with something for everyone. We found a Boston themed food truck and I started with clam chowder. I wanted Lobster so my next entre was a buttered bun with Lobster. It looked like a Lobster hot dog. Imagine my surprise when the vendor told me it was $28.00. That was the most expensive hot dog I have ever eaten.

Here is a little more history on St. Patrick’s Day. Patrick was a British bloke born in England around 386 AD and kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16 and sold into slavery in Ireland. He escaped to France in 408 and became an ordained minister in 432. The Irish were a very violent, pagan people and Patrick felt led to return to the island as a missionary and convert them to Christianity. His work there continued until his death on March 17th of 461. So, the Irish patron saint, St. Patrick, is British and not Irish at all. Probably explains all the fightin’ and drinkin’ the Irish are known for.

We drove up to Nashville the next day to pick up a kitchen table and chairs for our house. On the way back we stopped at Outback for a steak. The hostess showed us to a table and my wife headed to the lady’s room to freshen up. The waitress was Abby, a young and cheerful girl who showed up to take the drink order. I asked for ice water but told her I wasn’t sure what my wife wanted as she was in the restroom but if Abby wanted, she could go and ask her. This is where my practical joke blew up in my face. Abby just walked through the door marked “Sheila’s” and asked her. My wife came out and told me that the waitress showed up while she was washing her hands and asked what she wanted to drink. In retrospect it was kind of funny. And I had a steak and lobster with a baked potato and steamed broccoli for $24.99. Sure beats a $28.00 lobster hot dog.