I lost track of days this week, so it wasn't until I saw the third passer-by done up in neon green that I remembered that, yes, it's today that's St. Patrick's Day. I'm one-quarter Irish, which is probably just the right amount to enjoy an American St. Patrick's Day with some equanimity—not inclined to full-blown plastic leprechaun hat embarrassment, but not so Irish that I can't get behind the idea. Kind of like Christmas, I tend to embrace the sheer unmoored weirdness of St. Patrick's Day: a religious observance gone brazenly secular, a national celebration that thrives an ocean away from the nation it celebrates. (I remember once, a long time ago, spending St. Patrick's Day in a bar that marked the occasion by hiring a Highland bagpiper, kilt and all—even the Irish-Americans seemed to take it in the sort of "eh, why not" spirit in which it was intended.)
Driving around this morning, I got to thinking about who would qualify as the most "Irish" composer there is. Now, there are plenty of composers who are actually Irish (my go-to is always Charles Villiers Stanford, on the grounds that Elgar hated him; if you're annoying the English, then, as an Irishman, you're doing something right), but I'm talking about a composer whose personality and/or music fits the crazy American stereotype of Irishness that gets a lot of play every March. You know the image: a charming rogue, a garrulous spinner of tall tales, blasphemous yet sentimental, irresponsible yet lovable, &c., &c. There's not many. Wagner, maybe—nobody spins a tall tale like Wagner—but, then again, his irresponsibility isn't so much "lovable" as "obnoxiously self-centered and anti-Semitic." For a while, I toyed with the idea of Poulenc—the puckishness fits—but his Catholicism is more St. Teresa than Father Ted.
So I'm going to throw my one-quarter-Irish weight behind Hector Berlioz. Tall tales? In spades. More charming the more delusional his grandeur? Absolutely. And really, throwing a brass band into a Requiem mass is a pretty Irish move. Plus, he was Irish by marriage, at least for a little while. So there you go: Hector Berlioz, stereotypical Irishman. Strange? Sure, but not really any stranger than the holiday itself. Slainté!