I’ve seen many a St. Patrick’s Day – mostly playing in a band atop a large stage, amidst a swirl of action but removed enough so that the forest can be clearly distinguished from the trees.
Where to begin? I suppose in the metropolis of Wexford where St. Patrick’s Day was at best an insipid dud. With not much else going on in March we’d line up on the Quayside and watch the Confraternity men and Legion of Mary ladies parade by in a murmur of rosaries, accompanied by the local FCA (Army Reserve) who at least marched in time.
My favorites were the Foresters – they wore green and white Robert Emmet type uniforms, knee-high black leather boots, and plumed hats.
The lack of alcohol, however, weighed heavily on both marchers and observers, as pubs back then closed for our national feast day.
At my first New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade I felt I had stepped into Caligula’s Rome. Though quite early in the morning the bacchanal was already in full swing – not just booze either, but weed wafted gently by on the cool breezes of Fifth Avenue. Sex, too, was in the air as leggy drum majorettes kicked for the skies and suburban high school kids made out with vigor in fashionable retail doorways.
Later that night in Tomorrow’s Lounge, Bay Ridge, I had one of the best gigs of my life as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford shook the considerable dust off the rafters. In truth we could have played Enya-on-Ambien dirges and the packed house would have roared along with gusto. To top it all we got paid double!
It was then I realized that on St. Patrick’s Night a band mounts a wild stallion. All you have to do is hold on to its mane, dig in the spurs, and off you go with the flow!
The following year, however in our innocence, Turner & Kirwan played ten 40-minute sets in Manchester, NH and received sweet damn all bonus. Somewhat miffed we invited the friskier looking part of our audience back to a party in a house that had been lent to us.
I will not bore you with the salacious details; suffice it to say we left Manchester in somewhat of a cloud. So much so that when I returned many years later with Black 47 I had to put forth that the Kirwan playing with the disgraced duo from Wexford had been my Uncle Larry.
There was never a need for such white lies in New York City on March 17th. For one thing, no one would be crazy enough to give Black 47 a loan of their house on that sainted liquid evening.
Not that there weren’t hiccups. One night in a shadowy corridor of the Letterman Show, fatigued and overwhelmed, I thought I had lost my mind when assaulted by a battery of little people dressed as leprechauns who were merely seeking autographs.
Another year on the Conan O’Brien Show I almost had a heart attack when I forgot a line from our song James Connolly on national TV.
But there were triumphs too. I can still feel the crowd and band meld together into one tightly clenched fist when I hear our Live in New York City CD recorded on St. Patrick’s Day in the late lamented Wetlands club.
I thought I might give the whole thing a break when Black 47 disbanded, but BB King’s on 42nd Street wanted the real rockin’ New York Irish music experience again, so I’m back in the game with a new kick-arse band for a night.
Cáit O’Riordan of The Pogues and Chris Byrne of Black 47 will join us for some songs. Lia Fail Pipes and Drums from Mercer County will kick off the evening. Pat McGuire, our old comrade from Spéir Mor and Paddy Reilly’s days will team up with Geoff Blythe of Black 47 to do a set; and my son, Rory K, the hip-hop artist, will jam the grooves with Celtic themes like Fresh Off The Boat – dear God how did I beget a rapper – perhaps it’s karma for Uncle Larry’s long-ago wild night in Manchester?
Whatever! See you at BB’s in Times Square when we mount that St. Patrick’s Night wild stallion one more time. Bring your spurs!
Larry Kirwan & Friends, BB King’s, 237 W. 42nd St. NYC (212)997-4144
Tickets: or at the door