There’s a town in the West of Ireland called Ballyhaunis. According to my dad, it sounds made up.
Well I’m here to tell you that it’s not! I’ve had the pleasure of attending not one, but two, Ballyhaunis birthday parties in the last month. (Yeah, I need to branch out in where I find my friends, I know.)
So what is required for a Ballyhaunis birthday – and, thus, we can irrationally generalize, all birthdays in the West of Ireland? Well, I’ll tell you what!
10. Public transportation. Few of your Irish friends will have licenses and/or cars. So hop on that bus with a return ticket, fully aware that the “return” part of the trip tomorrow morning (er, afternoon) is going to be very painful.
9. Fake tan. If you didn’t expect this, then you must have missed this post.
8. Food. If there’s one thing that will be in great supply, it is food. Chicken, chips, crisps, curry, pizza, all that highly suspect meat in an Irish breakfast. Want not when there’s an Irish mammy around! (See below.)
Note: You’ll probably end the night at Supermac’s. But that 10-minute drive from Supermac’s back to the house will create a hearty appetite. Worry not. There will food back at the house.
7. Alcohol. This is probably the least surprising thing on the list. The Irish really do live up to that tipsy legend when it comes to birthdays. (And most days.) That’s especially true for a 21st, despite the fact that they have, at that point in life, been legal to drink for 3 whole years. So why is the 21st such a big deal, one to rival an American 21st? Beats me.
6. Animals. If there’s one thing that the West has more of than beer, it’s animals. Sure Scotland has more sheep than people, but the cows and sheep of western Ireland could take back the North from the British if only they could moove past their differences.
Note: You may not be able to visit with the cows of the house, as they’re sometimes moved out of the shed to graze in a field. Which field is somewhat hazy. “They won’t get lost?” you might ask, betraying your highly suburban upbringing. The Irish daddy will cackle. “Ye’d know if they did! Josie* wouldn’t be in college anymore!” and “Ye’d not let 18,000 euro go missing!”
Note 2: You may not see the cows, but you’ll get plenty of entertaining anecdotes about Josie and the cows. Like the time she was asked to go feed them or water them or do whatever it is you do with cows. She went out to the field, and next thing Mammy knew, Leanne…er Josie…was howling as the cows eagerly approached her with offers of friendship. Josie had to be rescued. Some country girl, huh?
*Name has been changed. I won’t divulge her name for the sake of her reputation. I’ll just leave this here. NotAnniesBlog.wordpress.com. I did not give you that link!
5. Personal taxi service. As stated earlier, few of your Irish friends will have a license with which to drive Daddy’s car/tractor/etc. They should also be sufficiently inebriated by the hour it’s fashionable to head from the house to the pub, therefore Mam and Dad will play the personal taxi role to shuttle all partygoers from the house to “town.”
Keep conversation light and just try to keep up with the stories of Packie O’Connell’s cousin and Puddin’ Murphy and old Mary’s niece’s daughter’s recent exploits with the Murray boy.
4. A pub and/or nightclub. For a lad’s birthday, it might be a massive drunken shuffle into a pub. For a more organized gal, it might be a well-planned (and well-decorated) party in a nightclub. Whatever the poison of the night, a pub and/or nightclub in small town Ireland is sure to be great craic.
3. 21 kisses. This is an Irish 21st birthday practice that has baffled me since the first time I saw it. The birthday girl (or guy) perches precariously on a stool in front of the crowd, as the guests line up to slap grossly drunk kisses on the birthday one, hopefully on the cheek. There’s often a DJ counting them out on a microphone and cheesy music. You just better hope you have enough friends to reach 21! Even the nerds usually have enough aunts and cousins to make it to 10…
Of course, if there’s a significant other in attendance, the 21st kiss should be reserved for him or her. That way he or she is sure to catch whatever’s been floating around the young people of Ireland.
Note: Dear readers, I cannot find any history on this tradition. Where in the holy hell of kissing did this tradition come from? The top theories on the internet seem to be “Irish farmers who couldn’t pull anything but sheep” and “pervy uncles.” Who can shed light on the truth?
2. Dancing. Eurovision hits of the past will undoubtedly be requested. (Post on Eurovision to come.) Think “Abba” meets an electrical socket. This will make for some ridiculous dancing.
Now, I have to tell you, there’s a tie for the number one thing required for a Ballyhaunis birthday! (Do you see a pattern? I tend to have trouble with decisions.)
1. An Irish mammy. Have you always wanted a lovely lady with a soft brogue who liked to cater to your every food-related need and quietly come into the TV room several times an hour to offer tea or soda or anything you could possibly want?
It all makes so much sense now – the Irish college students going home every weekend, the Irish boys dutifully calling their mammies more often than I go outside. The backbone of Irish society: the Irish mammy.
Everyone should have one.
(Everyone does have an Auntie Mary, according to my boyfriend. I protested that I didn’t have one – until I realized my Aunt Therese’s real name is Mary.)
Also 1. Poitín at breakfast. This is the direct contrast to the Irish mammy. It’s the Irish daddy. When you’re all sitting around Mam’s breakfast, most guests dying of a hangover born of whiskey and loud music, it is the Irish father who will go and plop a tiny glass full of clear liquid on the table in front of his daughter’s boyfriend.
“Thank god for some water!” you think. But no. Don’t touch that little glass. The smell of pure chemical death that assaults your nostrils should warn you away from the humor of the Irish dad. That right there is poitín. (Pronounced “put-cheen.”)
Note: If you don’t know what poitín is, you can read up here. The basic gist: Poitín is a traditional Irish distilled liquor, historically illegal, up to about 95% alcohol content and distilled from different things, including potatoes. Though it seems that there are a few distilleries licensed to distill poitín with a lower alcohol content, the Irish dad’s stash, kept in an old glass bottle with the label ripped off, makes me think maybe it’s not all on the clean side of the law.
So there you have it. Why not make your next birthday Ballyhaunis-themed? You might, at the very least, get some sloppy kisses out of it.