Irish predecessors and more fuel fun in the county

Ron Busch, owner of the Celtic Knot in Jackson, gets ready for St. Patrick’s Day.

W.B. Yeats turned an unforgettable phrase about his homeland when he wrote, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”

One day the Irish usually feel joy is St. Patrick’s Day, and here in Amador County, they have plenty of descendants to share in that celebration. This year, members of Native Daughters of the Golden West Amapola Parlor No. 338 throw the county’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza. The daughters’ inaugural dinner on March 17 includes a no-host bar, music, prizes, a drawing and a traditional Irish meal of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, salads and bread. All tickets will be sold ahead of the evening, with no tickets available at the door. The big night is also a kind of one-year anniversary for the return of the Native Daughters organization to Sutter Creek. The group was once a civic force in the city, but it fell dormant sometime in the 1970s.

“The Native Daughters have been around for about 135 years, but our parlor was just reinstituted in March of 2017,” says member Lindsey Ashworth, adding that all proceeds from the St. Patrick’s Dinner will go to local scholarships and historic preservation efforts in Sutter Creek.

“We’re going to be doing some projects in the city’s historic cemetery,” Ashworth explained. “Back in 1919, the original Amapola Parlor identified what legend said were the first three children ever buried there, and the parlor built them a mausoleum. We’ll be working with the city of Sutter Creek to do similar preservation efforts … This dinner is one of our first big events, and we’re very excited for it.”

No doubt restoration efforts in the 164-year-old cemetery could eventually benefit some of the original pioneers from Ireland, the so-called “land of blood and horses.”

If you’re in search of a store to help prepare for the Native Daughters’ four-leaf elation, look no further than the Celtic Knot on Jackson’s Main Street. Opened in 2003 by Ron Busch and his late, much-remembered wife Patty, the Celtic Knot is now approaching its 14th St Patrick’s Day, as well as the 14th year it has offered a doorway to honor Irish heritage by providing sterling jewelry, intriguing Hibernian art, backcountry garden fairies and rebel music beating to drums, tin flutes and Uilleann pipes.

And, of course, there’s also a wide array of clothes that are perfect for the occasion.

“If you need something green to wear, we do sell that,” Ron said with a smile.

Since Jackson holds its annual Dandelion Days flea market on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, Ron acknowledges there’s always a built-in party atmosphere around the store when the day arrives.

“We’ve never had to do too much for it,” Ron notes, “especially with everything going on outside. And while we don’t sell any of those little, cheap, party-poppers, you can get them all over the street.”

In other words, if you want to stumble around Dandelion Days chugging green beer and blowing a shamrock-green kazoo, you certainly can; or you could remain walking straight and buy a nice, authentic piece of Irish culture at the Celtic Knot. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Another novel way to get into the St. Patrick’s Day spirit this year – literally, so to speak – is to jump into an exciting and relatively new book genre called “Irish noir.” That’s right; the nation with the most Nobel Prize-winners in literature is now producing its own brand of crime novels. Adrian McKinty of Belfast, and Eoin McNamee of County Down, Ireland, have emerged as two of the most noted authors bringing prestige to this hybrid style. However, the best pieces of Irish noir that I’ve read lately were both penned by longtime journalists.

The first is Gene Kerrigan’s “Dark Times in the City.” Kerrigan is one of Dublin’s veteran newspapermen, and his penetrating columns for The Irish Independent have made him a major voice on politics and society on both sides of the River Liffey. But Kerrigan’s fiction explores a side of Dublin that never makes it into travel brochures: liberated from newsprint, the reporter’s made-up stories probe the very real threat of Irish organized crime. Anyone who thinks Kerrigan’s mob tales are exaggerations need only Google the string of assassinations that took place in Dublin pubs and boxing matches over the past eight years, many of which have been linked to infamous local gangsters. “Dark Times in the City” is set in those same bleak northern Dublin streets and taverns. It tells the story of Danny Callaghan, an ex-convict trying to reclaim his moral weathervane in a landscape of extortion and predation – a shadowy underworld long-hidden by the gleaming “Celtic Tiger” economy. Callaghan wrestles with a path forward in bleak neighborhoods where the past makes any hope of redemption seem like a James Joycean dream.

I picked up another great piece of Irish noir while shopping on Independent Bookstore Day in 2017. It was “A Death in Summer” by the shifty, side-glancing pulp writer Benjamin Black, who might also be the award-winning Wexford novelist John Banville. A former newspaper editor, first at The Irish Press and then at The Irish Times, Banville’s probingly poetic novels like “The Book of Evidence” and “The Sea” have become cornerstones of late Emerald Isle literature. However, in 2006, the highly recognized artist began to pen mysteries through the lens of a Mr. Hyde-like alter ego called Benjamin Black. “A Death in Summer” shows just how dark Banville can be in his other persona. Set in 1950s Dublin, it tells the story of the inquisitive city pathologist, Dr. Quirke, whose loneliness and alcoholic tendencies are only assuaged by asking dicey questions about the murder victims that come through his ward. When Quirke dives into the grisly end of a local newspaper baron, the network of crimes he uncovers is beyond chilling.

Speaking of Independent Bookstore Day, which is on the horizon after St. Patrick’s Day on April 28, anyone looking for more traditional Irish literature can find plenty of it right now at Hein & Co. Books in Jackson. The store’s classics section currently offers multiple copies of nearly every work by James Joyce, along with Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece “Gulliver’s Travels,” and a handsome collection of short stories by Oscar Wilde.

As for tomes on Irish culture, the Celtic Knot sells J.B. Bury’s “Ireland’s Saint,” Michael Carroll’s “The Castles of the Kingdom” and Thomas McPherson’s “Essential Celtic Prayers.” Whether you find your inner-Irishness at the Native Daughters’ party, in corners of the Celtic Knot or in the pages of a great book, just remember that St. Patrick’s Day is about laughing at life’s tragedies, and doing so by looking for those little moments of joy.

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