Saint Patrick’s ‘Pot’ – Drinking the Health of the Saint.
Long ago and ever since then it was and has been the custom of the people of Ireland to go to the public house on Saint Patrick’s Day to drink the ‘St. Patrick’s Pot’. Indeed, they used to believe that if they did not go to the pub that day to drink the ‘Pot’ they would have no luck the following year. They had a special affection, even a love, for that custom, for wasn’t it the holy Saint Patrick himself who began it!
After he had started Christianity in Ireland he made a habit of going around the country visiting the people to see how they were getting on.
He was very fond of blacksmiths. He would say that there was no man who did heavier work than the blacksmith and that the heat of the fire and the heat of the iron and the weight of the sledge made him sweaty and tired, adding that there was no man who needed a drink as much as the poor old blacksmith.
One day Saint Patrick was on his way through a village when he heard the din of a hammer on an anvil so in to the forge he went to see the blacksmith. The blacksmith was pouring sweat. It was about a week or so before Christmas and after chatting a while with the blacksmith he invited him to go down to the public house where he would stand him a drink. “Oh, Saint Patrick,” he cried, “I won’t go with you at all.” “Dear God, and why wouldn’t you?” said Patrick. “Oh, Saint Patrick,” he replied, “in this village there is only one public house, and the landlady there is so mean. She doesn’t give the people a square deal, and so it‘ll come as no surprise to you, Saint Patrick, when I tell you that they are noisy and quarrelsome and are always fighting.” “Indeed,” said Saint Patrick drily. “Come along with me now, and who knows, maybe we’ll put herself on the right road.”
After Saint Patrick had spent a while coaxing him the blacksmith gave in and away they went in the direction of the public house. Saint Patrick said, “Well now, when we go in, you take it nice and easy. Just sit yourself down on a bench somewhere and let me do the talking. Maybe it’ll take me a little while to put her on to the straight and narrow.” The blacksmith agreed. So in they went. And oh, wasn’t the landlady all hospitality and welcomes. And wasn’t she all smiles, seeing as it was Saint Patrick himself. He said to her, “Now, landlady, fill up the pot for the blacksmith.”
Now you see, her trick was to pour the stout or the porter into the pot in one big splash so that it would have a fine frothing head. So she went to the barrel, drew off a measure of stout, and threw it into the pot so that a foaming head rose up several inches above the rim. He paid her what ever few pennies was owing to her. Then he began to talk away, telling her some grand stories. But after a bit he looked into the pot and he saw that it wasn’t even half full. “Oh, landlady, my dear, you haven’t given me what I asked for. Look, ‘tisn’t even half full yet. So off she went to the barrel again and drew off another measure and threw it into the pot with a splash and the same frothy head rose over the rim.
He began to talk to her once more, soft-soaping her and telling her some great stories, but she wasn’t paying him all that much attention now. After a while he looked into the pot again, “Oh, look here, landlady,” he said, “its not full yet. There’s still a bit missing.”
And so, very reluctantly, she went back to the barrel once more, drew off a further measure of stout and flung it in. And the saint began his soft talk again and he told her some more of his stories but now she wasn’t bothering with him at all.
Then he gave another look into his pot and, by God, wasn’t it gone down again! “now see here, landlady, I still haven’t had my right amount.”
“Right or wrong,” she cried, “I’m not putting in another drop.”
“God, woman,” he said, “I haven’t had a taste out of it. And won’t you look at it – it isn’t full at all.”
“Well, by now I’ve filled it right up for you three times,” she said.
“If you’d filled it same,” said Saint Patrick, “wouldn’t it still be full. I haven’t had even one drop out of it yet. And I’ve paid you for it.” It was no good – “And not a penny too much,” she flashed back.
“Well now so, my dear landlady,” he replied, “’tis all the worse for you. And you’re not making any money at all.” “How could things be all the worse for me?” she said. “I’ll tell you,” Patrick replied. “Come on down here with me, will you,” he said, “and I’ll show you where it’s all going.” She went away down with him into a kind of dark cave beneath the stairs. He let her see it for herself. Some kind of dank, slimy creature was lying there in the darkest corner. It stirred and revealed a hoof. She noticed the two pointed horns. She shivered. “Oh, Saint Patrick,” she cried out, “what is that at all?” “What is that at all?” said Patrick, “sure isn’t it Old Nick himself. And what you cheat the people out of doesn’t he drink it all himself. Don’t you see the grand skin on him?” he went on, ‘how sleek he is and how well nourished?” “Oh, Saint Patrick,” she sobbed, “won’t you drive him away!” “I can’t,” said Patrick, “the living here is too good. And if I drove him out same he’d be back with you again before I was half a mile off. Only you can get rid of him.” “And how can I get him out of here?” she asked. “Well, you can fill the measures and the pots for the people,” he said, ‘then he’ll have nothing to drink. I’ll drop in again to see you in three months,” he added ‘and I’m telling you now it’ll be no trouble getting rid of him then.” So t she promised him faithfully to fill the measures and the pots properly. She went back up to the bar and she filled the pot this time. Patrick passed it to the blacksmith, taking a sup or so out of it for himself first, of course. Then he left her, saying he’d be back again in three months.
That night when the people came in for a drink she filled their pots for them and she was generous and hospitable and kind to them all. She acquired a reputation for quality and fair play, more people began to use the place and she began to grow rich and life was sweet.
Three months from that very day, on the seventeenth of March, Saint Patrick called in again. She made him very welcome indeed. “And tell me now, landlady, how are things with you since?” “Oh, Saint Patrick,” she said, “I never thought I would be so well off. I’m doing great. Faith, sure I couldn’t ask for more!” “Are the people peaceable in here now,” he said, ‘when they have drunk their fill?” “Oh, they are, Saint Patrick,” she said, “sure there hasn’t been a row or a fight since you were here last.” “Now isn’t that grand altogether.” said the saint, “Now so, we’ll go down and see how that old rogue is getting on.” So down they went to the dark cave and there they saw little more than a carcase , shivering with hunger and want. “Yes indeed,” said Saint Patrick, ‘twill be easy to get rid of him now.” He gave him one fine kick with the toe of his boot, propelled him to the door, and then threw him out. He slunk away and hasn’t been seen since.
“Now, my dear landlady,” he said, “have you got anything in that barrel at all?” “I have,’ says she, “it’s more than half full.” “Right then, landlady,” says he, ‘the best thing we can do now is to call the people in, all the neighbours, and we’ll share it with them. On the house, mind, and I’m telling you,” says he, “it won’t set you back one bit. Are you happy with that?” “I am,” says she.
So the neighbours were called in, all the people of the village, the blacksmith and all. Saint Patrick served everyone himself, whatever was in the barrel. And they were all in a very good mood, laughing and joking, and they practically pulled the arm off him as they shook his hand and thanked him and everything.
And didn’t he leave it as a bequest to the people of Ireland that they should do the same thing again every St. Patrick’s Day since then. And they did. And they do!
Sláinte! (Cheers! Pronounce: slaw-int-eh)
As told by Diarmuid Mac Coitir(1880-1958), a seanchaí (traditional storyteller) from Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary), County Cork. Translated and adapted by the Wales Famine Forum from the Irish text included with the L.P. No. EEF008 published by Gael - Linn, Dublin, in the 1960s.