St. Patrick's Day is probably a bigger event in the United States than it is in Ireland. The patron saint of Ireland also is honored there, but on the last day of July, when thousands of people climb Croagh Patrick, a steep, rocky mountain in the west.
Here, green is the word on St. Patrick's Day. Even the Chicago River runs emerald, thanks to about 40 pounds of biodegradable food coloring. Certainly, green beer flows more freely in American bars than in Irish pubs. The common dark beer of Ireland becomes darker brown, not green, when coloring is added.
That said, the origin of green beer is not easy to come by. Green brew probably got its start in Boston or New York City, both of which have large populations of folks of Irish ancestry.
The association of green with Ireland comes from the lush landscape of the countryside that inspired the country's nickname, the Emerald Isle. A custom called "drowning the shamrock" may be the forerunner to green beer. After parades and other special events, men would go to local pubs, drop a shamrock into their whiskey and drink it down, including the good luck leaf. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock's three leaves to explain the Christian trinity — father, son and holy ghost — to King Laoghaire.
Whatever its beginnings, green beer will be flowing tonight. Just a few drops of food coloring in light-hued beer and everybody is a wee bit Irish.