Not just corned beef — St. Patrick’s Day in NJ is learning experience
Well over a million New Jerseyans are among the approximately 35 million nationwide who identify as Irish American, and plenty more Garden State residents will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day on Sunday. But there is much about the holiday that's been misconstrued over the years, and much rich history to share within New Jersey's borders.
On St. Patrick's Day, no one in Ireland eats green bagels, drinks green beer, or prepares corned beef and cabbage, according to Steve Lenox, president of Irish Network USA and its New Jersey chapter, Irish Network NJ. Lenox describes himself as a "transatlantic commuter" who divides his time between New Jersey and his wife and three children in Cork, Ireland.
Instead of those foods, Lenox said, New Jersey has begun to see an influx of authentic Irish fare in its supermarkets and restaurants. Kerrygold cheeses and butter are now readily available year-round, and Irish breads are making appearances as well. Liquor stores are stocked with more than just Guinness, and pubs are moving past simple meat and potatoes.
New York City was recently host to the FarePlate festival, where Lenox said Irish meats, cheeses, and seafood were in full display.
Specifically addressing the drinking and merriment that customarily accompany St. Patrick's Day, Lenox acknowledged those remain vital parts of the holiday — especially because the many parades up and down the state, usually starting with Belmar's, have turned March 17 into a monthlong event.
But many people still think of Ireland in terms of the book "Angela's Ashes," or conjuring images of their ancestors coming to America on famine ships, and Lenox said that if you pay attention, New Jersey's parades do make an effort to break those misconceptions and educate attendees about Irish culture.
"It's about a country now that has become wonderfully diverse," he said. "Ireland now has people coming in from all over the world, and they're coming in to work in these great tech companies, and they're coming in to work in the tourism sector."
Other ways that New Jersey has marked the St. Patrick's Day season include folk music concerts in Morristown and Bayonne, to name a few. And many towns around the Garden State will be raising the Irish flag in celebration over the weekend (Lenox mentioned Paterson as one such city).
That all plays into the mission of Lenox's Irish Network, which at both the state and national levels aims to unite Irish people, Irish Americans, and friends.
"Engaging through business, engaging through the culture, engaging through sports, engaging through education — we're just trying to connect people," he said.