If you’re a regular visitor to GrokNation or to Mayim’s professional page, you may already be familiar with the web design work of Patrick D’Arcy. But those of you who know the band Flogging Molly may be familiar with his musical work as well – he played mandolin for the group in the 90s! Plus, he and Mayim know each other from the homeschooling movement, from when their kids were “wee.” In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, GrokNation asked Pat to be our “resident Irish person” and answer some questions about his connection to Irish culture, music and heritage.
Mayim Bialik: First and foremost, I have to ask: tell us about being a member of Flogging Molly!
Patrick D’Arcy: I had just moved to LA from Ireland and was hanging out at Molly Malone’s on Fairfax and Fair City on Wilshire. These were essentially community centers for Irish people; you could find work and socialize. There were a few great bands happening at the time with an Irish twist. After becoming a regular, the word got out that I played guitar. I was approached to play mandolin at an upcoming gig… I never played mandolin but figured, “It has strings, so why not?” I assumed I could figure it out – and I did. The band name evolved from us playing Molly Malone’s every Monday night for over three years (’93-‘97); it was like flogging a dead horse… hence “Flogging Molly.” I got more interested in traditional Irish music (all I wanted to do was play uilleann pipes) and ended up splitting from the band. I am very grateful to have had the experience. If I had not been in that world, I would never have met my wife, Joy, and had the pleasure of getting to know our brilliant daughter Tíerna. Joy was the best friend of the girlfriend of the lead singer of the band.
MB: About your musical background… what do you play, what’s your current musical identity like?
PD: My family is quite musical. My Dad was always singing songs when I was a kid and still is! He also plays melodeon and harmonica. My Mom would sing at parties and I would sing a lot as a kid but really grew into music when I started on guitar. I love music of absolutely all kinds. Good music is good music. So, as far as musical identity goes I am all over the map. My roots would be in rock, but those roots spread, as they do, into traditional Irish music. I play Irish instruments mostly, especially the pipes, but quite often in non-traditional settings. Some bands I currently play with range from modern hymn writers Keith & Kristyn Getty, self-explanatorily titled Celtic Pink Floyd, Irish band The Ne’er Duwels, and Irish trad band Rattle the Knee. I have since spent time learning Indian music on bansuri and sitar. I love a Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd song just as much as I enjoy an Indian Raga or a great Klezmer tune.
MB: How often do you tour and is that still as fun as it was when you were a wee lad?
PD: I tour about 4 or 5 months of the year. In the beginning, it was hard to be away from family. Technology helps greatly with that. It’s so nice on a rough day to be able to FaceTime and feel that support.
MB: Is there a distinctly “Irish” way about you? Besides Irish music, for example, do you cook Irish food? Speak Gaelic?! Tell Irish folktales? I’m being serious, I’m curious!
PD: The Irish are a proud, family centric and fun-loving people and I certainly carry that in my bones. So much of what I consider Irishness is the sense of humour; being able to create a joke from any situation. It’s very different from the sense of humor here in the States. It can appear to be insulting or offensive… but no offense or insult is ever intended, it’s all just a “bit o’ craic!” Maybe it’s a coping method on a national scale for the oppression the country suffered through for hundreds of years crowned by the great starvation (famine) of the 1840’s? Or maybe it’s just the longer nights we have in winter to create fun?
MB: You married a non-Irish-born woman and your daughter bears a lovely Irish name. What’s your wife’s ethnic background and how does your daughter connect to her Irish heritage?
PD: [My wife] Joy’s background is German mostly on her mother’s side with a smidgen of Welsh. [They] came over in the 1800’s from Köln and founded Tinley, a country town [that is] now a Chicago suburb. Her father’s side were Scots Irish; her grandad on her dad’s side came over as a boy from Belfast, Northern Ireland. His family was in line to buy a ticket to get on the Titanic but they sold out just as he was getting to the window. How lucky for him, and for our family!
I’ve never imposed any Irishness on Tíerna. It’s always been an organic thing in the house. She had casual Irish dancing lessons, knows some Irish songs and I think has a sense of her Irishness. She has started using the “fada” or accent in her name, which is so nice. She has spent an inordinate amount of time in Ireland for a Californian so young; and Granny & Grandad’s house holds a place in her heart. She knows a little bit of Gaeilge (Gaelic) too! But her exposure to Irish music may be the biggest thing. I play uilleann pipes and whistle “professionally” so she gets to hear lots of tunes and those tones and textures quite a bit. My Mom sent over a book about St. Patrick when Tíerna was a baby. She wanted her to know her Irish roots- the story was very serious and bland, far too much so for a small child, so I lightened it up by singing a song called “St. Patrick Was A Gentleman,” a form of 17th century Irish rap, if you will… it did the trick and she knows the song to this day, along with a possibly more accurate version of St. Patrick’s life.
MB: How did corned beef and cabbage become known as Irish foods?
PD: The story goes that new Irish immigrants to New York back in the 1800’s couldn’t find food they could enjoy. In Ireland bacon, cabbage and potatoes as well as turnip and parsnip was a common meal. It was hard to find this style of bacon over here. Not very flavorful but you have to remember people in Ireland in those days weren’t allowed to own basically anything so to have a pig that you could eat would have been a luxury. Apparently the Irish were introduced to corned beef by the Jewish community who lived in the same boroughs of NY. The union was secured and the Irish now ate beef! This gets interesting too because beef was an ancient dish in Ireland made unattainable by oppression.
MB: In this country, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated as yet another excuse to get drunk and behave outrageously. How do you feel about that? Do you think the stereotypes of the “drunk Irishman” are damaging especially in light of the fact that the way Americans celebrate this holiday is by getting extremely drunk?
PD: It’s honestly bizarre. St. Patrick’s Day was a holy day when I was a kid. We’d go to mass and then go see the nice parade on O’Connell Street in Dublin. In the States it was a way for Irish people to celebrate their heritage. What we have now is another case of marketing creating culture. The alcohol companies obviously had a hand in it, just like Hallmark did with Christmas & Easter. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a pint of Guinness or a nice glass of Barolo as much as the next person, but the stigma attached is frustrating at times. It also stems from those early days in America when the puritanical style of living here would have clashed considerably with the Irish sense that to be able to afford good food and alcohol was a luxury to be enjoyed. The trouble being that it would have been incredibly rare for alcohol to be available in Ireland so it wasn’t in the culture to know how to handle it. There are also theories that Guinness exists/was invented to control the population by the oppressor. This kind of oppression I’m not adverse to!
MB: When people find out you’re Irish, do people make certain jokes or assumptions?
PD: When I came over first I found the green donuts and “Where are me lucky charms?” jokes very offensive. I thought to myself “Would you say this sort of thing to a black person on Kwanzaa?!” I didn’t dwell on it though; now I find it charming in a kitschy sort of way. I won’t be going out buying Lucky Charms though anytime soon.
MB: Thank you so much, Pat!
PD: Thanks Mayim, this has been a fun wander down memory lane. Signing off in my native tongue: Slán agus Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit! – Pádraig Ó Dorchaide