We interviewed with Rob Scannell, current ambassador of the entire Irish whiskey portfolio at Pernod Ricard. Born and raised in Cork in the South of Ireland, Rob shared what the day means to him as an Irishman living in Kenya and other fun tidbits about St. Patrick’s!
Do you feel like you personally identify with Irish culture?
At times. I think Irish people become even more patriotic when we go abroad. For such a small country [with a population of 5 milion] we have a really large reach: we have a national holiday that’s celebrated globally. The more I’ve been abroad the more I resonate with Irish culture; when I go back home I appreciate it more.
Can you tell us a bit about Irish culture in general?
The best way I’ve heard it described was especially around St. Patrick’s Day, “It’s the celebration of the attitude, not just the place”. The Irish attitude is what’s made us famous globally. We’ll go anywhere, chat to anyone. We don’t necessarily open the world’s biggest businesses but can you tell me any country that doesn’t have an Irish pub in it? People who’ve visited Ireland tell me that what’s resonated with them most is how friendly the people are, how welcoming they are, how many free pints you might get on a night out.
What does St. Patrick’s Day mean to you?
It’s funny because in Ireland, depending on the day of the week St. Patrick’s Day falls on, [the reaction] can be “Oh my god no, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. I need to be in work today and I don’t want to be.” To me, it’s a celebration of a lot more than St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a lot more than celebrating the patron saint. It’s a celebration of the people of Ireland and the impact we have had globally.
What’s your favourite memory of the holiday?
It was probably my first St. Patrick’s Day abroad. I was in China and it was really surprising to me that they celebrated [it]! At home, we kind of got used to certain elements of the day that you don’t skip: you go for the parade, then go back to work (or don’t), then pub, pub, pub, pub, sleep, breakfast, pub. There’s multiple Irish bars in Shanghai and they were going to put on their own parade, which eventually got cancelled because the Chinese government felt like our parade was going to be a protest but it wasn’t. After that the whole Irish community in Shanghai got together and celebrated anyway.
How do you find each other?
You go to Irish pubs! Honestly, every country has an Irish community or Irish society that has a chairman that people can get in touch with.
Who runs it here?
A guy called Jack O’Reagan.
How does March 17th play out for most people in Ireland?
Depends on the age bracket. Parents, unless they have a younger kid, probably avoid the parade. Most people meet up with friends then go see some music. Most bars in Ireland will have a live band play […and] lot of companies or brands do surprise gigs. Irish music is incredibly infectious, you can’t not dance to it. If it goes right, it has an energy that’ll get the whole bar on their feet. There’ll actually be an Irish band here on the 17th; the Irish embassy is bringing them. If you walk into a pub in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, even if there’s no one ordering, there’s someone pouring drinks. Glass after glass, stacking the pints because the second people start coming in, they’re all gonna go.
Are there any particular drinks you drink on St. Patrick’s?
Personally I’ll drink an Irish whiskey or Irish whiskey cocktail. In general we try and avoid the whole ‘green beer’ thing. Stouts take a big leap in terms of sales on St. Patrick’s, but the trends in Ireland are really changing. The cocktail bars fill out, they do special packages with their cocktails.
What’re some cliches that happen globally to celebrate St. Patrick’s that, for an Irish man like yourself, feel cringeworthy?
Green beer. The leprechaun thing kind of annoys me at times. It came from myth and just got absorbed. There’s so many things about St. Patrick’s Day that got taken on by America. Also, that everyone gets blind drunk and fights. We drink, but Irish people are incredibly friendly. We like to enjoy our nights and make other people’s nights better, especially on St. Patrick’s.
Now that you’re in Kenya, how do you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s?
Because of the nature of my job, it’s important to be seen almost everywhere that is doing something on St. Patrick’s Day. There’ll be something with Irish embassy on the 17th, then there’s an afterparty at J’s. The Tav has something going on sponsored by Jameson and the Irish society is having a ball on the 18th in Muthaiga. I’m keeping my eyes open for things going on.
Can you give me a brief history of St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick’s Day is the celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick, a Welshman credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. St. Patrick was a monk dressed in blue, we just ‘greenified’ him. The clover is synonymous with St. Patrick because he used it to represent the trinity, since Ireland is full of shamrocks. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City in the 1700’s. There was a large Irish population and the tradition moved from New York to Ireland. The shortest parade in Ireland is 32 seconds, in Carrigaholt in Clare. It starts in a pub, they cross the road and go to another pub and that’s the entire parade. The shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is in Arkansas, in the U.S. it’s 98 feet! It’s just the length of the street… Around 30,000 people go every year.