St. Patrick in Montana

Sooty Olive – an Irish fly.

Paddy and Mick were walking home after a Halloween night of celebrating at Murphy’s Pub.

 They decided, just for the fun of it, to take a shortcut by walking through the village cemetery.

 They were startled when, in the middle of the cemetery, they heard a tap, tap, tapping coming from the misty shadows.

 Trembling with fear, they cautiously approached the area from where the sound was coming and then made out the sight of an old man with a hammer and chisel, chipping away at a tombstone.

 Paddy says, “Jaysus, man, you scared us half to death; we thought you were a ghost!”

Mick adds, “Why are you working out here in the middle of the night?”

 The old man pauses his tapping and grumbles, “My friends are such fools, they misspelt my name and here I have to correct it.”

 Tomorrow is, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s a big day here in Butte, Montana, per capita, the most Irish city in the United States. It’s a day when everybody who is of Irish descent, or would like to be, if only for a day, celebrates their Irish heritage. It’s even known, if you can believe it, for celebrating with a bit of ale or whiskey.

 It’s also a day to tell Irish jokes, and there are thousands of them, to be sure. Not surprisingly, many of those jokes take place in a pub, or after an evening at the pub. And, don’t be surprised when there’s a little gallows humor in the story, too.

Now, as far as I know, all my ancestors were Norwegian, or at least Scandinavian, as my mother sometimes said there was a scandalous person a few generations back who found a bride in Sweden. Still, there’s a good probability that, if I got my DNA tested, we might find some Celtic genes somewhere in that big gene pool.

 One indication might be that my mother, whose first language as a child was Norwegian and who was militantly Protestant and a teetotaler, absolutely loved St. Patrick’s Day. She especially loved Irish music, and the radio in our farm kitchen would be tuned to WCCO in Minneapolis, which back then broadcast Irish jigs and reels all day on St. Patrick’s Day. She also loved the movie, “The Quiet Man,” which I plan to, yet again, watch that marvelous movie if it’s on tomorrow’s TV schedule.

There might be a wee bit of melancholy in our observance of St. Patrick’s Day this year, as, next month, we’ll also be remembering my mother’s death 50 years ago, from complications of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

That movie, by the way, was originally a short story by Maurice Walsh that ran in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933. John Ford, the director and producer of the movie bought the movie rights for the grand total of $10. Republic Pictures paid the author another $3750 when the movie was made.

Of course, if I’m watching The Quiet Man tomorrow, I’ll be rooting for Father Lonergan, the Catholic priest and avid fly angler in the story, to finally catch that salmon he’s been hoping to catch for all these decades.

 I don’t know what kind of fly Father Lonergan was using when he did momentarily hook up with that big salmon. I did, however, do an internet search for Irish flies and, surprise, surprise, the popular flies are pretty much the same as the ones most American anglers have in their vests.

 I did, however, find one that seemed different to me, at least. It’s called a Sooty Olive, and it’s a popular fly for fishing the loughs, or lakes as we’d call them. According to an instructional video, it’s supposed to resemble chironomids, or “buzzers,” as they’re sometimes called. We usually call them midges. Personally, I think the fly would be a good mayfly or caddis emerger.

I tied a few of these and if the weather is nice tomorrow, I might see what Montana trout think of these Irish flies. Then a glass of stout might be in order.

 Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at

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