Singing traditions abound on St. Patricks Day

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Singing traditions abound on St. Patricks Day
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About 10:30 next Saturday morning, the St. Patricks Day mayhem will spew from the doors of Murphys Irish Pub on King Street and it wouldnt be surprising if the Unicorn Song kicks off the rowdy day.

The song is a staple of Murphys and a favorite to the revelers, said Murphys hostess Maura McVeigh, rolling her eyes at the thought of the dance connected with the green alligators and the chimpanzee. It could be the first song they play, she said. On an average night, well play it at least six times.

Down a couple of blocks at Pat Troys Irelands Own, Troy has a tradition of leading the crowd out front to a round of the Unicorn Song. Its a tradition, I get them to do the chorus before the parade, its an entertainer, he said.

The song dates back to 1964, created by a group called the Irish Rovers who still tour today. It loosely follows the biblical legend of Noahs Ark, where the unicorn gets left behind, but everybody seems to know the song. Somewhere down the line, a dance was thrown in with outstretched arms for the alligators mouth, armpit scratching for the chimpanzee, a single horn for the unicorn. Add a few beers to the dance and the other motions are hard to decipher.

Anna Fisher just relocated from Pittsburgh where their St. Patricks Day celebration is legendary, she said. Fisher is a regular at Murphys for their Irish Stew and enjoys the song time and time again. I still love it, she said. Her friend, Matt Schwartz, watches the antics each time the Unicorn Song is played. She gets into it, all the hand motions and all, he said. Although theyre not really Irish, we drink like were Irish, said Schwartz.

Outside Murphys, Christy Basabe immediately extended her arms like the green alligator mouth at first mention of the Unicorn Song. I know it, she said, adding there has to be drinking involved. Basabe has no solid plans on drinking any green beer, during the parade which is just beer with food coloring added, but if someone has it, Ill drink it, she said.

The Unicorn Song is not the only tradition of St. Patricks Day. Throw in a little green beer, corned beef and cabbage, and bagpipes and the scene on King Street is predictable, but a lot of fun nonetheless. And you dont even have to be Irish. Its a blast, every one is in the parade mood, said McVeigh.

Alexandria has the first St. Patricks Day parade in the area although it is a good two weeks before the actual holiday. This years parade is dedicated to the veterans and Archbishop Edwin OBrien will be the grand marshal.

JJ Powers is the drum major in the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums band and is ready for his 27th St. Patricks Day parade through Old Town. He hears the Unicorn Song blaring out of several doors along King Street but you cant play it on the bagpipes, he said. Bagpipe songs hes more accustomed to include Amazing Grace, and Scotland the Brave which sounds vaguely like that Old Spice commercial, he said.

During Powers tenure with the band, theyve played for Ronald Reagan at the White House, for former Virginia Senator Chuck Robbs inauguration, and other noted dates including the parade every year. The citys been pretty supportive of the band, he said.

The Irish newcomer on the street is OConnells in the first block of King Street in a space that was formerly Bullfeathers. Although they will have a musician playing on parade day, Saturday afternoon rugby seems to be a bigger hit there. Waitress Rachel Dondzila likened it to Sunday afternoon football. The whole bar is packed, she said. Last weekend, everyone broke out in song during the match, but there were no green alligators and chimpanzees. The rugby song is called Fields of Athenry, and its about some farms in Ireland with handmade stone walls surrounding them. It was fun, added Dondzila.

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