THE Gastropod has heavily starred next Thursday, St Patrick's Day, in his diary - and has cancelled all engagements for the Friday. These celebrations provide the Irish drinks industry with the perfect opportunity to promote its products to thirsty journalists. Last year, Irish Distillers entertained us to a traditional breakfast hosted by Rhymin' John Ryan, who when called upon to sing the praises of Irish whiskey does so quite literally.

This year, perhaps realising that even the hardiest drink writers have problems getting through the day after a morning spent trying to distinguish Paddy from Jameson, Irish Distillers is hosting a tea party at the Ritz. One imagines this will involve buttermilk scones, with the water of life served discreetly in bone-china cups.

After tea, it is off to HMS Belfast, in whose gun room Thomas Caffrey's Irish Ale is to be launched. Although a Caffrey's beer has been brewed in Belfast for more than a century, this product is claimed to be the first of its kind. One of those instantaneously creamy, canned 'draught' beers, Caffrey's is apparently neither stout nor bitter, but a smooth malty ale with an alcohol content of 4.8 per cent. The Gastropod looks forward to assessing it thoroughly.

ANYONE planning a trip to the Emerald Isle is advised to travel with a copy of John and Sally McKenna's biennial The Bridgestone Irish Food Guide (Estragon Press, pounds 11.99). Now in its third edition, it has become indispensable to those visitors to Ireland who truly care for their stomachs: it lists not only the most notable restaurants but also the best shops and specialist food producers, South and North.

Before the birth of their baby daughter, the McKennas used to embark on their gastronomic excursions with a bicycle in the boot of their car. The driver would drop the cyclist at one restaurant and proceed to the next where, after lunch, the cyclist would catch up. By alternating roles, the couple could conscientiously eat their way around the country, two restaurants at a time, without becoming desperately overweight.

Now that they are sponsored by Japan's largest tyre manufacturer, the Gastropod trusts that life for the McKennas, who have done so much to promote the food culture of Ireland, has become more sedate.

PHILIP COOPER, formerly associated with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, is now running courses for laymen. The pounds 115 introductory course at his Wine Education Service (10 weekly evening classes) starts in the second week of April at three centres in the Greater London area. Half the course is spent tasting wines, to enable students to differentiate grape varieties and regions, and to give them a descriptive vocabulary. For further information, ring 081-801 2229.

CHEF Antony Worrall Thompson is opening yet another modish, Mediterranean-style restaurant in Southwark, south London, next week. An almost weekly occurrence, you may think, but the launch of the Cafe dell'Ugo in Tooley Street, near the Thames, is something to get excited about, because he is giving the food away. Those who reserve tables for up to four people in the first-floor restaurant between 15-20 March will pay only for the drinks they consume. To book, ring Max on 071-407 6001.