What a load of Blarney. Guinness stamped with shamrocks, the Liffey flowing green and the usually elusive Leprechauns prancing down sun drenched O’Connell Street. Cities around Ireland, and indeed the developed world, come to a standstill to celebrate our Patron Saint. The sound of glass smashing, a fight spilling out of a packed bar and Gardai raising their truncheons. Echoes of “Ole, Ole, Ole” and “Danny Boy” litter the air. The green-spangled parade floats trundle past prompting happy cheers from the waiting crowd. Can you spot the odd one out? And no, it’s not the fictional little person with the pot of gold.
March 17th has become inextricably entangled with visions of violence and public disorder. Last year alone on St. Patrick’s’ Day, 407 arrests were made on the streets of Dublin. Widespread condemnation of our actions inevitably follows the next day. Hospitals are consistently under pressure to treat alcohol poisoning and incidents related to the excessive consumption of alcohol. The streets of our capital are left littered with the debris associated with drunken behaviour. What is it about this day, about this man, about the Irish psyche that contributes to the madness?
When asked about St. Patrick, most people will offer us the clichéd information that St. Patrick was the guy who miraculously ran (or slithered) all the snakes out of Ireland. While conscious that I should refrain from deriding our Patron Saint, it has long been a mystery to me how he managed to gather up enough snakes to get rid of when considering the fact that post-glacial Ireland actually had no snakes. But apart from this well-known minor miracle or optical illusion, what is it about this man that drives us to excessive alcohol consumption and general bad behaviour on his day of celebration? Maybe a brief profile of the man himself will answer some questions.
St. Patrick, our very own Patron Saint and symbol of all that is Irish, was actually born in Britain in the fifth century. Widely believed to have been christened Maewyn Succat, he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of sixteen. After working a six-year term as a shepherd in Ireland consequent to being sold as a slave, Succat escaped to France where he became a priest. Pope Celestine entrusted St. Patrick (a name he adopted after becoming a priest), now at the tender age of sixty, to spread Christian teachings in Ireland. St Patrick’s’ most famous expression was his use of the Shamrock to explain the Trinity (i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as one).
Uninspiring is the word that most readily comes to mind. Irish people, people with Irish connections, people who wish they were Irish, anybody who ever watched GAA or drank Guinness, and people who are simply looking for a party celebrate Paddy’s Day on March 17th, the date widely believed to be the death of our Patron Saint. What is it that we are celebrating? The notion that we are celebrating the memory of the man is becoming tiresome.
Apart from hiding a couple of snakes up his sleeve, the profile of the man and his work offer no hint as to why he should be so well celebrated. There must be another angle. Could it be that we are celebrating being Irish? “Yeah, that’s it!!!!!!” I hear the guy in the green hat and pointy boots mumble, one hand carefully propping him against the wall, the other more affectionately clutching a pint of the black stuff. Explain to me then why we consistently get drunk, break the law and generally show ourselves up as a nation of alcohol fuelled, pseudo-intellectuals, hell-bent on being outrageous and unpredictable. Would St. Patrick have approved of such anti-Christian displays on his day of celebration? Allow me to go out on a limb here and suggest that we are just looking for an excuse for a party?
Any excuse. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, a new year, a sporting event, winning a sporting event, losing a sporting event, finishing a weeks work, a bank holiday, a sunny day, a promotion, a demotion, boring television, or the fact that it is just another day. But St. Patrick’s’ Day is the Everest. It is the day when all our previous practice comes to fruition, it is when we let it all go, it is the climax. The bottom line is that Irish people do not celebrate the memory of St. Patrick, they do not celebrate being Irish, they celebrate the fact that it is a day of celebration. Any excuse. The pub is not a destination, it is the destination. God created alcohol so that the Irish wouldn’t rule the world.
Us Irish have always been a bit backwards about going forwards. Is it not time we grew up a little? This year, in the lead up to St. Patrick’s’ Day, there have been widespread calls for off-licences to close there doors until mid-afternoon, four o’clock has been muted, in an effort to curb the violence associated with the day. Now, after considering this for a moment, I have come to the conclusion that yes, we might be a rowdy, drunk bunch, but we can be quite cunning. Does closing the pubs and off-licences on Good Friday and Christmas Day stop us from consuming alcohol on these days? No, it does not. We Irish have come up with the devious idea of buying our alcohol the day before the off-licences and pubs close. This genius and well thought out idea, surely up there on a par with the Trojan Horse, seems to have evaded the attention of the authorities when they suggested we open the off-licences late on Paddy’s Day. So what do I suggest we should do?
After much deliberation, I have decided to fall slightly short of lining O’Connell Street with sharpshooters and adopting a shoot-to-kill policy. Instead I have come up with the radical idea of throwing a few more of our brave Gardai onto the streets and calling for a demonstration of responsibility from both the public and the publicans. Extreme, you might say. Presence is a powerful tool. Pro-action rather than reaction is what is called for in this situation.