St Patrick’s Day needs to get sober and get real

REGULAR readers may have noticed that last week’s column, which fell on March 17, contained no mention of the day in question.

St Patrick’s Day needs to get sober and get real

This was not an administrative oversight — so why mention it now, a week later than that date in March so universally associated with Irishness? Well, it’s a bit like talking about January detoxes when you are face down in the brandy butter on December 25. It’s a bit like trying to reason with a drunk.

Not you. God, no. Not you or any individual. No, it is the institution of St Patrick’s Day itself which needs to go to rehab. It needs to stop being pimped out by giant drinks’ companies, like some hapless, legless reveller collapsed in a town centre fountain, giant green joke hat askew. Is this what it means to be Irish?

Of course not. We do other things apart from drink — for a small island on the edge of Europe, we tend to be a clever, determined bunch — but thanks to St Patrick’s Day and its corporate hijackers, you’d never guess for a moment that Irish people get up to much other than stumbling about clutching pints and seeking craic.

The spread of St Patrick’s Day and resultant Irish visibility has grown madly in recent decades — when I first moved to London in the mid Eighties, pre Good Friday Agreement, the only places that acknowledged St Patrick were a handful of Irish pubs in Kilburn. How this has changed — nowadays, in the run up to St Patrick’s Day, tiny cream-tea villages on the south coast of England are festooned with plastic tricolour flags flying outside pubs. Queues form outside pseudo-Irish pubs in Brighton; shop window displays are suddenly filled with bright green leprechaun-related paraphernalia. Facebook is full of cartoons about “Irish yoga” (people in green t-shirts unconscious in drunken contortions), and suddenly everyone wants to “Drink Like The Irish.”

FFS. Is this our global USP, our claim to fame? Look at us. We are a small green dot in the ocean. We have survived centuries of colonisation from London and Rome; famine and mass migration; civil war; the Troubles; recession and a Tiger; the weather; each other. Yet without ever a Left Bank, a Bloomsbury or a Greenwich Village, we have churned out literary giant after giant — more poets, artists, writers, playwrights, musicians than any one snake-driving saint could shake a shillelagh.

Does this aspect of Irishness get a look-in on St Patrick’s Day? No. Why? Because St Patrick’s Day is not about being Irish — it’s about being drunk — this needs to change. St Patrick needs to get sober and stop being prostituted by drinks corporations. There’s more to us than just drinking.

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