What a bunch of Blarney. Guinness stamped with shamrocks, the flowing green Liffey and the usually elusive Leprechauns prancing down sun-drenched O’Connell Street. Cities in Ireland, and indeed the developed world, come to a standstill in celebration of our patron saint. The sound of breaking glass, a fight breaking out of a packed bar, and Gardai raising their batons. The echoes of “Ole, Ole, Ole” and “Danny Boy” litter the air. The green sequined parade floats roll slowly forward drawing happy cheers from the waiting crowd. Can you identify the stranger? And no, he’s not the fictional little person with the pot of gold.
March 17 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 constantly under pressure to treat alcohol poisoning and binge drinking incidents. The streets of our capital are made literate with the debris associated with drunkenness. What is it with this day, with this man, with the Irish psyche that contributes to the madness?
When asked about Saint Patrick, most people offer us the cliché information that Saint Patrick was the guy who miraculously scooped (or slid) all the snakes out of Ireland. While I am aware that I must refrain from ridiculing our patron saint, it has long been a mystery to me how he managed to gather enough snakes to get rid of them considering the fact that post-glacial Ireland actually had no snakes. But aside from this well-known minor miracle or optical illusion, what is it about this man that leads to excessive drinking and general misbehavior on his holiday? Perhaps a brief profile of the man will answer some questions.
Saint Patrick, our patron saint and symbol of all things Irish, was born in Britain in the fifth century. It is widely believed that he was christened Maewyn Succat, he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of sixteen. After working a six-year stint as a pastor in Ireland, after being sold into slavery, Succat escaped to France, where he became a priest. Saint Patrick (a name he adopted after becoming a priest), now at the tender age of sixty, was entrusted by Pope Celestine with the spread of Christian teachings in Ireland. Saint Patrick’s most famous expression was his use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity (ie, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as one).
Uninspiring is the word that most easily comes to mind. The Irish, people with Irish connections, people who wish they were Irish, anyone who has watched GAA or drunk Guinness, and people just looking to party celebrate Rice Day on March 17, the date believed to be the death of our Patroness. What are we celebrating? The idea that we are celebrating the memory of man is becoming tiresome.
Other than 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 celebrated. There must be another angle. Could it be that we are celebrating being Irish? “If that is!!!!!!” I hear the guy in the green hat and pointy boots mumble, one hand gently propping him up against the wall, the other more lovingly clutching a pint of the black stuff. So explain to me why we constantly get drunk, break the law, and generally come across as a nation of booze-fueled pseudo-intellectuals bent on being loud and unpredictable. Would Saint Patrick have approved of such anti-Christian demonstrations on his celebration day? Let me go out on a limb here and suggest that we’re just looking for an excuse to party.
Any apology. Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Anniversaries, a new year, a sporting event, winning a sporting event, losing a sporting event, finishing a work week, a bank holiday, a sunny day, a promotion, a demotion, boring TV or the fact that it’s just another day. But St. Patrick’s Day is Everest. It is the day when all our previous practice bears fruit, it is when we let go of everything, it is the climax. The bottom line is that the Irish don’t celebrate the memory of Saint Patrick, they don’t celebrate being Irish, they celebrate the fact that it’s a day of celebration. Any apology. The pub is not a destination, it is the destination. God created alcohol so the Irish wouldn’t rule the world.
We Irish have always been a bit backwards when it comes to moving forward. Isn’t it time we grew up a little? This year, in the run up to St Patrick’s Day, there have been widespread calls for closed licenses to close their doors until mid-afternoon, four o’clock have been silenced, in an effort to curb the violence associated with the day. Now, after considering this for a moment, I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, we may be a rowdy, drunken bunch, but we can be quite cunning. Does the closure of pubs and clubs on Good Friday and Christmas day prevent us from consuming alcohol on these days? No, he does not do it. We Irish have come up with the devious idea of buying our alcohol the day before the shops and pubs close. This genius and well thought out idea, surely up there with the Trojan Horse, seems to have eluded the attention of the authorities when they suggested we open up the licenses after hours on Paddy’s Day. So what do I suggest we should do?
After much deliberation, I have decided not to fill O’Connell Street with snipers and to adopt a shoot to kill policy. Instead, I have come up with the radical idea of throwing a few more of our brave Gardai out on the streets and calling for a show of accountability from both the public and the publicans. Extreme, you could say. Presence is a powerful tool. Pro-action instead of reaction is what is required in this situation.