Tuesday 20 August 2019

Little point protesting about the St Patrick's Day drink link

Colm Lambert.
Colm Lambert.

By Colm Lambert

There was an American fella of Irish descent on the radio the other day, who's been making the news on account of how he's protesting the way in which we Paddies and Paddettes are stereotyped around St Patrick's Day.

Kevin Westley, from Long Island, is annoyed at how March 17 is linked with drink to such a degree, and how major chain stores further that link by selling tee-shirts with pictures of pints of stout or drunken leprechauns, and slogans like 'Beer Me' and 'Only Here for the Beer'. He says Walmart are among the worst offenders, and he has developed a rather novel way of combatting it - as he goes to his local Walmart from around March 1 onwards, buys as many 'offending' tee-shirts as he can manage, and then holds on to them ahead of bringing them back for a refund on March 18.

'I don't want people to think that St Patrick's Day is just about drinking - and I don't think it's fair that the Irish are still being stereotyped in this way when so many other racial stereotypes are no longer acceptable,' he said in a TV interview in the States.

He may have a point about the second bit. It's unlikely that Walmart or anybody else would try 'celebrate' Martin Luther King Day, for example, by selling a tee-shirt with a picture of some African-Americans beside a cotton bush. Or try mark Hannukah by selling a shirt with a picture of orthodox Jews counting a pile of silver coins. But as for the bit about it being 'wrong' to link St Patrick's Day with drinking? All we can say is that he'd better not ever come here for March 17 then. His illusions would be shattered.

For a start, he'd see so many drink-related tee-shirts here too, that to try buy them up would need the same sort of money that it takes to buy a luxury home on Vico Road. Shirts I spotted for sale myself at the weekend included one that featured a green pint glass and the slogan 'Sláinte!'; another had a cartoon potato and the message 'Let's get Mashed'; and a third had pictures of wobbly-looking shamrocks and the text 'I swear to drunk I'm not God'.

The he'd see the calamity of the day itself, as it's still one of the busiest days of the year for pubs, while for off-licences, it rivals the day before Good Friday. There are two St Patrick's Days I well remember myself for alcohol-oriented reasons. One was a few years back, when March 17 fell on a Tuesday, which necessitated being in the newsroom for a fair portion of the day as this newspaper was still published on Wednesdays at the time. This particular Tuesday was also the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, so, when work finished, I decided to go join some friends in the pub to watch the last couple of races.

Scenes of drunken chaos awaited there, with empty glassware littering every table, abandoned children tearing around, and inebriated adults no longer caring. Take the old adage of 'there are only two types of people I can't stand: drunk people when I'm sober, and sober people when I'm drunk', and this was definitely a case of the former.

The other memorable March 17 was one year when I was staying with some friends in Dublin who happened to live just opposite St Patrick's Cathedral. As those accommodation arrangements were being made, I failed to realise that was actually the starting point of the Dublin parade. So, when we ourselves 'celebrated' the national holiday prematurely by drinking until all hours on the night of March 16, it set up quite a wake-up call around 9 a.m. on St Patrick's Day itself as parade participants gathered out front.

That particular year, the parade was being led off by a huge crowd of bikers who were hairier than ZZ Top during Mowvember, so between the sound of the revving of Harley and Goldwing engines, the warm-up routines of American high school marching bands, and the general chatter of the gathering crowd, it really wasn't a great place to be nursing a hangover.

Going out for breakfast rolls and Lucozade a couple of hours later, when the parade had all moved on, the number of empty cider flagons and cheap lager cans that were strewn about the street even at that early hour was unbelievable. I know that if you want to drink all day, you have to start at breakfast time, but until then I didn't think anybody took it that seriously. What sort of person wants cider when they should be having cornflakes?

Mr Westley in Long Island can talk all he likes about unfair stereotypes, but stereotypes only become stereotypes in the first place if there's a bit of truth them. And as for the Irish and drinking and St Patrick's Day? I don't think anybody can deny there's some truth to that.

Wexford People