From Carnival to Chaos: Alcohol and St Patrick’s Day


As our national holiday approaches, Amy Wall considers the darker side to the St Patrick’s Day Festivities

Saint Patrick’s Day is an occasion where the entire world becomes just a little bit more Irish. We see the faces of proud people proclaiming their Irish heritage plastered all over our television screens. It seems that on the 17th March, if you want to impress your friends, the easiest way to do that is by telling them you’re a half, a quarter – or maybe even an eighth – Irish.

St Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s biggest holiday of the year. In Dublin, the streets are shut down for the annual Paddy’s Day parade, which gets bigger and better as the years pass, and a feel-good atmosphere surrounds the capital as people cheer for the man who rid our country of its snakes.

However, there is a darker aspect to this national holiday that has yet to be fully realised. It lurks in the backdrop, getting ready to attack once the parades are over, the drink is flowing and night has descended on our little emerald isle. And what is this darker aspect? Drunken and disorderly behaviour.

There is the perceived notion that the only way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day is to drink the local pub dry. Let’s face it: as stereotypes go, the national Irish one isn’t so great. We are a nation constantly parodied as being drunk, aggressive and dressed in a dodgy wardrobe of green, white and orange with some bright red hair adorning our heads. There’s a popular episode of Family Guy where the main character, Peter Griffin, takes a trip to Ireland to meet his birth father. As the plane descends into the airport, it lands on a runway littered with empty bottles. Peter’s father turns out to be the town drunk, a job which is apparently held in high esteem in this fictionalised Ireland. And who can forget that episode of The Simpsons where Homer and Marge take the kids to the local Paddy’s Day parade in Springfield, where – wouldn’t you know it? – Bart ends up drunk and abusive. No surprises there then.

We Irish have a great sense of humour, and are not adverse to laughing at ourselves, but surely this is not the kind of image and behaviour we want to project to the rest of the world. The question must be asked: when did alcohol become such an intrinsic part of this national holiday? I find it hard to believe that after a hard day of chasing snakes out of the country that Saint Patrick sat himself down with a pint of Guinness and said, “Jaysus, I’m knackered after that. Sure c’mon lads, lets have a few and get this party started in our new snake-free land, wahey!”

While the main Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin City usually run quite smoothly, it seems that once the parade is over and night falls, the atmosphere in the city changes completely. The Sunday Independent reported that at the celebrations held in 2008, over 75 arrests were made by Gardaí from Pearse Street station between midnight and 6am. All of these arrests were due to drunk and disorderly behaviour. Gardaí were on high alert as alcohol fuelled fights and lewd behaviour blanketed the entire city. Nationwide, there was a reported increase in the number of thefts, anti-social behaviour and – more shockingly – drink driving.

According to the World Health Organisation, Ireland has the highest level of alcohol consumption per head in the world, with consumption levels growing and growing. Alcohol has become such a problem that teenagers across the country are now presenting with liver disease, and it is no surprise that the percentage of underage drinking gets bigger with each passing St Patrick’s Day in Ireland. But how can we combat this?

In 2008, pub owners and off-licences agreed with an appeal set out by Dublin City Council not to serve alcohol until the late afternoon at the earliest – but even still, there was little impact on drunk and disorderly behaviour or underage drinking. What else can we do? Other solutions would be to increase the tax on alcohol even more, but yet again, it is doubtful that this would have any affect whatsoever. Short of embracing a national alcohol prohibition, it seems that the problem of alcohol consumption during this time of year will continue to get out of hand.

Strict rules need to be put in place. It seems that since the recession began, teenagers are finding it easier to get a hold of alcohol, especially during this time of year. Many pubs and off-licences are in debt and therefore, perhaps, the rules are being bent slightly when it comes to under age persons looking for drink. The Government needs to control this. Identification should be asked for. The supply of alcohol should be monitored.

As for Saint Patrick’s Day, there is nothing that can be done, other than hope that the Gardaí have enough forces to clean up the streets of Dublin, once the carnival atmosphere descends into chaos yet again.