Let My People Go (and Drink Responsibly)!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and I am an Irishman. Or, I should say, my parents are Irish, as were all of my grandparents and are all of my uncles and aunts and cousins (I have 66 first cousins). My parents came over to America just before my oldest sister was born, and thus my siblings and I are all dual Irish and American citizens.

So, I am an Irishman by heritage, by passport, and by proxy.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day of celebration! And I am proud to be Irish. My family is great, and I have always enjoyed celebrating the country, the tradition, and the culture.

But we Irish, we have a problem.

We like to joke about it. We like to revel in it. We like to play it up.

But as much as we like to laugh about, it’s still a problem. And I think it’s getting worse.

We drink too much.

And, to quote a comment from another blog:

As excessive alcohol consumption (or having the craic) is seen as a hallmark of Irishness it becomes embraced by most young people (especially men) as the only aspect of their identity that is meaningfully Irish. This leads to a vicious circle of alcohol abuse: Irish identity is eroded so to compensate they drink, drinking then becomes all it is to be Irish, so they drink excessively to try to be Irish.

That the Irish should choose to celebrate and have a few drinks is not a problem. I will have a few beers tonight myself. Ireland is not, contrary to its reputation, among the highest in the world in per capita alcohol consumption.

But that heavy drinking should be so closely connected to our national identity that it defines who we are at home and abroad, that’s not the best thing.

It’s reasonable for any culture to celebrate its national holiday with a few drinks. From Oktoberfest to Purim to Shogatsu, people drink the world over. But that our holiday should be so uniquely associated with people getting so paralytically drunk that it is considered normal to see someone pass out or vomit before 10 am, well, that’s no great tradition.

It is perhaps noteworthy, according to my family sources, that early morning drinking is not actually an Irish tradition on St. Paddy’s Day. Traditionally, it was a church holiday, and the great majority would attend Mass in the morning. Everyone would spend time with family during the day, and yes, people would go to the pub for a few drinks at night.

Heavy morning drinking on St. Paddy’s was born as an American tradition first. But there are enough connections among the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic that green beer and early-morning alcohol abuse are now common enough on both sides of the divide.

I don’t want to lecture anyone, and I have no illusions about doing much persuasion, either. I’m certainly no puritan. I’m not calling for prohibition or teetotaler-itarianism.

I am not a teetotaler myself nor anything close.

But not enough Irish speak out about drinking when it goes to perverse extremes.

So I figured I’d use my little soapbox to do just that.

Go out. Drink a few. Have fun. Tell stories and sing! Be Irish.

But I don’t feel proud when I see someone passed out on the street. And I think it’s ok to gently nudge my people in a different direction. And I would love to see others do the same.

And that’s all I have to say about that.