St Patrick’s Day stimulates the nation’s need to be twinkly, drunk and sentimental
Annual feast day underlines the cheapening, reductive nature of the patriotic aesthetic
Over the last few decades, we’ve worked harder than ever at dismantling unhelpful national stereotypes. You know the sort of thing. The Irish are drunk. The Irish are violent. The Irish are thick. With all our sleek pop stars and tweed-clad Nobel laureates, nobody can take those slights seriously any more. True, the collapse in the property market did suggest that, if offered Tower Bridge by a man in a trilby, most of us would not pause before shovelling over the cash. But, for 363 days of the year, the nation proudly gives the lie to those 1970s British comedians who represented us as lobotomised layabouts.
Do you know where we’re going yet?
Sadly, awful Saint Patrick ’s Day still stimulates the nation’s atavistic need to be twinkly, drunk and sentimental. The authorities at various week-long festivals work hard at counteracting these dreary inclinations. On Tuesday, the smallest towns will celebrate their internationalism by inviting South Americans to parade down the high street in massive papier-mâché heads. Fire-eaters will obstruct Grafton Street. Some play or other will be staged in some theatre or other. Religious organisations – unfazed by the shaky, near-fictional foundations of the myth – will argue desperately for the “real meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day”.
Take a visit to Temple Bar over the weekend and the futility of these efforts will be revealed. (Well, it might not be. Who knows? But it certainly would have been in any previous year.) Saint Patrick’s Day is really about vomiting into the gutter while wearing a fake orange beard and a tricoloured foam-rubber hat. For all our shiny buildings and Broadway-annihilating theatre pieces, we are still dab hands at drinking ourselves into blind insensibility. In recent years, however, we have tended to do more of our boozing in the privacy of home. Not on March 17th. The patron saint seems to encourage a particularly unhinged school of old-school idiotic drinking. Linda Blair in The Exorcist vomits with less propulsive force. Gangs wander the streets with a chemically induced menace that makes the Golden Horde seem like a nature ramble.
Then there’s the depressing embrace of garish cod-Irish iconography. In a weird post-modern swivel, perfectly decent Irish bars take on the character of those Massachusetts taverns that – all leprechauns and shillelaghs – perennially strive and fail to look like perfectly decent Irish bars. It won’t be long before we start eating corned beef and cabbage and wishing each other “top of the morning”.