An alcohol-free Paddy’s Day? Seriously?

The Happenings collective are out to prove that you don’t have to drink to celebrate our national holiday


Imagine enjoying Monday’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations without feeling the need to imbibe alcohol. For many people, that would be stretching things a bit far. Paddy’s Day without the drink? Sure, that would be like Christmas without the turkey, Pancake Tuesday without the pancakes, Bloomsday without the, er, lemon soap.

Getting paralytic on Paddy’s Day is our birthright. We couldn’t hold our heads high as a nation if we weren’t all staggering around the streets on March 17th. Besides, what else are you going to do after the parade ends? Play snakes and ladders?

Relax – no one’s proposing to ban the booze on Paddy’s Day. But one group is offering a creative alternative to the drink-fuelled excesses that have become the norm for celebrating the feast of our national saint. Happenings is a collective that organises events in public spaces, and this year, as part of Limerick City of Culture, they’re holding Paddy’s Day Unlocked, a celebration that puts the sauce firmly to the side and focuses instead on the music, food, dance and craic.

Paddy’s Day Unlocked is taking place at The Milk Market in Limerick at 3pm-7pm, nicely timed for the period after the parades usually end and the drinking begins in earnest. The idea, says Peter O’Brien of Happenings, is to offer a safe haven for those who want to avoid the “messiness” that usually ensues after the parade has wound its way around the city.

In my day, I wouldn’t have been averse to a bit of messiness on St Patrick’s day. Now that I have a young family (and a lower hangover threshold), I’m happy to celebrate the day with a trip to the parade followed by a visit to McDonald’s followed by a flake-out at home with a glass of wine. I don’t want my kids to witness people staggering around like they’ve been shot by a six-gun, so we get out of Dodge before the first projectile vomit is fired.

Paddy’s Day Unlocked, says O’Brien, is a response to the “spiralling drink culture in Ireland”.

“I’m a drinker myself, but it’s obvious how ugly it has become. There’s a really bad plan around the day. The parade starts at noon and finishes at 2pm, and everybody has come into town and there’s nothing else planned.”

The Milk Market will host a variety of family events with entertainment curated by Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin, sons of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who have also recruited their mother, Nóirín Ní Riain, for the day.

“We’re not having a bar, we’re not selling drink, but if someone has a drink and then wants to come down, that’s fine,” says O’Brien. “We’re just trying to avoid that descent into madness.”

There have been rumblings recently of a rebellion against the booze machine. Last year, Arthur’s Day came under fire from people who saw it as a corporate-sponsored bingefest and last month, RTÉ broadcaster John Creedon sent out a rallying-tweet: “NEK Nominations, Arthur’s Day, Messy Monday, 12 Pubs. Now dreading our national holiday? Fight back. Join me in an alcohol-free St.Patrick’s Day.”

Happenings were also planning to hold a Paddy’s Day Unlocked at Meeting House Square in Dublin, but, says O’Brien, the event fell through. They do plan to go ahead with Paddy’s Day Unlocked in Dublin next year, along with a few other locations. So, head for the Milk Market in Limerick on Monday and take a break from the booze. It could be the one Paddy’s Day you’ll actually remember.

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