Arthur's Day: fabrication and libation


It’s about half past five this evening, and a young man in a leather jacket is explaining the importance of Arthur’s Day to a couple of female tourists in St Stephen’s Green.

“St Patrick’s day is here,” he tells them, placing his right hand out in front of his chest. “This,” he says, raising his left palm so it rests about a foot above the right, “is Arthur’s Day”.

This estimation probably rings true for a certain demographic. “It’s a great day for Ireland,” enthuses Sharon Malone (22) in Harry’s on King Street. Between sips of the black stuff she explains how Arthur’s Day really ought to be a bank holiday, with parades, and outfits and whatever you’re having yourself.

Her sister, Donna (25), agrees. “It’s our biggest and best export,” she says of Guinness. “We don’t appreciate it enough in Ireland - Jamaicans drink more of it than the Irish.”

For the past three years Diageo has been giving a masterclass in how to fabricate a national holiday. Hallmark, take note, because the marketing wonks at the British brewers have it down to a tee.

Where Christianity marauded seasonal pagan feasts, applying its own theological symbolism and significance, Arthur’s Day takes an a la carte attitude to traditional holidays.

So, in the style of New Year’s Eve, there’s the countdown to a minute to six, or 17:59, the year Arthur Guinness took out a 9,000 year lease on St James’s Gate; the faux-patriotism that comes with a celebration of a “national” drink; and the hagiographic treatment of the man himself - at this stage many people refer to it as “Saint” Arthur’s Day.

If St Patrick’s Day, Christmas, and Hallowe’en are festivals that offer an excuse for a drink, Diageo has flipped the concept on its head and made the drink an excuse for a festival.

Danny Wilson (23), enjoying a pint outside a pub on Aungier Street, doesn’t buy into the whole thing. “It was alright when they did it the first day,” he says, referring to Guinness’s 250th anniversary in 2009, the inaugural Arthur’s Day, “but now it’s a bit stupid.”

In his opinion Diageo realised they were on to a good thing financially and decided to maintain the day as an annual event. “It’s no more ridiculous than Father’s Day or Mother’s Day,” he says. But he doesn’t think it will last. “You can tell they’ve run out of ideas.”

That may be so, but for Isaac Macias (31), from Spain, the day is going from strength to strength. “I love it,” he beams. “It’s better than St Patrick’s Day. It isn’t as commercial.”