St. Patrick’s Day ‘Survival Guide’ Urges Moderation

Sober celebration movement gaining steam
March 11, 2014 Updated: March 11, 2014

St. Patrick’s Day is synonymous with wearing green, exaggerating one’s Irish ancestry, and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. 

It’s that latter detail that concerns a Montreal-based responsible drinking advocacy group, which has released a St. Patrick’s Day “Survival Guide” to help people pace themselves and drink in moderation during the March 17 festivities. 

”Immersing yourself in all that’s Irish is great fun, but emulating the drunken stereotype can really turn a brilliant day sour,” says Hubert Sacy, director general of Éduc’alcool, the group spearheading the campaign. 

“Moderation is not a punishment—it’s a condition for pleasure. Those who drink in excess are those who spoil the party,” adds Sacy, noting that alcohol sales and consumption reach peak levels around St. Patrick’s Day.

Eating a decent meal, skipping a round or two at the bar, and drinking plenty of water will go a long way toward curbing excessive intoxication, says the group. Making “concrete plans” for the next day will also keep partiers in a more responsible mindset.

“We ask only that everyone celebrates in a safe, healthy, and responsible way,” says Kevin Murphy of the United Irish Societies, which is endorsing the campaign.

The advice is timely. On March 8, dozens were arrested after the annual pre-St Patrick’s Day “Blarney Blowout” at the University of Massachusetts spiraled out of control. Police in riot gear were called to disperse thousands of drunken revellers who congregated on the streets outside pubs near campus, according to CBS News.

The annual event has been linked to violence, fighting, injuries, severe alcohol intoxication, sexual assaults, and property damage. A local police spokesperson called the March 8 incident “one of the worst scenes we have ever had with drunkenness and unruliness.”

Canada has had its own share of St. Paddy’s Day trouble. In 2012, 15 people were arrested in connection with a St. Patrick’s Day riot in London, Ontario, that saw an intoxicated mob attacking police and emergency workers, and resulted in $100,000 worth of damages. 

Alcohol was also thought to be a factor in the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day death of 20-year-old Alexandre Hamelin, who was pinned under the wheels of a truck after jumping off of a Montreal parade float. 

A Sober St. Patrick’s Day?

A new and growing movement that aims to counter the annual Mar. 17 drunken debauchery appears to be gaining steam. 

Dubbed “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” organizers aim to “reclaim the true spirit of the day,” and “change the perception of what St. Patrick’s Day can be” by promoting alcohol-free activities that focus on the richness of Irish culture.

“We’re not against anyone enjoying a couple of drinks on St. Patrick’s Day; we’re just against the practice of some people using the holiday as an excuse to get drunk,” says the group’s Facebook page.

“This is a fresh alternative for those who want to celebrate the holiday in an alcohol-free atmosphere.” 

Sober St. Patrick’s Day was created by New York theatre and television producer William Spencer Reilly, who almost lost a member of his family to addiction. He proposed the idea to leaders in the recovery and Irish-American communities, and an inaugural event was held in 2012.

Now an annual event, this year’s Sober St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated in New York, Wyoming, Ohio, Virginia, and Belfast in Northern Ireland, with Philadelphia coming on board in 2015. The 2014 New York event includes award-winning Irish singers, choirs, fiddle players, dancers, and storytellers. 

“The Sober St. Patrick’s celebrations capture the real spirit of Ireland, and the real spirit of St. Patrick,” the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, said in a statement.

“They’re family-focused, they’re about having fun, they’re about celebrating the very best of Irish music, Irish dance, Irish culture.”