St. Patrick’s Day and Temperance: An Unlikely Duo?

Editor’s Note: For Points readers getting  a head start on their St. Patrick’s day observances this year, we are pleased to present a thoughtful historicization of this generally most unthoughtful of holidays by Mike McLaughlin of Carleton University.  Drawing on research from his dissertation-in-progress, “Imperial Citizens: Irish Catholic Middle-Class Culture in Colonial Canada, 1855-1902,” it will give you something to talk about as you crawl from pub to pub this Saturday– or better yet, provide you with a usable past of pub-avoidance.

Patron Saint of Over-Consumption

Leprechauns, green beer, and shamrocks with quirky sayings on them will be everywhere this 17th of March. Yes, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to indulge in markers of Irish identity. One of the most  prevalent of which seems to be the excessive consumption of alcohol. In their The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day, Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair note the institutionalization of drinking marathons at pubs on the 17th of March.  And according to Beth Davies Ryan, global corporate-relations director of Guinness brewing company, while on any given day 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed globally, that number rises to 13 million on St. Patrick’s Day.

The relationship between booze and St. Patrick’s Day is not a new one. Cronin and Adair point out that as early as 1681 the English traveler Thomas Dineley observed that during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland many of the Irish drank so much that very few were found sober at night. In his writings, Dineley presented what he saw as the three main components of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in seventeenth century Ireland: wearing the colour green, adorning the shamrock, and indulging liberally in alcohol (Cronin & Adair, Page 25). These aspects resemble today’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the not unrelated phenomena of green beer, packed pubs, and general goofiness.

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