Getting Drunk and Acting Like a Train Wreck

My friend Cait Quinn posted this last weekend. I’ve been friends with several Irish bands over the years, and as such, I really appreciated it. I asked her for permission to share it as a guest post. Keep this in mind as you plan your weekend festivities. I’ll just add that, not only are you not part of the Irish Republican Army, but (unless you’re part of a local indigenous group) the people around you aren’t the occupation either. If you’re feeling oppressed, go get involved in politics.

So I’m going to engage in my St. Patrick’s Day rant a little early. Sorry, I’ve just had it. Celebrating the Irish culture by drinking and acting like a total barbarian is choosing to behave in the exact manner of the Irish stereotype. It is a stereotype that is not all in good fun, it is not irreverent and harmless it is the caricature that was used for hundreds of years to justify occupation, forced labor, deportation and restrictions on the Irish people’s rights and autonomy. It fueled the hatred of the Irish in America, legalized and normalized the British government’s continued occupation of the Irish people both in Ireland and in other British colonies. It was even used to justify slaver and murder. Oliver Cromwell killed over 200,000 Irish civilians by painting them as a dangerous, barbarous people.

So getting drunk and acting like a train wreck on St. Patrick’s day helps to perpetuate that very harmful narrative that to be Irish means that you drink and act like an ignorant fool. That you damage property and cannot control your behavior because dooood I’m totally wasted and let’s break stuff, Yay Ireland. If you are Irish or of Irish descent, your ancestors are ashamed of you. They fought incredibly hard to dispel the misconceptions that held the Irish people down. So shame on you.

And before anyone gives me crap about promoting respectability politics around this issue I’m not. What I’m saying is that if you are going to celebrate a people and it’s heritage imitating the behavior attributed to a people by their oppressors isn’t really a great way to do it. And if you are looking for an excuse to cut loose and break some rules, by all means do it, just don’t do it in the name of a culture and a people. Own it and say you are doing it for you.

This rant brought to you by the riots on Umass campus in the name of getting drunk and celebrating St. Patty’s Day.

Getting Drunk and Acting Like a Train Wreck
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8 thoughts on “Getting Drunk and Acting Like a Train Wreck

  1. 1

    Funny that it’s from UMass — Boston or Amherst, I wonder? (One had the moniker “Zoo-mass” when I was a young’un.)

    Part of me says, hey, people do stupid shit for stupid reasons, and I long ago lost the ability to get outraged about it. It’s too tiring.

    Anyhow, some of the whole drunken thing is getting away from why people celebrated the relevant day, some of it is commercialization — I came from a place (near Boston) with loads of Irish-descended people, and most of them didn’t get too crazy, but I am old.

    It was usually everyone else who got shit faced. Happens with just about every holiday I can think of — after all, New Year’s? Christmas? July 4th? Maybe they have slightly lower drunken jerk ratios, but not by a lot. Put that together with college students, blend, and watch what happens.

    Of course, my old neighborhood where “Bobby Sands Will Never Die” was inscribed on a local bridge for many years, and if you wanted to find an IRA man, just go down the block, odds are you could find him tending bar or working the local construction crew. We had those “11+6=1” bumper stickers, and “Stop Thief” (with the hand taking away the northern chunk of the island).

    So I could be biased. St Patty’s Day was more an excuse for a party and a time to get together with friends, though it had a bit more political feeling at that point I think. Maybe the proximity to “real issues” in Ireland helped, I don’t know. People got drunk and stupid, sometimes, but I don’t recall riots or anything.

    Now? I don’t really know, I haven’t been around loads of away-from-home college students in a while, nor home in a long stretch. but it looks like the stupidity rays they beam at your head upon admission haven’t been shut down. They ought to look into that.

    More seriously, in the US in particular I suspect there’s an odd combination of historical ignorance and romanticizing and commercialization that makes this kind of thing happen. And also the fact that the Irish in the US are a long way from being oppressed these days. Honorary whiteness has its literal privileges, and when you are in the majority, at least locally, it goes a long way. I doubt most Irish-descended people I grew up with thought too deeply about, for example, the split between the more socialistically-minded IRA and the more right-wing Catholic nationalists. (The old Sinn Fein used to talk up establishing Socialism as a piece of policy, I don’t know what it’s like now). I would bet money there’s a huge difference between Irish people in Ireland and Irish people in the diaspora, especially viz. the US.

  2. 3

    I think you are absolutely correct. It is about commercialization but it is commercialization that leans heavily on certain stereotypes that have been utilized to disenfranchise people both here in America and abroad and to call into question their fitness to participate fully within the political process. The “Blarney Blowout” at Umass Amherst was a tradition that was started by and continued by the area bars and has gotten increasingly out of hand because the students of Amherst see it as an excuse to misbehave and have that misbehavior shielded by sheer numbers. One of the off campus parties this year reportedly had over 4,000 people spilling out onto neighboring properties and took a large police force from Amherst and surrounding towns to disband. This all is propagated by businesses who take little or no responsibility for the situation they are creating. You also see this same culture promoted in the Boston area where local bars utilize the large numbers of celebrants and volume of early in the day business to indemnify them from taking responsibility for the damage the drunken revelers do throughout the day. It is really frustrating/gross to ride the T the day after St. Patty’s day because of this and is a nightmare for people trying move about the area both during and after the March 17th because the commercialization has turned an Irish cultural event into an excuse to engage in behavior that exceeds the ability of many communities to contain it.

    As to the issue of Irish American political power and access to white privilege, the Irish have had it relatively easy because without significant scrutiny our current culture is not particularly motivated to separate one set of white features from another. This has not been because of any special quality within the Irish population of the US but because it is harder for most non-interested parties to maintain the vague distinctions between one white guy and the next. The Irish for the most part can pass at this point because our culture has changed to accept them. That has not always been the case, for instance: early in the 20th century ethnic rhinoplasty was used to help Jewish and Irish people to alter their features to appear more northern European and therefore more upper middle class American. This practice which allowed many Irish to social climb without challenging social convention saw its boom in the 50’s when we were still debating whether and Irish Catholic could be a national political leader. Now it is an idea that is certainly taken for granted but its themes have roots in the same sorts of debates about whether an Atheist can be a National political figure. The same distrust of the other that the Irish faced half a century ago continues to reiterate itself over and over within our political discourse.

    As for the parades and festivities surrounding St. Patrick’s Day and their increasing commercial issues it is important to remember that these sorts of displays were originally a means for the Irish populations in the North East to demonstrate their numbers and political clout. It enabled them to leverage certain concessions from the dominant culture by trotting out the electorate and reminding the cultural elite that Irish American leaders had an ability to organize and mobilize a particular voting bloc. My Nana was a life-long Boston Democrat because that is the way the Irish voted. There is a joke that I grew up with that the Irish would vote for the devil himself if he were a pro-union Irish Democrat and for a long time those demographics tended to support that idea.

    So yeah, it is frustrating to hear about how the American version of this holiday which has its beginnings in the Irish American fight for recognition and legitimacy is being appropriated for the benefit of some beer companies and bars basically because the notorious Irish reputation for loving the drink is such low hanging fruit. I recognize that other holidays are used in this similar fashion and with similar consequences but that is certainly not a reason to condone it. I think Cinco de Mayo is problematic in a lot of ways and I am sure I could craft a similar rant about why we should not perpetuate those stereotypes and communities should not tolerate the ongoing excess that requires huge resources to contain.

  3. 6

    Brit here, married to an Irishman (a Dubliner to be specific), and have been living in Dublin, Ireland for 14 years.

    It’s Paddy’s Day, not Patty’s Day. Really, truly.

    Calling it Patty’s Day really irritates the Irish – and here by ‘Irish’ I specifically mean those born or living in Ireland with Irish passports by birth or by naturalisation as opposed to those of Irish extraction.

    Paddy is short for Padraig, which is how you say Patrick in Irish.
    (Referred to as Irish if you’re speaking in English, Gaeilge if you’re speaking as Gaeilge).

    Patty is short for Patricia, which is a girl’s name.
    The vast majority of Irish men named Patrick or Padraig will call themselves Paddy.
    I know at least 5 Paddy’s and that’s just the ones I can remember off-hand.

    Yes Paddy has been used in a derogatory way to stereotype the Irish in other countries, but it’s not derogatory when it’s someone’s name. As it is in this case.

    And then the drinking thing. It’s very much what happens in Ireland. Typically the parades are early afternoon, and they’re family occasions. Kids, grand-parents, flag waving, face paint – all good clean fun. There’ll also be mass in the morning for the very religious, but I’ve never met anyone who goes to mass on Paddy’s Day – but then my crowd is a mixture of pagans and atheists so that tells you nothing about the actual incidence of mass-going on the 17th.

    Then anyone with any sense goes home and the youth, say 16 to 30, take over the town centres. Drinking, singing and probably by the wee small hours, some fighting.

    So, yes, celebrate your Irish culture by drinking to excess. But be aware that you’re actually behaving like an over-grown Irish adolescent.

  4. 7

    As an Irish person I’m not at all offended by these stereotypes; in fact, I think they’re quite funny. As you may or many not be aware, Irish people tend to have quite a self-deprecating, irreverent sense of humour. These arguments can be a bit tiresome; I mean ostensibly the author makes sense; her argument is based on solid footing in that Irish people were indeed the victims of centuries long racism/subjugation, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the contemporary Irish are going to be offended by such seemingly offensive stereotypes rooted in a dour history of oppression. I’m not, and I’m well acquainted with my country’s history: the racism of our former British masters, the indentured servitude in N.America/the Caribbean , the cultural repression, penal laws, plantations, and at times appalling brutality. And yet, I can still remain unmoved by, and even find humour in, caricatures of the Irish. And anyway, if you live /have lived here you’ll be aware that there’s more than a grain of truth in the drinking stereotype.

    Oliver Cromwell killed over 200,000 Irish civilians by painting them as a dangerous, barbarous people.

    If you’ve studied Irish history of the 17th century I’m sure you’ll be aware that it was more complicated than that. Cromwell needs a bit more nuance that the one dimensional caricature that’s frequently attributed to him.

    If you are Irish or of Irish descent, your ancestors are ashamed of you. They fought incredibly hard to dispel the misconceptions that held the Irish people down. So shame on you.

    Shame on me ? Pretty strong sentiments to be sure, and not ones I agree with/appreciate. The age of Irish oppression is over, and I don’t care ( within reason ) that these stereotypes, which have negative roots, are being perpetuated. Just a bit o’banter !

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