Keep Inside, It’s St Patrick’s Day!

St Patrick's DayIt’s St Patrick’s Day! Time to get sloshed on some distinctly non-Irish beer. Of course, if we are to believe Ballykissangel, the Irish don’t drink much Irish beer. One thing’s for certain: Americans don’t much care for Guinness, although they do up their consumption on St Patrick’s day.

I saw a statistic about St Patrick’s Day that was supposed to scare me: 80% of St Patty’s Day drunk driving deaths involve drivers who are over twice the legal limit. I have known lots of people who have be caught drunk driving and not one of them has killed anyone. Yet they almost all had over twice the legal limit. Remember: the legal limit is 0.08%. It used to be 0.12%. The fact most fatalities involve people over 0.16% is hardly surprising.

Having said that, I am very much against people driving at all while intoxicated. As one who walks a lot, I am already concerned about the sober drivers. I don’t need drunk drivers to worry about. Just the same, if I were to walk down the street to the bar, get drunk, and walk back home, I would be breaking the law. The truth is that we live in an authoritarian state were just about anything you do is against the law. And so the laws are never enforced—until you piss off someone. I’m good at pissing off people—especially people in power.

But there are a lot more reasons to avoid the holiday than just that a whole bunch of people get drunk and kill people. Perhaps a bigger problem is that America is more Irish than Ireland. Until the 1970s, St Patrick’s Day was a minor religious holiday in Ireland. It was America that turned it into the green stained whiskey soaked monstrosity that we’ve all know. Personally, I’m fond of Ireland, but not especially so. I’m no more excited about celebrating the Irish than I am celebrating the Swedish. And I am a fair chunk Irish and not at all Swedish.

Four years ago, Matthew Schmitz wrote, My Problem with St. Patrick’s Day. In it, he argues that the reason that we celebrate the Irish and not, say, the Germans, is that the Irish are the last white group that can plausibly claim the mantle of oppression:

When Margaret Mitchell set out in Gone With the Wind to create a narrative of white suffering and triumph, she chose an Irish protagonist with green eyes and a green dress. Scarlett’s father, Gerald O’Hara, a proud Irishman who named his plantation ‘Tara’ after the ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland. This is a strikingly explicit ethnic background for a family meant to represent the overwhelmingly Protestant and Anglo Reconstruction-era South. But her unusual choice makes perfect sense. In order to tell a narrative of white suffering that would not seem laughable beside the injustices visited on enslaved blacks, Mitchell had to turn to the one group of whites that had been oppressed: the Irish…

I think it is weird that one of the reasons the holiday exists is to give the privileged a chance to dress up in the drag of historical oppression.

So add a subtext of racism to your enjoyment of the day! But as Schmitz notes, there are real reasons to love the Irish. And here’s one, even though it was first written in French:

Nothing to be done but to wish you a happy St Patrick’s Day. Try not to kill anyone.

Afterword

Can we at least agree to stop saying that corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish dish?! Eat some shepherd’s pie for God’s sake!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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