Saturday, March 22, 2008

Paddy’s Day, or Easter?

St. Patrick’s Day has just passed, and I noticed that Guinness has been running a campaign to make the day an official holiday in the US (as it is in Ireland), something the company is calling Proposition 3-17.

Sounds great in principle, till you realize that, well first of all, it’s a beer group pushing this — not just Guinness, but really its parent company, the multinational Diageo. So their motivations are obvious, and are corporate rather than cultural. Besides which, there are already way too many idiots going around on Paddy’s Day, acting moronic and perpetuating stupid “Irish” stereotypes. Why encourage those people by making it an official day off? All it means is they’ll be able to start drinking earlier, getting drunker and stupider quicker, leading merely to more vomiting in the streets and fake Irishness.

While those in favor of the official holiday idea no doubt think it means that Irish culture will be somehow promoted on a wider scale, Paddy’s Day in America is more usually marked by racial stereotypes (notably, the Irish-as-drunken-louts stereotype). Paddy’s Day in the public sphere means almost nothing now, except possibly to people of Irish descent or with a real interest in Ireland, Irish culture, etc., on an individual level (or, for those religious people, as a Catholic feast day). Beyond that, it has become nothing but an excuse to indulge in drunken stereotypes and Plastic Paddyism. Similar stereotypes for other ethnic groups’ holidays would not be tolerated — so why do Irish-Americans tolerate and even embrace Irish stereotypes? Do gringos put on plastic sombreros and fake mustaches, and go staggering through the streets on Cinco de Mayo? Is it acceptable to put on blackface for MLK Day? So why is this acceptable for St. Patrick’s Day?:

Paddy’s Day has become so commercialized, so stereotyped, and so ridiculous that I don’t wear green, don’t even celebrate it anymore, except maybe in small groups of like-minded friends, or inwardly in my own head. (Or in Ireland, where although the celebrations are quickly becoming equally as annoying, at least there is some organic connection between Irish society and the day that’s in it.) Going out and seeing people wearing green plastic leprechaun hats, with shamrocks (or, even worse, four-leaf clovers) painted on their faces as they vomit in the gutter is really not that fun. An official holiday would only add to the sheer stupidity that St. Patrick’s Day has unfortunately come to represent. (And by the way, the Irish symbol is the shamrock, not the four-leaf clover. The shamrock has three leaves, not four.) Don’t get me wrong, I like to drink, myself, too. But I prefer not to be surrounded by walking insults when I do so.

A much more meaningful holiday for Irish people should be Easter. Leaving the Christian aspect aside, for Ireland the 1916 Easter Rising represents the struggle for independence, liberation from imperialist domination, a cultural rebirth, linguistic rebirth, and an overarching celebration of the spirit of freedom. Not all of these things have yet been realized, but it means that the struggle is ongoing and that everyone still has a part to play. As I wrote in my last year’s Easter message, we are closer than ever to a united Ireland, but it has not yet been achieved. Nor have the wider ideals of the Easter Proclamation, in which “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

Despite the proclamation of “the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible,” the gap between rich and poor seems to grow apace, multinational corporations exploit the economy and natural resources, the Irish language is still discriminated against, and even the Irish government is willing to bulldoze thousands of years of Irish history at the Hill of Tara to make way for a motorway that might shave a few minutes off the daily commute to Dublin. But the Easter Rising, led by Pearse and Connolly, represents an opposition to all of these political, economic, and cultural injustices. Easter, therefore, can still be a powerful symbol of resistance, and a powerful representation of Irishness that is far from the leprechaun-and-green-beer stereotypes that are ubiquitous on Paddy’s Day. Instead of a fake plastic hat or some shamrock face paint, it is far preferable in my opinion to wear an Easter lily. Caith lile na Cásca in ómós do laochra marbha na hÉireann — agus i streachailt in éadan éagóracha an lae inniu!


Anonymous said...

You're right ,Mike. Saint Pat's has been deconstructed into a verdic nightmare awash in suds.Cahill's '' How the Irish Saved Civilization'' is a hagiography of Patrick , a foreigner , and yet he never mentions the Irish's greatest invention , not whisky , as most would quip, but the abandonment of scriptio continua. Liam...

Anonymous said...

I've been doing blackface on MLK day for years now and I find it does help to create an unique dialogue.
As a non-irish american I abstained from going out anyways but did take full advantage of the deals offered on beer but that has more to do with living in Milwaukee than anything, still point well made. Keith

lorian said...


FeamusSeamus said...

Well said...!