March 17th in Ireland is little more than one more religious holiday in a country tethered to Catholic tradition. Forget the ads for “Best Irish Tavern” and “Legendary Pub Crawl.” On the Emerald Isle, Saint Patrick’s Day comes and goes with little fanfare. The only green you’ll find is the grass.
Obviously, that is not the case in the U.S. (or New Ireland, as the legion of my Irish and Irish-American cousins could legitimately name it), where tapping a keg, dancing a jig and kissing nearly anything green on St. Paddy’s Day approaches the level of a Celtic Mardi Gras.
It does, however, paint a distorted picture of the average Irishman as a drunk with a bad temper and a decent right hook (i.e. the Notre Dame mascot). Rather than getting our Irish up, those of us blessed with Gaelic surnames – which include the luckiest who sport an O with an apostrophe tucked in close – mostly ignore it.
But there is a flip side to the boisterous, booze-fueled party that is Saint Patrick’s Day: some very sobering data.
17 million Americans say they have driven drunk
- Drunk driving costs each adult in the U.S. $500 per year
- An average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before an arrest
- Every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of a drunk driving crash (MADD)
And Saint Patrick’s Day is one of the worst. Despite the vast fleet of taxis cruising the streets for customers, an average of 54 people die in DUI-related traffic collisions on this one day alone (Columbus Dispatch 3/13).
Sorry for killing the buzz.
Alas, there is some truth to the stereotype of the Irish drunk. Recent scientific discoveries have identified genetic traits that help explain Ireland’s rate of alcoholism, the worst in Europe. Ironically, it is this genetic weakness which is annually celebrated by millions of Americans every year.
Enough buzz kill. In truth, Saint Patrick’s Day is one of the few days a year when people let down their hair, seek out each other’s company and enjoy a bit of happiness and cheer (some of which comes in liquid form, of course). It is also a day when I am most aware of my Irish heritage and my ties to that beautiful isle where centuries of poets have heralded its verdant fields, the light spring rain that soaks the coats of its swift thoroughbreds, the twinkle in the eye of its witty, humorous and impossibly hopeful inhabitants.
So I will leave you with one of the fair land’s many sayings: “May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light; may good luck pursue you each morning and night.”
Have a good St. Paddy’s Day. Enjoy a Guinness or two, if you like. Then take a cab.