Voices: Don’t use St Patrick’s Day as an excuse for your binge drinking

My most significant St Patrick’s Day memory took place around 2011. Me and my girlfriend shared a box of cheap wine in our flat, then went to a pub down the road where one of our favourite local bands was playing.

We all did a few rounds of shots together, then I badgered them into letting me sing “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. When I took the stage I immediately realised I didn’t know any of the words, and decided to make my exit as quickly and dramatically as possible. In doing so I swept a row of shot glasses off the bar, cutting my hands to pieces; tried to steady myself on a man holding an expensive camera, which I accidentally spiked out of his hands and onto the floor, shattering it; and then absconded into the night. At least, that’s what people tell me happened – all I remember is doing the shots, then waking up the following morning with the blood-stained receipts for three separate takeaways in my pocket.

I was 20 at the time, which is the only thing that makes that story “sort of funny” instead of “deeply concerning”. It also took place in Canterbury, which you probably wouldn’t associate with wild St Patrick Day adventures unless you went to university there like I did.

I live in Northern Ireland now, so as you can imagine, my St Patrick’s Day stories have got a lot more… well, actually they’re pretty tame.

Contrary to popular belief, St Patrick’s Day in Ireland isn’t a Dionysian free-for-all. Despite people around the world – particularly England and America – using it as an excuse to paint themselves green and get into fights, people here are just as likely to head out to mass, have a fry (complete with black and white pudding), and get an early night.

For a lot of people, St Patrick’s is a day of national pride and religious observance – so why do we insist on seeing it as a challenge for our livers, whether we’re Irish or not? After all, just because your uncle has one too many sherries on Christmas doesn’t make Jesus’s birthday a “drinking holiday”. And sure, Ireland has its fair share of binge drinkers – often ranking pretty high on lists of the world’s leading alcohol consumers – but that’s an everywhere problem (the UK isn’t far behind on those lists, so you can get down off your high horse).

The fact is, Ireland is a country that has to deal with both mockery and a sort of strange reverence in equal measure. It’s like a form of orientalism (Eire-ientalism? Although maybe that’s a little much on world get-in-a-fight-and-pee-your-pants day). Millions of people – particularly Americans – want to claim ancestry in this ancient and storied land… but then “celebrate” that heritage by dressing up like a leprechaun, doing a bad jig and drinking enough stout to make themselves blind. It’s like if people celebrated St George’s Day by putting in big fake yellow teeth and losing at international football tournaments. It’s not what you want people to think of when they think of your country!

If you’ve seen Netflix’s latest movie, IrishWish, which was released this past week and stars Lindsay Lohan, you’ll know what I mean. In that film – which is comfortably the worst thing I’ll see this year, I don’t care that it’s only March – Ireland is a land of wish-granting saints, where people break out into spontaneous dances in tiny provincial pubs. A quaint little relic of a bygone era. If that movie was somehow your only experience of this country, you’d think we hadn’t discovered iPhones yet. Go back to America, Lindsay Lohan, and take your baffling romantic comedy with you.

If you really want to celebrate the nation of Ireland this year, why not try reading some of its literature, or its history? If you aren’t a big reader, there are plenty of films and documentaries that can watch (and no, Irish Wish doesn’t count).

And if you want to binge drink… well, you shouldn’t. But if you’re going to anyway, please don’t use us as an excuse. Chances are, you probably didn’t need one to begin with.