The first annual “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” event will take place on March 17 in Manhattan, offering people an alcohol free alternative to celebrate the most popular Irish holiday of the year. The debut event will take place at Regis High School on the Upper East Side from 3-7 p.m.
“I have long felt that we lose sight of the real purpose of the day,” said event creator, TV executive William Spencer Reilly.
“It’s a block and half from where the parade ends, so it’s convenient for people to pop in.
"Reclaiming the true spirit of the day is what this is all about. And, for those people not in recovery, our message isn't that we are against drinking on St. Patrick's Day. It's that we want this holiday to be more about enjoying the beauty of Irish culture,” Reilly added.
Those in attendance will enjoy live performances from the John Whelan Band, five time All-Ireland champion fiddle player Brian Conway, Irish keyboard player Brendan Dolan, acclaimed Broadway singer KT Sullivan and the Mulvihill-Lynch Irish dancers, as well as other surprise guests.
Also attending will be Fionnula Flanagan, acclaimed Irish actress, and Tara Conner, former Miss USA and public advocacy consultant for Caron Treatment Centers.
For Reilly, the inspiration to create the event partly came from a chance meeting with a young man outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral during the annual New York City parade a few years ago.
“It was around 2 p.m., and there is this kid wearing a t-shirt that said ‘St. Patrick’s Day today, hung-over tomorrow,’” Reilly told the Irish Voice.
Reilly was surprised to hear the 22-year-old had purchased the t-shirt locally.
“The kid said to me, ‘Isn’t it cool?’” Reilly recalls.
“I thought that we have got to do something here, there is so much more to our culture.”
Reilly, who lost a family member to addiction, says that many people in recovery have stopped celebrating St. Patrick’s Day due to the fact that alcohol has become the holiday’s focal point.
“A lot of people in recovery just abandon the day,” he said.
“There are tens of thousands of people in New York alone who are in recovery. This is not only a party for them but also their families.”
Sober St. Patrick’s Day has been in the development stages for over a year and is now moving forward thanks to the support of several organizations, including the Irish Consulate in New York and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny, who will be honored at the event, recalls that alcohol did not always play a role in the March 17 celebrations.
"When I was growing up in Ireland, I remember distinctly that all the pubs were closed on St. Patrick's Day. We really respected it as a special day,” Kilkenny told the Irish Voice.
“l really like the idea of having a special event on this holiday for Americans of Irish heritage who are in recovery from alcoholism, to celebrate our shared heritage in a safe and inclusive environment."
Another event honoree, Malachy McCourt, told the Irish Voice that the time has come to conquer the stereotype of the drunken Irishman.
“It’s not a secret that I am a recovering alcoholic,” the Irish writer who has been sober for 27 years stated.
“At one time, the drunken Irishman was very funny but we have since we found out it’s a disease. It’s almost like having a good laugh at cancer. It’s about time we got serious about it.
“There are about 300 euphemisms for getting high and drunk – langers, ossified, intoxicated, etc.
“Yet there is only one word for sober. It sounds like it’s dull and dreary, but yet being sober is joyous,” McCourt reflected.
“So come and starve your disease, enjoy fellowship and fun and you will remember what you did when you wake up on the 18th of March,” McCourt says to those considering attending the event.
For more information about Sober St. Patrick’s Day and to purchase tickets ($12 each), visit www.SoberStPatricksDay.org.
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