It’s in this category that you get the mindset that no night out is complete without getting drunk. In fact the aim is to get out of it as fast as possible.
In this mindset, the craic and drinking to excess are inextricably linked. That’s what leads to the nauseating scenes around Dublin and in many towns around the country on weekend nights when you see people staggering around, urinating in public (and it’s not just the boys), fighting, vomiting, screaming and attacking anyone who intervenes.
This used to be a particular problem on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin where it was not unusual to see people collapsed from drink just yards from the parade on O’Connell Street. But recently and particularly this year it was better, helped by the fact that most liquor stores and bars now operate to a later schedule.
If you look at the overall figures for alcohol consumption in Ireland, the trend does not look good since we are now drinking twice as much per head of the population as we did 50 years ago. That is a result of our greater wealth these days (in spite of the bust) and the fact that alcohol can now be bought very cheaply in stores and supermarkets.
But it’s a bit misleading because home consumption of alcohol has risen dramatically, and these home drinkers for the most part are not involved in the public drunkenness that creates the wild drinking Irish image.
There are many theories on why the Irish drink so much. Some social scientists say the historical context is important, that 800 years of oppression ground down the national psyche and that release from the pain this caused was found in alcohol.
When we finally did get our freedom, the pain and depression continued because of the strictures of the Catholic Church and the austere new Irish state. Again, release came in the pub.
A constant stream of emigration, from the time of the Famine onwards to the present day, took Irish people to Britain, America, Australia and elsewhere, and the pain of separation and the need for a sense of home brought them to bars wherever they went. The image of the drinking Irish spread far and wide, accentuated by the fondness of the homesick Irish for a party or a music session.
The psychologists will tell you that a person who drinks to get blind drunk is drinking to forget, to escape, to avoid. And there are many historical reasons why the Irish would have had a compulsion to do all three.
Whether this is an adequate explanation of today’s excessive drinking, not just on Patty’s Day but whenever there is an excuse, is doubtful.
Certainly there appears to be something missing in the make-up of many of the younger drinkers who cause much of the mayhem here and whose behavior reinforces the reputation of the drinking Irish whether it’s at home in Dublin or in San Diego or Sydney. The apparent lack of an ability to relax and enjoy themselves without the compulsion to get roaring drunk says a lot about our society and our educational system.
Having said all that, there is still reason to believe that the image of the Irish as a people enslaved by drink is no longer as warranted as it once was.
As a nation we still drink too much, but then so do people in many other countries. More Irish people now drink more often at home (wine sales have soared as a result) and in moderation.
The compulsion to go to the pub and get roaring drunk is not something that the vast majority of Irish people want to be part of anymore. And they don’t appreciate being given that kind of image, by Americans or anyone else.