Every year it rolls around, and every year it’s the same. For many Irish people, St. Patrick’s Day is actually the worst holiday of the entire year.
Interestingly, for everyone else, it is the holiday of Irish Dreams. The dilemma for most of us lies in the approach – how best to address March 17 as a pride-worthy Paddy?
As a child, St. Patrick’s Day was a huge deal. Primary school kids spent weeks painting the windows, adorning classrooms with excessive quantities of green, gold and fluorescent orange décor, silhouettes of leprechauns and giant black pots of chocolate gold coins.
It was the only day that we were allowed to break Lent (even though I broke it at every God given opportunity, rebel that I was) and there was much hype about the Dublin City parade.
In Waterford City, the parade was largely dominated by marching bands that were mostly comprised of old men playing bagpipes so loudly that you could feel the bellows in your hollow little ribcage. Local sports clubs, scouts and other youth-oriented activities got to take part too, marching behind the deafening bagpipe brigade waving aimlessly at the crowds banking the quays hoping to spot a clatter of aunts and uncles screaming hysterically like the child was a celebrity.
There were, of course, the obligatory floats and the local artsy types dressed up in colorful costumes that were often – if I’m being honest – genuinely terrifying.
I seethed with sisterly jealously the year my brother got to take part, and made it my business to outdo him on all St. Patrick’s Day celebrations by attaching clumps of green wool to my hair and painting my face with gold nail-varnish to make sure I looked more “into it” than he did. I was extremely competitive for a nine-year-old.
The point being that back then it was St. Patrick’s Day – not Paddy’s Day. It only really becomes Paddy’s Day when you’ve hit 15 and your friends all skulk away from the parade which is INCREDIBLY LAME so that you can drink stolen cans of beer in the park because you are all absolute legends.
This always results in at least one girl who can’t handle her dad’s Heineken and passes out in a pool of her own bodily fluids and gets talked about for the following decade as a reference point for the tragedy of Irish adolescence.
By the time you hit 17, Paddy’s Day has lost all meaning beyond an excuse to get disastrously drunk. Your younger siblings and cousins might still be enjoying the city’s daytime celebrations, but you’re spending the entire afternoon straightening your hair and applying 14 layers of fake tan.
Someone’s parents are out of town and you’re going to turn up at their house, have nine drinks and throw up somewhere horrifically inappropriate. Next thing you know, you’re in the back of your best friend’s boyfriend’s mom’s van crying into the fluffy mane of their pet border collie wondering where it all went wrong. Right?
The point being that back then it was really Paddy’s Night – not Paddy’s Day.
Paddy became your vodka bottle shaped friend who would follow you around for about 24 hours supervising the total destruction of your young adult life. Any memories of parades – in fact, any memories of absolutely anything – were long forgotten, and bright green decorations were replaced with bright green vomit. Too many Shamrock Shakes at McDonalds.
During college, Paddy’s Day was no longer held at your friend’s parent-free house, but at a real life nightclub before going back to your friend’s actual house – or, more often than not, tiny disgusting apartment.
The only Paddy’s Day in my college experience that particularly stands out is from when I was 19, and ran through the streets of Temple Bar grabbing random Italian men/general tourists and insisting that they kiss me on the mouth because I am Irish. Thankfully they all obliged, and thinking of it now still makes me want to wash my mouth out with soap and die.
This kind of revolting behavior is never acceptable, but if you’re going to do it, be 19. It’s probably the only age (safely above 18 and acceptably under 21) that you’ll really get away with it. Thankfully, I have dozens of photographs and several witnesses to the entire event so I can relive the horror at a moment’s notice.
Once college was over, and with it, the endless exploitation of national holidays in order to fuel our brain-melting alcoholism, everything began to take a rapid social landslide.
It was only in New York two years ago that I relived the madness that is having your old friend Paddy pumping you full of high spirits and actual alcoholic spirits for an entire day.
We crawled from one grimy Irish bar to the next, starting somewhere on 33rd Street and clambering our way all the way down to the likes of The Growler and The Beckett on Stone Street.
Splayed out on the cobblestones, we howled the Irish National Anthem, guzzled about 400 pints of Guinness … and in the end I truly lost my Irish identity.
Quite literally – I lost my passport. It was a total nightmare, enough to put me off joining in those foggy felicitations again for a long time.
Bizarrely, Paddy’s Day has now done a total 180 for me, and is back to being a good, honest St. Patrick’s Day.
This holiday has now become my most saintly and holiest day of the year. God forbid I would take so much as a sup of Guinness on this most unruly of days, and join the masses of absolute hooligans disgracing themselves around the world and making the rest of us ashamed to be called Irish!
When you start sounding like an Irish mammy without having actually birthed a child on one of the Aran Islands and walked to school barefoot across fields of cow pats and coal, you know something has gone horribly wrong.
When it comes to March 17, I feel there are only two ways to go about it as an adult human being. You go in for a penny, in for a pound – because if you’re going to do something wrong, you better do it right!
There are no success stories of one going to join their friends for a quick celebratory pint and then getting safely and soberly home. If you don’t want to wreck your life, then avoid Paddy like the plague, or indeed, like the famine.