With the onset of St. Patrick’s Day every year comes the debate about the best ways in which to celebrate and, to a certain degree, the role that alcohol plays in many people’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
Each year, students in the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, hold a giant celebration in honor of St. Patrick, the “Blarney Blowout,” which is essentially a day full of huddling in a big group, egging each other to drink a lot and plastering yourself in as much green and tacky paraphernalia as possible.
In 2014, the Blarney Blowout went to extremes, with 55 students arrested and tear gas released on the 22,000 students in attendance, resulting in big costs for UMass in 2015 to ensure it would not reach the same levels again.
Last year, it is reported that University of Massachusetts Amherst spent $500,000 on an alternate concert to rival the normal day of drinking and increased police and ambulance presence to keep things under control. Although confrontations between police and students were minimal, there were still nine arrests.
Tired of drunken antics and hoping to counteract the bad publicity created for St. Patrick’s Day by the Blarney Blowout, a group of Amherst residents with Irish roots took it upon themselves to create a more positive celebration of their Irish traditions, focusing instead on the feast day of the second of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Brigid, on February 1.
On February 1, 2015 the Amherst Irish Association was officially born and they will return this year to once again mark their own Irish Heritage Day with the Feast of St. Brigid.
"All these images on televisions about UMass and the Irish. All these kids walking around in green indicating it's about Ireland … It's not about Ireland at all. We didn't want that association to stay in everyone's mind," said retired Amherst Fire captain Tim Goodhind, who helped create the association.
In lieu of the drunk Irish stereotype, the Amherst Irish Association aims to line up sponsored programs over a month before the Blarney Blowout begins, offering people the chance to learn the Irish language and to interact with their own Irish roots and history.
“The purpose of the Association is to promote the understanding and appreciation of Irish culture, history, language and politics here in the Pioneer Valley,” The Association said.
“February 1st, Brigid’s Day/Lá le Bríd, we recognize our Celtic origins, the name most associated with Irish domestic servants in America and Ireland’s first native saint.”
Today on their special day of Irish celebration, they will indulge in just one of the events lined up for Spring 2016 that will look not just at Ireland as it was but engage in the changes in Ireland today. The series of lectures concerns the Irish language, Irish women, the origins of the Anglo-Normans, the recent marriage equality vote in Ireland and the beginning steps to take in tracing your Irish ancestors.
In keeping with the Easter Rising centenary celebrations there will also be a special screening of the Mise Éire film "The 1916 Rising" to coincide with the 100-year anniversary.
Celebrating Ireland on St. Brigid’s Day instead is also a great excuse to pay homage to Ireland’s first native and only female saint, who doesn’t normally receive the same amount of attention as her male counterpart despite her remarkable story and the wealth of history and tradition associated with her.
From making St. Brigid’s crosses to honoring one of Ireland’s greatest feminist figures (not always something you can say when talking about a person associated with the Catholic Church), if you’d like more information on the Association or on how to become a member you can visit http://amherstirish.org/.
Is it time to place less emphasis on St. Patrick’s Day so as to put an end to day-long drinking sessions or is it all just part of the fun? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, below.