On St. Patrick’s Day, it seems everyone is a little Irish—or wants to be.
It’s a day to boast of Irish heritage, no matter how remote or imaginary that ancestry may be. Enter any establishment, especially one with a liquor license, on March 17 and more than one patron’s shirt, hat or button will probably say, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
In Canada, that might not be a lie. The 2006 Statistics Canada census cited Irish as the fourth most common ethnic group in Canada, and the third most common in Nova Scotia.
Caitriona Ni Chonchuir is working as a language teaching assistant in the Irish Studies program at Saint Mary’s University until May, when she returns to her home in Ireland. Despite the holiday’s reputation as a day to get drunk, she thinks there are positive aspects of St. Patrick’s Day as it’s observed here in Canada.
“I feel that it is a very important day, particularly for Irish people who live away from home and for people with Irish roots,” she says.
She says Ireland places a greater emphasis on celebrating Irish culture and language on St. Patrick’s Day, compared with North America.
Overall, Chonchuir is positive about the celebrations, but she also notes there is a drinking culture associated with the day, both here and in Ireland.
Melissa Nacke, a third-year Dalhousie student, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the Grawood and the Halifax Alehouse. She says from her experience it’s a fun day, but the early start to many celebrations clearly results in overdrinking.
“I definitely witnessed some behaviour at 4 p.m. you wouldn’t ordinarily see without the theatrics of St. Patrick’s Day,” she says.
This is not surprising, considering some people start celebrating before noon. The general manager at the Old Triangle, Joël Chiasson, says people began lining up outside before 5 a.m. in order to get a table.
“I saw one girl cross Oxford Street in the early afternoon and she narrowly missed getting hit by a car. A bus driver lay on his horn, and the car swerved at the last minute,” Nacke says.
“The worst part was that the girl didn’t even notice any of this was going on.”
Nacke says she also saw some people being asked to leave pubs and bars before 5 p.m. because they were too drunk. “It really worries me that girls are leaving bars alone and obviously too drunk to properly function.”
Halifax Regional Police Const. Brian Palmeter says the two most common problems on St. Patrick’s Day are noise complaints and alcohol-related incidents. He says the most common issues with alcohol are underage drinking, public intoxication and illegal possession of alcohol.
“It doesn’t even matter what day of the week it is,” he says, “people will skip class and line up downtown or go to their parties anyway.”
The Halifax police seek to limit rowdiness on St. Patrick’s Day through higher visibility and quick response.
“Some officers who would normally be in plain clothes dress in uniform,” says Palmeter, “and we also try to nip things in the bud by shutting down parties early.”
Palmeter says that this year there were three large keggers within a few blocks of each other, which increased the number of incidents in that specific area around campus.
“But it’s never hard to find the big parties,” he says. “They’re the ones written in chalk outside the SUB.”
This year, Guinness moved to officially proclaim St. Patrick’s Day “the friendliest day of the year,” and they might not be too far off.
Despite the shenanigans, most agree that the overall attitude toward St. Patrick’s Day is a positive one.
“Everyone is happy and the vibe is wicked,” Chiasson says. “There are people that have been coming here for years and sit in the same seats they’ve had every year.”
Chonchuir says St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate all things Irish.
“This year I attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Halifax, and I attended a dinner. When I was younger, I took part the local parade in my village and the day was celebrated with Irish music and dance,” she says, noting the parades in Canada and Ireland are quite similar.
It seems for most people it’s good to be Irish—even if it’s only for one day a year.