Saturday, September 23, 2023

Wouldn’t it be different to celebrate St Patrick without needing to turn to alcohol for support?

According to a World Health Organisation global survey released in January and covering 2022, Irish people consumed the sixth highest quanity of alcohol.

Our figure of 11.4 litres of pure alcohol per adult during that year left us a full three litres behind the ‘worst’ country, Belarus (and, when you consider the behaivour of its president, Alexander Lukas­henko, you can’t blame them).

Lithuania was second worst (12.9 litres), Grenada was third (11.9 litres), the Czech Republic was joint fourth with France on 11.8 litres and Russia fifth (11.5 litres). Then came Ireland, matching Slovakia and Luxembourg.

The analysis didn’t go into the different kinds of drinking and while it’s obvious that social drinking is significant in Ireland, most people would be aware that binge drinking is a bigger problem; according to, binge drinking means consuming six or more standard alcholic drinks in one sitting. It means drinking faster than your liver can process alcohol and the results of that are obvious.

We broach this subject on the eve of Ireland’s annual DrinkFest, St Patrick’s Day, a day which was originally set to honour our patron saint but is now often used to honour our desire to binge drink. It’s as if the saint himself is just an excuse to get very drunk, very fast, and sure why wouldn’t you, isn’t it Paddy’s Day?

Allowing for the fallout from the Covid pandemic, there has never been more put in place for people in Ireland to celebrate the saint, our history and our culture than there is today. Towns host parades and people spend a great deal of money putting up festive decorations to celebrate our Irishness, not to provide a coathanger for abusing alcohol (and, for that matter, each other).

In Westmeath, a relatively small number of people have worked hard and ‘gone the extra mile’ to plan major parades in Athlone, Mullingar, Moate and Castlepollard, and other towns will have their own way of celebrating as a community too. But none of that planning or effort concerns abusing alcohol. Celebration itself does not need alcohol, and people can get together to mark some occasion without a drink in sight.

But in Ireland, it doesn’t work that way; too many of us think we can’t possibly enjoy ourselves unless we’re drunk.

So on Friday (17 March), we’ll celebrate St Patrick the way we usually do, and come Saturday (18 March), we know only too well that overnight, marriages and relationships will have been ended and families destined to fall apart, all because of the abuse of alcohol.

Doubtless some people will end up as guests of the gardaí with court dates in the coming months, all for the same reason. Perhaps there will be even worse consequences for some, who knows?

Many years ago, people could go to the cinema and smoke or choose a ‘smoking’ seat on an aeroplane; pubs and cafés reeked of smoke. Then it all changed. Smoking was banned in many types of venues. Today, people smoking in public are almost regarded as being unfortunate. Ireland decided it wasn’t socially acceptable to smoke, and so it’s fallen away substantially.

‘Perhaps some day Irish society will decide that it’s not socially acceptable to get drunk…’

Many years ago, people could go out for a few drinks and think nothing of driving home. Then the law clamped down on that, but it also became socially unacceptable and so today drink-drivers are pariahs.

Perhaps in years to come – because it certainly won’t start tomorrow ­– Irish society will decide that it’s fine to go out and have a drink or two, but to get drunk or act the eejit because of ‘drink’ is not on; perhaps it will become socially unacceptable too, perhaps it will become much less frequent, especially on Lá Fhéile Pádraig, and wouldn’t that make a pleasant change for everyone?

However you stand on the issue, all of us in Topic wish all our readers a happy St Patrick’s Day. May the road rise to meet you and may the wind be always on your back and all of that. And if you are going to have a drink or two, enjoy them and toast our patron saint.

Perhaps he enjoyed a goblet of wine with his dinner too.

Let's hear it.

If you have an opinion, we want to hear it. Your name and address must be supplied for verification purposes. Lengthy contributions may be edited for reasons of space.