Belfast Telegraph

Surely there should be more to St Patrick's Day than this tack?

By Suzanne Breen

I've long hated the Twelfth of July. I don't come from the unionist community but that's not the reason. It's because, in urban areas anyway, it's mostly a tacky, trashy event.

Northern Ireland's own Mardi Gras? My foot. Some might behave in a dignified fashion but for the majority I've seen on the streets of Belfast, the Twelfth is about drink, disorder and diatribe.

From the inebriated skinhead bandsmen urinating in public and the overweight peroxide blondes clutching bottles of Bacardi and screaming obscenities, to the tawdry stalls with their cheap plastic merchandise and sectarian songs, it's all horrendous.

But let no-one think that Protestants and unionists have a monopoly on tat and tack. Take a look at the streets this afternoon and you'll see that nationalists are now just as bad.

St Patrick's Day has become the Twelfth in green. In Belfast's Holylands area, the drinking starts at 10 or 11am.

By the afternoon, many people are already out of their trees. The pubs will be full of roaring half-wits at noon, the streets covered in urine and vomit by the evening, and hospital casualty departments jam-packed at night-time.

Of course, there are plenty of families just having a good time at local community events across the land.

But for so many people, March 17 has become first and foremost a drinkfest. Given the richness of Irish culture, it's shameful we can't do better.

Northern Ireland rarely does fancy dress very well and the tawdry green wigs, green hats, and leprechaun garb is no exception.

A sea of St Patricks clutch their carry-outs along with their croziers. It's as embarrassing as drunken Orangemen marching behind Temperance banners.

Green glasses and painted faces are cute on children. But when you see 30 and 40-somethings so styled, you know something's seriously wrong.

The best St Patrick's Day I've spent in recent years has been in New York. Of course, there's a tawdry side there too with 'Kiss Me, I'm Irish' hats and worse in abundance.

But when the backdrop to proceedings is Fifth Avenue, and it's the Empire State building not a dingy Belfast nightclub bathed in green, you'll forgive a lot.

And Americans would never tolerate drunken eejits running amok in their streets. Anyone who has ever witnessed the NYPD in action knows they make the PSNI look like pussy-cats when dealing with anti-social behaviour.

At home, everything about St Patrick's Day seems to be on a downward spiral. The shamrock on sale is punier and more overpriced every year. At least, the lily - of both the Orange and Easter varieties - is an attractive, substantial symbol.

Today's celebrations now reflect the 'Begorrah' and 'Bejaysus' image of ourselves that we once denounced.

In-yer-face, cheap Hibernianism has unfortunately increased with the peace process. There's a growing trend of spouting sectarian obscenities and displaying ceasefire soldiery.

In the Holylands on St Patrick's Day, students who have never known any conflict here - and certainly wouldn't be volunteering for combat if one ever returned - shout 'Up the Ra!' as if they were cheering on a football team.

I'm not a killjoy suggesting that all the bars across the country must close today or that there shouldn't be a party.

But the old St Patrick's Day was a far more tasteful event.

It meant a few pints in the pub, a bowl of stew at a roaring fire, and a traditional music session - not this moronic bingeing.

We don't have to have a stiff, soulless affair with everybody forced to a church service or literary evening.

And when it comes to carnivals, we will never be Rio. But can't we do better than the shabby shamroguery we've got?

The denigration of the Irish as ape-like drunks dates to the 19th century when British political cartoonists regularly drew Irish characters as monkeys.

Generations of Irish people rightly challenged this stereotype and in recent years it has disappeared.

The irony now is that so many Irish men and women, by their own actions, are resurrecting it themselves. This time, we can't blame the Brits.

There must be change. We need to add a good dose of class and culture to our celebrations. On St Paddy's Day maybe we should petition our national saint to forget about the snakes - banish the tacky shenanigans from our streets instead.

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