Throughout the United States, chain restaurants and mall-based “traditional Irish pubs” are gearing up for the masses of frat boys preparing to celebrate the fact that they are one-eighth Irish. Along the Eastern seaboard, innocent rivers are dyed green in preparation for a day of debauchery all in honour of a proselytising saint from the fifth century. Perhaps it is a tacit American guilt towards relaxing that forces us to arbitrarily choose a holiday from another culture to provide an excuse to throw parades, binge-drink, and wear buttons asking people to kiss us. Whatever the reason, Americans love St. Patrick’s Day and the kitschy free promotional accessories like the ubiquitous green floppy hats that come with it. American readers might be wondering how the Irish celebrate St. Patrick's Day; those in Northern Ireland might be wondering the same thing.
A celebration of Irishness, if indeed that is what St. Patrick’s Day represents, is bound to be a contentious issue in Northern Ireland. Apparently, that’s nothing several local festivals and a large inflatable monkfish can’t solve. Both Queens University and Armagh and Down District Councils sponsor a St. Patrick’s Day festival, with Queens’ festival running from March 14th-18th and Armagh and Down Districts' version running from March 9th-20th. Belfast City Council chimes in with their offer to the mix, promising a “carnival atmosphere for all the family.” Along with the expected variety of traditional music, dancing, and children’s events is an oddly incoherent line of programming including a dodgeball tournament, a “Back to School” themed film series, and a parade featuring a giant monkfish wending its way throughout Belfast City Centre.
Notable in their absence in the cut-throat world of St. Patrick's Day event-planning are Féile and Culturlann, two groups that normally lead the way in celebrating all things Irish here in Belfast. While Culturlann appears to be sponsoring an Irish-language drama series several days after the blessed day and Féile have a section of their web-page dedicated to St. Patrick’s Day and Belfast City Council’s refusal to fund their proposals for events, neither organisation appears to offer any programming for the day.
What is an excuse for shameless marketing in the United States is a tightrope walk of tedium resulting largely in tepid programming and political posturing in Northern Ireland. While Féile correctly points out on their website that St. Patrick’s Day is an untapped tourist opportunity for Northern Ireland, a drunken horde of Midwestern tourists will need more than a monkfish to celebrate their minuscule Irish heritage in the inebriated and accessorised manner in which they have grown accustomed to over the years.
(Photo: WKD Poster, Falls Road Off-license, Erin Parish)