Earlier this year, I was in the St. Patrick’s day parade here in Chicago. The summer weather in the middle of March made the experience seem even weirder that it already was.
I walked the parade route with the Girl Scouts for my youngest daughter, and so long as you have something to hand out to people (we had candy, beads, and some Irish-themed pencils) you’ll be received very well. But hand that last giveaway out, as I did halfway along the route, and suddenly you become an interloper. Or at least that’s how it felt, walking those final two blocks down Columbus Street.
The parade ended, at least for us, and so we got back on the train and headed to a friend’s house with a number of bars nearby, each one packed to the gills with revelers. It’s an unfortunate stereotype of my people, the Irish, as a two-fisted, hard drinking people. The Irish–many of whom have never been to Ireland in the first place–appear to gladly embrace this, too.
Many years ago, I first heard a statement that was attributed to Ed McMahon, which goes like this: “God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from running the world.” Whether it’s whiskey, beer, or anything else, the association between the Irish and the bottle is an all-too-easy one to make.
The fusion of Chicago’s flag, Irish shamrocks, and a beer company logo on a medallion attached to string of green beads, does a fine job of reinforcing this stereotype. How many of these things were passed out in bars, and worn by people as a sign of “Irish pride,” which is more like a code word for heavy drinking?
I’m sure that my take on this is different now that I’ve (hopefully) given up drinking. The person that I was from my teens up through my early 40s would have had none of the malarkey that’s coming from my keyboard right now. And I’m fine with adults drinking if that’s what they want to do. But St. Patrick’s Day has a boozy vibe that feels much different after crossing over to the other side of the street, so to speak.