Erin go sober: More Irish people pushing for an abstemious St. Paddy's Day

Sober St. Patrick's Day, last year. (James Higgins)

Sober St. Patrick's Day, last year. (James Higgins) (Credit: Sober St. Patrick's Day, last year. (James Higgins))

Is a sober St. Patrick's Day an oxymoron?

Some Irish New Yorkers, revolted by the displays of public drunkenness and eager to abolish the stereotype of Celts in their cups, are pushing for just that.

Last year, almost 500 people attended an after-parade "Sober St. Patrick's Day" party at Regis High School on the Upper East Side. This year, the family-friendly event, offering fiddle champions, comedians and step dancers, will be repeated (on Saturday, after the parade) and a sister event has bloomed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Sponsors here -- which include PepsiCo and several rehab centers -- hope world acceptance, if not domination, is afoot.

The movement to sober revelry seems a trickle, compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who pour into midtown for the parade, many with alcohol in hand, and others who pound back brewskis in the bars. Yet, "I really think this could spread across the country," said Malachy McCourt, the Upper West Side writer, actor and advocate of the idea. St. Patrick's Day "should be a celebration of Irish culture; of the words, the literature and the music," and not an excuse to get "ossified," said McCourt, who is now writing a book called "I Never Drink When I'm Sober."

The event was kicked off in 2012 by television producer William Spencer O'Reilly, who said in a statement he didn't begrudge anyone not recovering from alcoholism having a drink or two: "We're just against the practice of some people using the holiday as an excuse to get drunk."

NYPD stats confirm that some see the day as a license to swill. Last year, March 17 fell on a Saturday, and 599 people were cited for public consumption of alcohol in Manhattan, whereas only 82 people were cited the Saturday before, March 10. A total of 113 disorderly conduct summonses were issued and 47 people were arrested for assault in the borough last March 17, as opposed to 72 disorderly conduct summonses and 22 assault arrests on March 10.

This is the second year that Hoboken has ditched its St. Patrick's Day parade due to complaints the event had turned into a bacchanal. Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she wanted the parade -- traditionally held on a weekend -- moved to a Wednesday, but sponsors declined to shift the date. In its place, local boosters organized a pub crawl they call "Lepre-Con."

Surprisingly, even Irish bartenders applaud the shift in emphasis to non-intoxication, despite the fact that the day is one of the best in the year -- if not the best -- for raking in money. The day that originally honored the introduction of Christianity to Ireland does booming business, "but I wish it wasn't known for the alcohol," said Kieran Finnegan, 49, manager of an Irish bar in midtown who hails from Sligo. "It gives us a bad rap. The day is abused in America, with all the kids getting drunk."

Inebriation is associated with car accidents, arrests, domestic violence and all manner of mayhem that hardly burnishes Irish pride, Finnegan complained.

Of course, there always has to be a sober-party pooper.

A sober St. Patrick's day "is a terrible idea!" said Kevin Wolfring, 21, from Jamaica, Queens. "Part of the celebration is alcohol: It breathes life into the whole thing!" Liquid anesthesia is essential, said the St. John's University student, to tolerate the "boring" parade.

For every group that tries to dry out the day, Wolfring predicted, "there will be a group three times as big that's about being drunk."

Tags: NEWS , Sheila Anne Feeney , St , Patrick's Day , Malachy McCourt , Irish , ARTICLE , AMNY , HOLD

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