St. Patrick revelers opt for sober celebration

Revelers cheer on the marchers during the 251st Revelers cheer on the marchers during the 251st annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan. (March 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Is a sober St. Patrick's Day an oxymoron? Some Irish New Yorkers, revolted by the displays of public drunkenness and eager to abolish old stereotypes, are hoping not.

Last year, almost 500 people attended an after-parade "Sober St. Patrick's Day" party at Regis High School on the Upper East Side. The family-friendly event, featuring fiddle champions, comedians and step dancers, will be repeated Saturday after the parade. A sister event has bloomed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Sponsors here -- which include PepsiCo and several rehab centers -- hope acceptance is near.

The movement to sober revelry is small, compared with the hundreds of thousands of people who pour into midtown Manhattan for the parade, many with alcohol in hand, and others who drink in the bars. But supporters see it taking off.

"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 writing a book, "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."

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, according to NYPD statistics. A total of 113 disorderly conduct summonses were issued and 47 people were arrested on assault charges in the borough last March 17, as opposed to 72 disorderly conduct summonses and 22 assault arrests on March 10, according to the NYPD.

Even Irish bartenders applaud the shift in emphasis to non-intoxication, though 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."

 

The parade

 

The 252nd St. Patrick's Day Parade is set to march through the streets of Manhattan Saturday, as revelers decked out in green will brave the weather for the holiday. The forecast calls for a mix of rain and snow.

When: Starts at 11 a.m., ends around 4:30 p.m.

Where: Begins at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, finishes at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Grandstand: Between 62nd and 64th streets; ticket required.

Best spots to watch: The upper steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art provide a great view, and spectators above 66th Street generally will have better views.

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