For many, it’s a day full of drinking and wearing green, but what is the holiday really about?
March 17 is the celebration of all things Irish, but how many of us actually know what the holiday is really about?
According to Michael Kenneally, Irish professor and principal of the School of Canadian Irish studies at Concordia, St. Patrick’s Day has become commercialized. “To some degree, [the holiday] has been hijacked by Guinness and Jameson,” he said. “It has been associated with raucous drinking, a lot of it done by students going out on St. Patrick’s Day wanting to get drunk and then the Irish community gets a bad name. There is a stereotype that the Irish are drinkers, fighters and lazy.”
Being an Irish studies student or taking an Irish class at Concordia can help students learn about genuine Irish culture, he said. “In Irish studies, part of our mandate is to counter those stereotypes by highlighting the good things, such as Irish culture and literature,” said Kenneally. “Personally, it’s an opportunity for me to connect with the Irish community in Montreal. If anything, I would be kicking back against the stereotyping of sheleighly and shamrocks, and racially negative T-shirts and hats. All of this [stuff] associated with St. Patrick’s day needs to be seen in the context of real Irish culture.”
Kenneally said the holiday is celebrated in both Ireland and around the world. It was originally a holy day for Christians where you needed to go to mass. On St. Patrick’s Day, you could have sweets, or whatever was given up during the long period of Lent. It was only about 20 years ago parades and majorettes started, Kenneally said.
Now, it’s a celebration of Irish culture, its heritage and the Irish community, he said. “In Montreal particularly, St. Patrick’s Day and the parade has really become not an essence of Irish community, but rather a commercialization [that is also] associated with the coming of spring,” Kenneally said. “It is a non-political opportunity for everybody in Montreal to come and celebrate after hibernating during winter.”
Kenneally said he strongly hopes the future of this holiday will highlight true Irish ancestry, be it through film, music, poetry, or other ways. His hope is that it will highlight genuine Irish culture and continue to downplay the stereotyping being done through the media, particularly with Guinness making money out of it.
For further information on the Irish studies program at Concordia, visit cdnirish.concordia.ca.