St Patrick’s Day in Toronto: Drown the shamrock, but remember why


Picture this: It’s noon on Sunday and already the green-tinged line-ups of all creeds and colour have started outside Toronto’s many Irish pubs; some are already heaving to the rafters.

The St Patrick’s Day parade has barely even started but the drinking has, en masse. These scenes are hardly surprising. Anyone who grew up in Ireland post 1970 is well versed in how to drown the shamrock.

And if you’ve ever spent a Paddy’s Day anywhere in North America, you know well how that goes. Such is the Paddy’s Day fervour in the States that many pubs now even feature a halfway-to-Paddy’s celebration on Sept 17. Seriously.

It seems everyone wants to be Oirish for a day, and getting wasted is the right of passage to make that happen.

But sher it’s all just a bit of good-natured fun, right?  This is true to a certain extent, and I’m the last person to turn down a few drinks on the day that’s in it

But it is kind of sad to see your country’s culture trod underfoot by hoardes of drunken crowds who turn the day into a sodden mess. And the inevitable media reports that follow are embarrassing and work only to reinforce the stereotype of the drunken Irish. We’ve enough of that going on without an actual day to cement the deal.

When it happens back home it’s bad enough: in recent years spates of street violence and drunkenness have led to hundreds of arrests over various St Patrick Days.

But as an Irish immigrant to Canada, when this insidious behaviour seeps into your host nation, it’s time to realise there’s something really wrong with this picture. In Toronto, last year’s St Patrick’s Day ended with dozens of fights, stabbings and several shootings across the city. I don’t know if any of these people were Irish, or had Irish connections, but it’s probably safe to say they wouldn’t have ended up getting so drunk if it wasn’t the day it was.

And it’s probably not a leap of faith to assume other city’s experienced similar problems.

The sad thing is, some really great things going on are often lost among the stories of Paddywhackery.

For example, I know not too many news outlets are interested in printing the real story of this year’s Toronto parade which is not about how many dancing leprechauns there are, or which hot chick had the shortest kilt (kilts aren’t even Irish, North America), but the fact that new young Irish immigrants are manning a food drive at Sunday’s parade to raise awareness of hunger both in Canada and in Ireland.

They are asking people to bring along non-perishables, and they will collect them along the route. The proceeds go to Toronto’s Good Shepard shelter. In addition to collecting food they will have poor boxes into which people can drop their change or bills. This money will be divided between the St. Vincent dePaul Society in Toronto and a shelter back in Ireland.

But this story doesn’t really fit with the traditional media view of the day: kiss-me-I’m-Irish shirts, grown men with green hair, shamrocks and shenanigans.

Another great Irish story happening in recent weeks in Toronto that got little airplay: The Toronto Irish Players, a community theatre group operating in the city for 38 years last week recived the Irish Person of the Year award (full disclosure I am a member).

The group was set up by a group of Irish immigrants in 1975 and has become an integral part of Ontario’s amateur theatre scene, winning awards year after year for acting, producing and more.

Traditionally in Ireland, the wearing of the green was about religion, celebrating a patron saint, but in recent times it’s become about sharing common bonds, uniting Ireland’s sons and daughters and their descendants across the world. 
It’s  about where you are from, your roots, your heritage.

It’s about calling home, meeting up with family, or if that’s not possible, other Irish, and yes having a few pints, but more importantly, its about being proud of our tiny nation, population 4.6million, and all its achieved.

So, yes, let the world turn green for a day, embrace it, but maybe, as your tucking into your Guinness, Jameson, or dare I say it Irish car bomb (a North American anomaly), be you Irish or not, think about
 where you are from, where you’re going, and all those who came before you to make that possible.

And of course:happy-st-patricks-day-banner