[paddy]On March 17, hundreds of MSU students will wake up at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, regardless of the night before, and crack a beer before they fully open their eyes (only those of age, of course). They’ll pull back the blinds on the windows of their apartment or dorm room to see the lights on in countless other rooms around campus. After choking back the first Natural Light, or for those with more funds, a Guinness, the students will stumble into the shower. Mid-lather, their roommate will undoubtedly shove another beer in through the shower curtain. The lines will swell in front of the bars and we’ll be seeing green even more than we usually do.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! College students around the country have adopted St. Patrick as their patron saint, and celebrate his day with more gusto than Halloween – and that has some gusto. But what is the story behind the martyr? And what do the Irish think of Midwest college students who take their holiday and turn it into an excuse to get smashed?
“It’s said that St Patrick banished snakes from Ireland; there is absolutely no evidence to support this, however, as it’s thought that snakes never existed in Ireland,” Aodhan Buckley, a native Irishman and tour guide, said. The snakes are now thought to be symbolic of pagans, the rivals of the Christians. As the legend goes, St. Patrick not only drove, but cleansed Ireland of the barbaric pagans, and so Ireland became mainly Catholic.
St. Patrick was born Maewyn Succat and is actually not an Irishman by birth. He was born in Britain and at 16 was sold as a slave in Ireland. After five years, he escaped and entered the clergy in the tradition of his father and brother before him. While he slept in the evening, still in Britain, St. Patrick dreamed he was being summoned back to “Erin,” an ancient nickname for Ireland. Upon his return, he was credited as introducing the idea of the “trinity” to the Irish people, using the shamrock and its three leaves. “The Shamrock is synonymous with Paddy’s Day because it was the way that Patrick explained the holy trinity — three leaves, one for God the Father, another for God the Son and a final one for God the Holy Spirit,” Buckley said. “We tend to wear a shamrock in a button hole or something like that throughout the day. We all wear green too as it is our national color and also the color that Patrick wore himself.”
His service as a missionary was important to both Ireland and Catholicism itself. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which holds the tombs of many famous Irishman, commemorates his life in downtown Dublin, within walking distance of the Temple Bar district and Trinity College.
Since MSU students seem to have borrowed this holiday from the Irish — probably due to the fact that their history is soaked in alcohol — and put our own twist on it, we have to recognize that the Irish did it originally. Lauren Linsalata, an English senior, spent the spring semester of 2005 in Dublin and consequently celebrated all things Irish with the Irish themselves. “I thought it was going to be a really big deal,” she said. “I was in Dublin at the time, and Dublin is the biggest tourist city they have. It’s really become not an Irish holiday so much as an international holiday because people from all over the world will come to Ireland to celebrate.”
English junior Emily Garcia also had the privilege of celebrating at the start of it all. “There’s a big parade in the city center of Dublin that tons of people show up for — Irish dancing in the streets, lots of drinking,” she said. “I mean lots of drinking. I saw a lot of very young-looking Irish kids walking around with cans of beer.” So maybe MSU students aren’t too far off — perhaps the Irish look at it as just as much of a drinking holiday as we do.
[beer]The Irish could out-drink many of us any day, but on St. Patrick’s Day they say everybody’s Irish. “[The Irish] are definitely in the spirit, and drinking and alcohol is a major part of Ireland,” Linsalata said. “That sounds so seedy in the U.S., but in Ireland it’s totally normal. A normal day of tourism in Ireland would easily include whiskey-tasting, a trip to the Guinness factory…they really take pride in that part of their culture.” Most likely, they are honored when we pop open our Guinness, and laugh when we take more than a few gulps to finish it.
“To be honest, I really don’t mind how American people spend the holiday,” Buckley said. “If they want to get drunk then let them do so as long as they do so safely, then that’s all that really concerns me. The Irish are seen as a nation of drinkers, and it’s something that has done wonders for us in the tourism trade so it really isn’t such a bad thing.”
The celebrations in Ireland last all day, and it seems some of the students in the study abroad program didn’t quite make it. “There were people who were down and out by four or five in the afternoon. They went back to the flat to take a nap and woke up the next morning,” Linsalata said. “But…we had been there long enough by that point to keep ourselves under control.”
What did the Irish think of the American tourists next to them at the bar? Are we as obnoxious as our stereotype says? “Americans are usually the loudest people in a crowd,” Garcia said. “There were tons of American tourists in Dublin for St. Patrick’s day.” But, according to Linsalata, the Irish didn’t seem to mind Americans’ crazy antics. “I think the Irish people for the most part are a very welcoming society.”
Buckley said the Irish love a loud bunch. “Every country has its drunks, it just so happens that we are the merriest and loudest of the lot when we’re drunk, so everyone will always notice the feckin drunken Irish! I also love the fact that there are parades all over the States for Paddy’s day — it’s a great way to keep his memory alive. It is also a great way to bring our two countries even closer together which really can’t be a bad thing.”
New York City actually has the biggest parade in the world for St. Patrick’s Day, beating out Chicago and even Dublin. There are over two million people who watch as the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment marches up 5th Avenue.
What do they think of us all — borrowing their holiday and making more out of it than they do? “I’ve never heard of any criticisms of our St. Patrick’s Day parades, but they enjoy knowing something of the United States,” William Johnsen, an English professor, said. “They know a lot about us. Sometimes they know more about us than we know.”
In East Lansing, MSU celebrates very similarly. Students on campus arise obscenely early in the morning, and drink their first beer without even having a chance to put on their green shirt. Those who crave a more structured experience (and happen to be of age) line up at the bars early in the morning. Construction management senior Dane Weddon is an East Lansing bars veteran. “The bars open at 7 a.m. and they have buffets with green eggs and ham and hash browns and shamrock shakes,” he said. “You have to buy tickets ahead of time, it’s kind of like New Years.”
Apparently, the idea on campus is to drink early, and maintain a level of intoxication all day and deep into the night. Weddon has some advice: “It’s important to wake up by 5:00 a.m.,” he said. “Don’t bother showering, it cuts into your drinking time. Do some pre-drinking and fill a flask so you’ll have something to drink while you’re still in line [at the bar].” Though his words of wisdom may be a little hardcore for some, they demonstrate the seriousness that many MSU students bring to their celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Wearing that “Kiss me, I’m Irish’ shirt may not be a bad idea, either.
“If people from America who have in the past given so much to Ireland want to claim Irish ancestry then by all means do,” Buckley said. “I love it when people tell me that they’re one-third Irish. Even if they aren’t then feck it — let them, if it makes them happy then claim to be Irish! Just a quick bit of advice, if you’re claiming to be Irish, bear in mind that you’ll have to learn to drink like an Irish person, too!”

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