It was only eleven in the morning when the relative calm of East 7th Street was washed away by a cascade of green vomit. Once the puddle’s progenitor, a young man wearing a green foam tophat and a green New York Jets hoodie, was finished staining the asphalt with what looked to be about $18 worth of beer, he threw back his shoulders, eyes watery, and rejoined his friends behind the police barricades. There were many high-fives. Welcome to St. Patrick’s Day’s Ground Zero, a green-streaked Douchebag Christmas.
In 1903, Irish Member of Parliament James O'Mara passed a law that made the feast day of the patron saint of the Emerald Isle an official public holiday in Ireland. O’Mara also introduced a short-lived law requiring that pubs and bars be closed on the holiday, after public drinking grew “out of hand.” After an hour outside of New York City’s oldest Irish pub, it can be said with confidence that the wrong law was repealed.
St. Patrick’s Day was originally a Catholic holiday marking the death of St. Patrick, who used the three leaves of the Irish clover to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans and also rid the island nation of snakes. However, today’s celebration of the holiday has less in common with the papist version of Whacking Day of old than it does with Liberalia, an ancient Roman holiday also celebrated on March 17 wherein a procession of teenage boys marched giant penises throughout the countryside and sang dirty songs.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrants in New York may not know their ancient pagan holidays, but the spirit of Liberalia is alive and well in the line to enter the city’s oldest continuously operating purveyor of Irish nostalgia. McSorley’s purports to be 160 years old, although records indicate that in 1854, the alleged year of its founding, McSorley’s was a vacant lot littered with broken bottles and soused indigents. Arguably, little has changed.
Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, and the 1994 New York Rangers have all partaken in the bar’s signature “light or dark” ale – the Rangers did so much damage to the Stanley Cup that the trophy-turned-drinking vessel had to be returned to the NHL, dented and reeking of skunked beer. After the bar was forced by court order to allow women, it took sixteen years to install a women’s restroom. In a poem about the bar, E.E. Cummings described the space as “snug and evil.” Today’s clientele views that description as an achievable goal.
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish – except for the gays – but mostly, everyone is just drunk. In one hour, the East Village street that lays claim to McSorley’s saw three people vomiting, four young men belligerently insisting that every stranger within arm’s distance give them a high five, two public urinations, one apparent breakup, and two more young men losing their Lucky Charms behind parked cars.
Green vuvuzelas announce the arrival of a trio of female Fenian partygoers, each clad in green tights and wearing the Irish tricolor as a cape. “The Irish are coming!” one shouts, before letting out a long, 120 decibel braaaaaaat from her plastic trumpet as they joined the boisterous line outside the pub. It seems that celebrants are no longer satisfied to merely co-opt the proud history and culture of the Irish in the name of getting shitfaced – now they have to steal the most annoying South African contribution to the arts, too.
Discounting one stunned-looking young man with a massive head wound on the left side of his temple – his girlfriend, when asked, said that “somebody tried to start shit” – the McSorley’s crowd has at least abstained from the St. Paddy’s violence seen at a pre-holiday celebration at the University of Massachusetts' flagship Amherst campus. The “Blarney Blowout” resulted in more than 70 arrests for inciting to riot, failing to disperse, disorderly conduct, liquor law violations, and assault and battery on officers when a crowd of 4,000 revelers threw rocks, glass bottles, and snowballs at cops who attempted to break up the party.
Underneath the Irish pride and the excitement about the coming spring, St. Patrick’s Day is a childish spectacle of obnoxious behavior celebrated by inebriated manchildren who could use a few whacks with a shillelagh. But is it the worst of its type? No, unfortunately another drunken holiday is already laying claim to that distinction.