"The immigrant's heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new," says former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese. "The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland." The Irish community has been among New York City's most formative influences. "Sober St. Patrick's Day", in a grand celebration that promises to make the heart light and the feet want to shuffle, honors the creativity, charm and ingenuity of the Irish people. Noel Kilkenny, Irish Counsel General of New York,who hosted a meeting in support of the day recounts, "When I was growing up in Ireland, I remember distinctly that all the pubs were closed on St. Patrick's Day. We really respected it as a special day. l really like the idea of having a special event on this holiday for Americans of Irish heritage who are in recovery from alcoholism, to celebrate our shared heritage in a safe and inclusive environment." There is much to revel in the legacy of a people who claim in their ranks some of the world's greatest poets, playwrights and ballad writers. Cultural icons such as W.B. Yeats, CS Lewis, Eugene O'Neill, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and more recently Frank McCourt and Judy Collins all reflect this rich heritage of the Irish. The Irish voice so full of irony, soul searching and a recognition of the beauty of the human spirit will be heard, sung and River Danced this March 17th in a festivity that is fit for the most discriminating NYC tastes and their families and children. For too long St Patrick's Day has conjured up images of drunkenness, a dark shadow of the Irish culture that speaks to a legacy of colonial rule, potato famines and living under a system designed to strip them of their lands, their dignity and their futures. Drinking became, for many, a way to survive, a strange relief that paradoxically both broke the spirit and perhaps, kept it from breaking. But dance, poetry and song are also forms of relief and renewal. The first annual "Sober St. Patrick's Day" will take place at Regis High School (entrance at 60 East 85 St.) from 3pm to 7pm. (info and advance tickets required as space is limited) are available for a mere $12.00 at www.SoberStPatricksDay.org. The day will include dancers in traditional costumes, lively bands and soloists, and theatrical renditions of great literary works.
Interestingly, St. Patrick was himself an immigrant. Captured from Wales by Irish raiders when he was about 16 , he was taken to Ireland as a slave. He lived in Ireland for about six years before escaping and returning to his family. After entering the church, however, he returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop, having seen a vision drawing him back. He eventually came to be revered as patron saint of Ireland and worked to overthrow "pagan idols and cursed kings s and kingdoms". If ever there were a pagan idol, liquor is one. It is a worshipping and dependence of something outside the self that eventually disconnects us from our own inner spirit. "Breaking the national silence about alcohol abuse and dependence in Ireland and Irish America needs to become a priority. Breaking the silence, and spreading the message that recovery is possible," says Dr. Garrett O'Connor, in his wonderful article Breaking the Code of Silence: The Irish and Drink in Irish America Magazine. What better way to "break the silence" and rejoice in recovery than through honoring and celebrating the spirit of St. Patrick?
The Irish are known for their charm, heart and humor; for their deep and poetic way of looking at life. The often quoted "Traditional Irish Blessing," expresses this rich humanness, and invokes the spirit of St. Patrick. It appreciates the simple things in life that truly bring happiness. Let's include sobriety, as one of those simple things.
"May you always have walls for the winds, a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all your heart might desire. May St. Patrick guard you wherever you go, and guide you in whatever you do-- and may his loving protection be a blessing to you always. May the road rise to meet you, May the wind be always at your back, May the sun shine warm upon your face, The rains fall soft upon your fields and, Until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.