For those of us of Irish descent, whose great-grandparents came to this country at the turn of the 20th century with not much more than the clothes on their backs, whose grandfathers served in WWI, and whose fathers and uncles fought in WWII, it has been with a mixture of pride and some degree of bemusement to see St. Patrick’s Day become widely-observed by Americans of all ethnicities all across the country over the past 20 years.
The contributions of Irish immigrants to America’s greatness, similar to those of other ethnic groups, have been ignored for decades, so to the extent that St. Patrick’s Day has served to highlight both the plight and pluck of our Irish forebears has been extremely gratifying.
It was not all that long ago when John F. Kennedy became the first Irish-Catholic President, though his candidacy was seriously debated in political circles because of the widely-held belief that he would be taking his orders from the Pope. Kennedy felt compelled during the primary campaign, when it was clear that he was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, to give a long speech about “the Catholic question,” which he concluded by stating, “So I hope we can see the beginning of the end of references to me as ‘the Catholic candidate’ for President.”
Though St. Patrick’s Day has been a major celebratory holiday for generations of Irish-Americans in enclaves such as New York City, Boston, and Chicago, it only has become a major event across the country, from east to west and north to south, fairly recently.
But unfortunately, the recognition of the achievements of Irish-Americans also has been accompanied by the sort of revelry that has fed into the worst stereotype of Irish-Americans — and of course, we’re referring to the heavy-consumption of alcohol that has become part and parcel of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations everywhere.
That brings us to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston this past Sunday. While it was nice to see the parade return in full force for the first time in a few years because of the pandemic, the degree of public intoxication by those along the parade route was both frightening and disgusting.
Here’s an excerpt from the Boston Globe story about the parade:
“In the days leading up to the parade, authorities warned people not to use it as an excuse for public drinking. Liquor stores, bars, and restaurants were required to close early Sunday in South Boston. Despite the warnings, many people were drinking along the route and on the subway Sunday….Some walked the South Boston streets carrying borgs — the nickname given to a ‘blackout rage gallon,’ a concoction of hard booze, water, and electrolytes, mixed together in a gallon jug. Left behind along the parade route were broken bottles, empty borgs…”
We had the misfortune to be traveling on the Red Line southbound at 4:00, soon after the parade had wrapped up. Every car was packed with young people, almost all under the age of 20, who were heavily-inebriated — and we’re not talking about just a few bad apples. The entire train was filled with underage-drinkers from Quincy, Weymouth, Abington and other So. Shore communities, who were openly imbibing beer and hard-seltzer drinks, throwing their empties around the cars and striking other passengers, even as others among their group were falling into other passengers and vomiting along the route.
By the time the train pulled into No. Quincy station, the Red Line essentially had shut down because of the unruly, drunken youths who were running amuck in the trains and on the platforms. MBTA police had been visible on the platforms during the ride, but they were pulling a Sgt. Schultz (from Hogan’s Heroes) — they feigned obliviousness to the chaos around them.
With the brawls and melees leaving us sitting at No. Quincy for more than 15 minutes, and escalating, we decided to get off the train and meet our ride (who had been having her own bad experience with drunken youths at Braintree Station, who were pounding on cars as they rambled through the parking garage) on Hancock St.
The image that came to mind was from the “Last of Us,” the HBO hit series in which humans are infected by a rapidly spreading pandemic in which a mutated fungus morphs people into zombie-like creatures — except in this case, the “infection” was caused by heavy-alcohol intake.
So to the politicians and civic leaders who extolled the “success” of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, we suggest that next year they get on the Red Line as we did after the parade and see if they still feel the same way about turning a blind eye to the heavy drinking in public along the parade route.
Yes, it was a great day to be Irish, but it also was a sobering (no pun intended) reminder that permitting public intoxication, especially by young people, should never be tolerated even — and especially — on St. Patrick’s Day.