Culture

The Street Skirmishes, Bar Brawls and Drunken Violence of American St. Patrick's Day

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The American iteration of St. Patrick's Day is brimming with street skirmishes and bar brawls, but is that just the American way? Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

As Irish tradition has it, St. Patrick’s Day is the annual veneration of its namesake, a fifth-century patron saint who spread Christianity to the masses and penned the Confessio. Families across Ireland gather to celebrate the missionary through parades, festivals, beers and hearty meals. But, as American bastardization often has it, it’s a day where men and women don green and get obliterated at dive bars decorated with glittering paper shamrocks.

The tradition of drinking until you’re incoherent on St. Paddy’s Day in the U.S. is well documented, so much so that DUI checkpoints and reports of economic loss following worker shortages the next day are, at this point, completed by rote. What turns out to be a veritable pot of gold for popular bars and restaurants leads to a collective hangover that costs the country in lost productivity the next day. According to The Atlantic, absenteeism following holidays where drinking is encouraged costs the country an average of $162 billion per year. And there's no question that hangovers have fully integrated themselves into the American iteration of the St. Patrick's Day tradition.

Thanks to cameras equipped with video capabilities, the uploading of shaky footage centered on St. Patrick’s Day bar brawls and street skirmishes is also something of a tradition. The debauchery is so commonplace that it’s been parodied by "The Simpsons." In "Homer vs. The 18th Enlightenment," for example, rabble-rouser Bart stumbles upon alcohol, gets resolutely plastered and makes a fool of himself on television. The episode unsurprisingly culminates with fisticuffs.  

The best parodies are rooted in reality, and parts of that Simpsons episode share striking similarities with very real fights that have broken out on St. Patrick’s Day. This one below, recorded in Wrigleyville, Chicago, was uploaded online and then edited in slow-motion so YouTube audiences could savor each swinging fist. (Like those in many police departments, Wrigleyville police officers have sometimes struggled to keep up with the violent revelry on St. Patrick’s Day. )

Because liquid courage flows mightily on March 17, a scroll through YouTube shows no shortage of videos featuring drunken people attempting to fight police officers, either. The man in the video below tried to take on three at once, earning him World Star infamy and what appears to be scores of hecklers.

There is, obviously, a dark side to the debauchery. St. Patrick’s Day -- the fourth biggest drinking holiday of the year -- claimed more than 700 lives in drunk driving accidents between 2006 and 2010. Some estimates put the death toll at one per 73 minutes, according to ABC News.

Arrests at colleges are also rampant. A prime example is the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s annual Blarney Blowout." The campus tradition, which attracts upwards of 4,000 people each year, led to 73 arrests in 2014, mostly categorized by “violence and fights, injuries, severe alcohol intoxications, sexual assaults, excessive noise, property damage, and violence toward the police and community members,” according to reports. 

Even those who are presumably not active participants in fights still enjoy watching them; the videos above boast hundreds of thousands of views combined. Meanwhile, a video of Irish people simply watching videos of drunken American fights on the holiday earned more than half a million alone.

"I'm kind of amazed I never knew this was a thing," says one Irish woman, watching a fight unfold. "They're enjoying it really," says one man. "They wouldn't keep doing this if they didn't like it." 

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