Founded five years ago by Guinness’s parent company to mark the establishment of the famous brewery, pubgoers embraced Arthur’s day wholeheartedly. And that’s the problem. Now the backlash has begun
When Arthur’s Day launched in Ireland in 2009, it was a nice enough event. Yes, it was set up by Diageo, the owners of Guinness. And perhaps its central conceit – raising a pint to founder Arthur Guinness, at 17.59, to mark the year of the company’s establishment – was a bit contrived. But pubgoers embraced the idea and, by and large, the atmosphere was celebratory.
Since then, Arthur’s Day has become ever more boozy and debauched. Last year, there was a 30% increase in ambulance callouts in Dublin on the night, while more than 2,000 hospital beds were occupied withalcohol-related illnesses.
As Arthur’s Day approaches on Thursday, the backlash is in full flow: Alex White, the minister of state with responsibility for alcohol and drugs has condemned it as “a pseudo-national holiday” designed simply to market Diageo’s products. SpunOut, a youth organisation, has asked musicians playing gigs on the night to donate their fees to alcohol-related charities. Musicians themselves have hit back, even writing songs about Arthur’s Day. One, by folk singer Christy Moore, hasbranded the event an “alcoholiday” while the Waterboys’ A Song for Arthur’s Day speaks of the strain the day puts on emergency services. Boycott Arthur’s Day Facebook and Twitter pages have also gained traction.
Of course, Ireland already has St Patrick’s Day, which is (or has become) an excellent excuse for people to drink if they wish. Conveniently, Arthur’s Day is timed almost exactly six months later, and is always held on a Thursday, typically the big student drinking night.
It’s all so obvious that many people are surprised that Arthur’s Day took off at all. But Guinness is an ingrained part of Ireland’s heritage. The Guinness Storehouse is the country’s No 1 tourist attraction, and every dignitary from the Queen to Barack Obama has a pint of Guinness shoved in their hand the minute they land on Irish soil.
While Diageo has refused to accept responsibility for irresponsible drinking on the night this year, the company has promised to send its European corporate relations director to an accident and emergency ward, to witness the fallout. The scene that greets them may be worse than they could have imagined, if the Waterboys’ song is anything to go by: “We’ll puke on our hands, and piss where we stand, and we’ll fill the A&E ward … in Ireland in our hordes on Arthur’s Day.”