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St Patrick's Day 2017: Meet the sober Dubliners celebrating Irish patron saint without a Guinness

‘Apocalyptic’ scenes of drunken debauchery have become the norm for Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, as tourists descend for a day of heavy drinking. Nicola Brady meets the locals who’ve had enough

Nicola Brady
Thursday 16 March 2017 11:13 GMT
St Patrick's Day in Dublin sees an influx of tourists and drinking. It's time to stop, say these locals
St Patrick's Day in Dublin sees an influx of tourists and drinking. It's time to stop, say these locals

Tomorrow, as happens every year on March 17th, swarms of visitors will descend upon Dublin, bedecked in giant leprechaun hats and ginger beards. Buildings around the city will be bathed in green, the pubs will be filled to the brim and more tourists than usual will sway in the street, loudly proclaiming their dubious Irish heritage.

But while the festivities will undoubtedly take over the city, not all are in the mood to get messy.

Danny O'Leary is the co-director of Alt Events, which runs a series of events around Dublin with one crucial USP – no alcohol is involved. This year, they are throwing a Sober St Patrick’s Day, giving those who want to celebrate without booze a place in which to do so.

“I remember coming in to Paddy’s Day when I was younger, and it was fun,” O’Leary told The Independent. “But as soon as you reach an age where you understand what’s going on, the city’s just full of people puking in the streets. It’s chaos – it’s proper apocalyptic levels of pissing in people’s doorways. And everybody laughs it off, saying that’s what it is to be Irish, but no… you’re pissing in someone’s doorway.”

There's more to Dublin than its pubs, say these brave locals

The event is pitched as the answer to the drink-centric culture of St Patrick’s Day, where it’s not unusual to see bodies slumped against walls in the middle of the day.

“We’ve reached a point where it’s become so normalised, that I would like to maybe illustrate how abnormal it is,” says O'Leary. “On St Patrick’s Day, when everybody is out in the streets getting blitzed out of their minds and puking everywhere, we’re going to have an event where you don’t have to do that.”

Instead, attendees will soak in acoustic music, open mic storytelling, movie screenings and video game tournaments, as well as a bring and share Dessert Party in the communal kitchen.

It's all fun and games in Dublin on St Patrick's Day... until the excessive drinking begins

The event is being held at The Clockwork Door, a relatively new venue with an interesting concept. Billed as a 'time house', visitors pay by the minute for entry, where they can chill out on sofas, watch a movie, make a cup of tea or play a game – all in the city centre.

The Clockwork Door opened in September 2016, somewhat ironically in the notoriously rowdy district of Temple Bar. Ciaran Hogan opened the venue after living away from Ireland for six years and realising, on his return, that there didn't seem to be anywhere to meet friends apart from cafés or pubs.

“I wanted a cosy place in the centre to meet, chat, relax and feel at home,” Hogan told The Independent. “By chance, one of the times I came home on a visit was on Good Friday, when every bar and pub [in Ireland] is closed. I was shocked to see how much of a ghost town the centre of our capital city can be without alcohol. That was shocking and disappointing, and I knew something needed to be done.”

Up to 650,000 spectators are expected at Dublin's St Patrick's Day parade tomorrow. But it quickly descends into debauchery

Having previously worked in an internet café, Hogan saw how the pay-by-the-minute model could work, particularly with the rise of co-working ventures in Europe, where a similar payment style is adopted.

“Eventually, something clicked in my head and I realised people wanted to pay for a nice atmosphere, rather than paying indirectly through a coffee.”

Ciaran Hogan opened the Clockwork Door as an alcohol-free zone in the middle of Temple Bar

Originally, Hogan had planned on closing the doors completely for St Patrick’s Day. “March 17th is unfortunately a very ugly, crowded, drunken, messy day in the city centre and we didn't believe we could operate under those conditions,” he says. “Luckily, our friends at Alt Events approached us with the idea of a special, closed door event for those seeking to escape from the madness, yet enjoy the day. Just seeing the interest in a sober event has really warmed our hearts. Dublin needs more sober events – it's crying out for them.”

It’s not the first time the city has seen a booze-free Paddy’s Day take place. Happenings run instant pop-up cultural events in Ireland, and in both 2014 and 2015 they organised ‘Paddy’s Day Unlocked’ in Dublin and Limerick. With more of an emphasis on family fun, the days incorporated music, food, dance and live performances, all without a beer tent in sight.

“I think Ireland has a great reputation throughout the world,” says Peter O’Brien, founder of Happenings. “We're known for our art, our culture, our generosity and our craic – but at the same time Ireland has always been synonymous with alcohol.

“With drunken opportunistic anti-social behaviour becoming commonplace, a family-friendly inclusive space that is free from alcohol is not only desired, but essential for the development of our national day, the St Patrick’s Day celebrations and most importantly our international identity.”

The Clockwork Door is for people who want to pay for a nice atmosphere, rather than a coffee

It's an attitude shared by Danny O'Leary. “I’m a fan of St Patrick’s Day! I just feel that, like anything, it could be better. It could be more enriching for the community – we could put more of an effort into making this a day to celebrate Irish community,” he says.

“We have this preconceived idea of Irish people being constantly drunk all the time. I’m not saying it’s not true, but I feel like it’s no more true than it is of any other city on their celebratory days. It’s just that we kind of play into it, and don’t do anything to play it down. Maybe that’s to our detriment – maybe that’s something we should fight against.”

Tomorrow, the fightback begins.

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