Arts & Culture

Spirits rise for annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities

Despite lack of centralized campus celebrations, local traditions provide means for joviality

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, March 17, 2014

Though neither Providence nor the University are hotbeds of St. Patrick’s Day activities, the shamrock holiday is still likely to bring its fair share of celebration this year.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and the original holiday was a religious festivity commemorating the day of his death. But much of the holiday’s local celebration revolves around drinking and dressing in green.

“I know that in Providence on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s hard to find an Irish bar or pub or restaurant that isn’t full,” said John Logan, professor of sociology. “I’ve had the experience of ‘they’ve already run out of corned beef,’ so it’s definitely a big deal in the region.”

While there is a sizable Irish presence in Providence, much of the holiday’s appeal seems to come from its potential to market the city’s celebration as a “tourist attraction,” Logan said. In the same way that some cities’ Chinatown neighborhoods developed based on their ability to draw visitors, St. Patrick’s Day has evolved apart from its historical foundations as a day for the Irish to celebrate their heritage, he said. For example, in New York City, like in many other Northeastern cities, “a lot of people view St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to go out and drink a lot of beer.”

Providence’s St. Patrick’s Day parade paid tribute to the holiday a little early — on March 8 — in its traditional spot between the Pawtucket St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 1 and the Newport St. Patrick’s Day parade March 15. Since 2010 the Providence parade has shared the route with the St. Pat’s 5K Tour de Patrick Road Race, in which Diana Davis SCM’10 PhD’13 took first place among women in 2010 and 2011.

“It’s growing each year. We’ve had up to 4,000 people compete in the road race,” said Charlie Breagy, the race’s organizer.

“It’s kind of a fun thing to do because people can run up and down the parade route, and there’s loads of spectators there to cheer them on and wave for the parade, so it’s a pretty fun time,” he said. “It’s very colorful. People definitely dress up to run in the 5K.”

Pat Griffin, organizer of the Providence parade, said he has seen a similar uptick in interest. When he arrived in Providence in 1992, he noticed the lack of a parade and decided the following year to start one himself. “It wasn’t really well attended at that time,” he said. “But last Saturday, we had the parade and we had the best attendance ever.”

Griffin, who is the owner of Patrick’s Pub on Smith Street, also sees the varied social elements of the holiday. His restaurant will serve “a tremendous amount of corned beef over the next week or two … over a thousand pounds,” he said.

Other observers of the holiday will take a different dietary approach.

“Some people get up as early as 5 o’clock in the morning to do an Irish breakfast,” Griffin said, referring to the hearty combination that often includes eggs, bacon and black sausage.

People enjoy the opportunity to “get dressed up in green, put on some hats and be part of the Irish for the day,” he said.

Up in Boston, St. Patrick’s Day has become about more than just drinking.

After a representative of South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the group that organizes Boston’s parade, announced that members of MassEquality, an organization committed to preserving same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, would not be permitted to enter the parade, Boston mayor Martin Walsh released a statement saying he would not be marching this year. Though parade organizers say that LGBTQ people are not prohibited from marching — only people advocating for a particular cause are banned — numerous sponsors, including Guinness and Gillette, have joined the mayor in sitting out the parade. The Boston Globe reported that negotiations over MassEquality’s participation boiled down to whether the group’s members could carry banners displaying the word “LGBTQ” or similar language.

It is unclear whether the Providence parade had a similar requirement for participating groups, though its website listed no restrictions.

Back on campus, St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally not been as heavily feted as other occasions, like Halloween. Jane Lancaster PhD’98, University historian, said she remembers seeing mid-century issues of The Herald on St. Patrick’s Day printed on orange paper, a design that offended Irish Catholic students on campus.

“In subsequent days, there were a lot of angry letters from Catholic Irish students, because orange is the Protestant color,” she said.

Such concern may have stemmed from the days when Brown was not as religiously diverse. “Catholics were not welcome at Brown for a very long time, probably until the 1890s,” Lancaster said.

“For a very long time, they weren’t welcome to join into fraternities, so they’re probably like a lot of small immigrant groups — they kept quiet for a while,” she said, adding that she doubted St. Patrick’s Day was widely celebrated on campus until about 50 years ago.

In recent years, Brown Dining Services has planned a St. Patrick’s Day-themed meal for the holiday — a tradition that continues this season.

“We are serving Irish oatmeal maple scones for breakfast, St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes (with a touch of Guinness, Irish whiskey and Irish cream) at lunch, and a traditional corned beef dinner (along with cabbage, potatoes and Irish soda bread) for dinner,” wrote Ann Hoffman, director of administration for Dining Services, in an email to The Herald. She also highlighted “a special Guinness chocolate cake at the Blue Room.”

Many on-campus festivities began over the weekend, with parties and fraternity events taking on a St. Patrick’s Day theme.

“Most of the Psi pledge class of AEPi met with brothers, got on RIPTA, went to Newport and went to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Newport,” said Ben Owens ’17, who is pledging Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. “Things got rowdy early and stayed that way the whole time.”

Though Brown and the wider Providence community may not have the most deep-rooted St. Patrick’s Day traditions, the shamrock holiday is still on track to turn tonight into a green, shenanigan-filled adventure.

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