Coronavirus Is Bringing St Patrick's Day Back To Its Temperance Beginnings

Mar 17, 2020

St. Patrick’s Day is typically celebrated through parades and pubs packed with people from the early morning late into the evening — but celebrations will be very different this year.

Ireland has cancelled all St. Patrick’s Day parades and closed the bars through the end of the month to curb the spread of coronavirus. Similar measures have also been taken around the world, including here in Milwaukee.

And while it may seem odd today, this is actually how St. Patrick’s Day was once celebrated historically according to Tim McMahon. He's an associate professor of history at Marquette University and president of the American Conference of Irish Studies.

It was once a civic holiday at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thanks to the efforts of the Gaelic League,  founded in the 1890s. They chose St. Patrick's Day as a logical day celebrated nation-wide where people would take the time to recognize and celebrate the Apostle of Ireland and recognize Irish tradition in a quieter way.

"But the irony, especially from an American perspective of this, is that they were actually trying to create a temperance holiday," notes McMahon. "They wanted pubs to shut down, they wanted business to close if not for the full day, mid-day, so that people could take time out and actually recognize the Saint and recognize Irish tradition in a quieter way,” says McMahon.

As current day celebrations like parades and pub crawls are canceled in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, McMahon hopes this will inspire people to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with more Irish traditions in mind.

“When you think of the way people entertain in their homes over in Ireland there is often not only great conversation but maybe everyone has their own party piece where everyone is expected to stand and do a poem or a song or some sort of declamation," he explains. "Which can be really fun because people take these individual performances and make them their own.”