|Boozy Irish lament ugly side of Guinness salute
Ireland's love affair with pub and pint is sparking national soul-searching as never before because of an unofficial holiday dreamed up by the brewer Guinness.
Arthur's Day is compounding an alcoholic culture that costs Ireland 3.7 billion euros annually in a Europe-leading rate of liver disease, late-night vandalism and violence in hospital emergency rooms.
Today’s celebrations of Arthur's Day, honoring the 18th-century founder, feature surprise musical performances in 815 pubs and clubs across Ireland and elsewhere.
Launched in 2009, Guinness says the annual festivities provide a needed tonic for a 7,500-strong Irish pub network struggling to stay in business.
Many public houses are offering free pints of the dark brown stout at 5:59 p.m. _ a reference to the founding of Guinness in 1759 _ followed by the appearance of a band or singer.
This year, Guinness has been put on the defensive.
“They shouldn't call it Arthur's Day. They should call it Vomit Day,'' said Aisling Fitzsimons, a 50-year-old manager of a convenience store who says she must hose down the sidewalk outside her business after most weekends to clear away alcohol-fueled sickness.
Irish folk singer Christy Moore and the Celtic rock band The Waterboys have penned anti-Arthur's Day songs that harness a sense of unease of being played for fools by a brewing behemoth.
“Arthur's alco-holiday is coming `round again. He's the patron saint of porter, canonized by the advertising men,'' Moore, a recovering alcoholic himself, sang Wednesday night at the start of a nationally televised debate on state broadcasters RTE focused on the rights and wrongs of the Guinness promotional machine.
The song's punch line predicted that Ireland's emergency rooms would be transformed into “drunk tanks'' while “Diageo goes AWOL at closing time.''
Ireland has a deeply ingrained alcohol problem. Government statistics show that Irish households last year spent 7.7 percent of their money, or 6.3 billion euros, on alcoholic drinks. That's double what they spent on clothing and more than 2,100 euros per adult, with women increasingly drinking hard liquor as much as men.
“Diageo has invented Arthur's Day as a pseudo-national holiday for the purposes of marketing its products, especially to young people, thereby stimulating greater consumption of alcohol,'' said Alex White, the government minister responsible for policy on alcohol and drugs.
Guinness says it's keeping an open mind on changing Arthur's Day next year, but insists nobody's being forced to drink when watching musical performances.
The Irish corporate relations director of Diageo, Peter O'Brien, said his own sister is a nurse and he understands fully how alcohol abuse strains Ireland's emergency services at night.
Ireland's Royal College of Physicians has appealed for a public boycott of Arthur's Day and says Diageo is contributing to a doubling of deaths by liver disease since the start of the Celtic Tiger economic boom in 1995.
“We have a progressively worsening relationship with alcohol in Ireland,'' said Dr. Stephen Stewart, director of the Liver Disease Center in Dublin's Mater Hospital, where he regularly sees patients in their 30s facing life-threatening liver failures.
But some say the critics have picked a conveniently easy target in Guinness _ when it's really Ireland that needs to look in the mirror.
“There's an alco-holiday happening all the time in Ireland,'' said Paddy Cullivan, a Dublin musician and satirist. “It's called Friday and Saturday night.''