Listen up, San Luis Obispo. Youâ€™ve got it all wrong about Mardi Gras. Just ask the folks in Dublin, Ireland. Theyâ€™ll tell you how to handle it.
Or, better yet, go there today. Plan on staying until March 20 if you want to catch it all.
It takes Dublin five days to get through what we call St. Patrickâ€™s Day. Any one of those days would tear the roof off SLO, never mind the parade on The Day itself.
They do it on purpose. The government backs it. Merchants love it. There are dance contests, a treasure hunt through town, concerts, art shows, and some whiz-bang drinking, you can bet on it.
Whatâ€™s really keen is they make money on it. San Luis Obispo forked out half a million in 2004 to put a lid on Mardi Gras, and another $400,000 to stop it from happening this year.
Dublin made 1.8 million Euros on it last year and expects to do better this year. To make the lesson even more painful, the Euro was worth more than the dollar last year and is worth still more this year.
I went to a great deal of trouble to research this piece. I just spent two weeks in Ireland in February, finding out how theyâ€™re going to gear up to prevent Irish Hell from breaking out in mid-March. The answer: theyâ€™re sending out bulletins inviting people in.
What? Theyâ€™re asking for mayhem on foot? You betcha, and they expect 150,000 tourists, a lot of them from the U.S.A., to come especially for the party.
Thatâ€™s about 10 percent of Dublinâ€™s population. Hey, that rings a bell. Some 4,000 showed up in 2004 for SLOâ€™s Mardi Gras, or 10 percent of SLOâ€™s population.
See? Itâ€™s all a matter of scale.
What? Theyâ€™re asking for mayhem on foot? You betcha, and they expect 150,000 tourists, a
lot of them from the U.S.A., to come especially for the party.
And massive business. Sure, not without problems: last year Dublinâ€™s police had 2,500 emergency calls on the Big Day, almost double the normal load, most of it alcohol-related. Tom Coffey, who heads the Dublin City Business Association, tut-tuts about the increase in recent years in booze and fighting around the parade route, says â€œitâ€™s damaging the parade and the environment for tourists,â€? but doesnâ€™t mention that itâ€™s the tourists who are doing the drinking and smacking around.
Meanwhile, Coffeyâ€™s members are too busy to care, booking the visitors into hotels and restaurants and selling them anything painted green, most of it made in China.
When Coffey talks about the parade, this isnâ€™t just a bunch of fancy people in fancy dress. Last yearâ€™s Dublin contingent of 4,000 marchers included Brazilian samba dancers, the Royal Canadian Mounties, gypsies, Renaissance actors, leprechauns of all sizes and shapes, and yes, St. Patrick himself or a reasonable facsimile. They especially invited gays to participate after New Yorkâ€™s St. Patrickâ€™s Day Parade kicked â€™em out.
Itâ€™s all deliberate, this business-for-pleasure, pleasure-for-business shebang. Until 1995, there was a small parade in Dublin, far less imposing than New Yorkâ€™s lineup or Chicagoâ€™s dumping of tons of green dye into the Chicago River. Ten years ago, Dublin realized what it had and began building on it. Now, March 17 marks the official opening of Irelandâ€™s tourist season.
The parade and associated paddywackery get front-page coverage and TV exposure across the world. St. Patrickâ€™s Day is to Ireland what the Academy Awards show is to Hollywood: a whole barrel of free ink.
Oh, on the subject of barrels, in the interest of consumer research, I wanted to tell readers which of Irelandâ€™s many whiskeys to quaff, should they be in the neighborhood. A field test of four gave the clear victory to Jamesonâ€™s 12-year-old.
Unfortunately, I canâ€™t find it in our local shops. I guess that means another trip back.
By the way, whatâ€™s St. Patrick got to do with it? He, along with St. Bridget, are Irelandâ€™s patron saints (or patron/ matron, to be politically correct). Born around the year 400, one version says, he was kidnapped as a teen from Britain and held captive in Ireland for six years, found religion, returned to England, entered the priesthood and became a bishop where he was christened Patricius. He did not drive out the snakes from Ireland; there were none to drive out. But he did spread Christianity among pagans, opposed slavery, empowered women, and embraced a lot of native beliefs.
But in Ireland, heâ€™s a Protestant, honored by the Church of Ireland. In the U.S., heâ€™s Roman Catholic.
Marvin Sosna is a parade all unto himself. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org