… an erosion of the religious significance of St. Patrick’s Day, a lack of respect for the marching Irish societies and Catholic sodalities, the flaunting of cheap and garish mementoes, as well as the use of 17 March for the express purpose of drunkenness and debauchery.
-Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair, “The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day”, 2002, Routledge, p. 167
There are many explanations for “Paddywhackery” and likely most, if not all, have been contributing factors.

At the top of the list seems to be the trend of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and beyond of flight from the inner city to the suburbs. The Irish, as with other foreign born and ethnic groups immigrating to the US, the Irish migrated to the inner city and tended to settle in neighborhoods of their own kind. As Italian, Jewish, and Chinese neighborhoods grew large and populous, so did Irish neighborhoods, and as urbanites grew tired and weary of the inner city, the Irish were among those moving, if not fleeing, to the burgeoning
suburbs. A big part of this was the upward mobility of American society, and as each generation of various ethnic groups grew more and more affluent, they sought homes in more appropriate neighborhoods and smaller municipalities fitting of their newfound status. But, where were the parades and the festivities of St. Patrick’s Day? Generally, back in the inner city, in the old neighborhoods. So, back came the Irish, in particular the 18 to 30-year-olds, and their non-Irish friends, for their momentous celebrations, and, as proclaimed T.H. O’Connor in his book “South Boston, My Home Town” (1994, Northeastern Univ. Press), “Green derbies, make-believe shamrocks, plastic shillelaghs, Tin-Pan Alley songs, and over sized lapel buttons proclaiming ‘Kiss M, I’m Irish’”, and of course, massive quantities of alcohol.

The revelry of the younger returnees, in clear view of the old and generally more religious generation who tended to remain in larger numbers in the old neighborhoods created the bulk of the animosity and repugnance for the celebrations. The fact that heavy drinking often led to fist fights and worse, only exacerbated the situation,

Another but intertwined explanation is the fact that each successive generation became less and less connected to their Irish heritage, and while 364 days per year they were American as Apple Pie, that one day of the year they returned to being Irish, and as the advertising campaigns and overall commercialism told them, how better to express it than by drinking?

Show Me Your Shamrocks TShirt

See St. Paddy’s Day Tees and Hoodies including the
Show Me Your Shamrocks TShirt

Finally, and also irrevocably a part of all the rest, has been the general trend away from orthodox religious doctrine and towards less rigorous, doctrinaire beliefs, even towards the abandonment of religious belief in daily life. A study released last November from Pew Research found that there has been a stead decline in the numbers of people who describe themselves as “religiously affiliated”, who are absolutely certain that God exists, or who consider religion “very important” to them. An earlier Pew Research study from 2012 found that virtually 1/3 of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 considered themselves as being “unaffiliated” with any religious faith, as did 21 percent of Americans
between the ages of 30 and 49.

Thus, large numbers of the younger generation of people ethnically Irish and among those no longer closely attached to religious teachings, tend to use the holiday not for reflection and the promotion of inner peace, but rather for a night at the local Irish pub, often leading to that “drunkenness and debauchery” previously described.

All this has not gone unnoticed by the government of Ireland. Fearful of the world wide image of the Irish, various officials, many stationed in
North America, have taken steps to try to use their positions to draw back on the nature that the holiday had taken. There have been reports of various letters of complaint concerning activities felt demeaning to the religious and solemn nature of the holiday made by the likes of the Irish Consul in Boston and by the Irish Ambassador to Canada.

As the American greeting card industry grew over decades, producing vast quantities of greeting cards based not on inspiration and fine prose, but rather on humor, irreverence, irony and satire, many traditional Irish organizations were offended, and various organizations sought to stem the tide of what they felt was ridicule of their faith, their holiday, and
in fact their ethnicity. In fact, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) once requested that the United States Post Office, rather than deliver, instead destroy such cards put into the US mail.

In heavily Irish Boston, at various time in the early 20th century, both the Pilot and Daily Globe newspapers mounted attacks against such greeting cards, with the Daily Globe arguing that the day was to venerate and celebrate the teachings of St. Patrick, and not to engage in the commercialism of not just insulting greeting cards but also the likes of green ties, phony shamrocks and the like.

However, it was the newspapers, still widely popular through most of the 20th century, that were significant proponents of increasing “Paddywhackery”, with advertisements for Irish celebrations, for Irish pubs, for purveyors of the green ties and phony shamrocks, and of course with their annual feature articles telling their readers all about St. Patrick and the marvelous holiday. Running counter to all this, the AOH had its own publication, the National Hibernian Digest, through which it sought to lesson the degree and intensity of “Paddywhackery” with tales of character, tradition and religion, all related to St. Patrick and the holiday.

The AOH, promoters of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, went so far as to promulgate its “Rules and Regulations For The

Jameson 18 Limited Reserve

See St. Paddy’s Spirits of the Day including Jameson 18 Limited Reserve

Conduct Of The Parade”, which limited participants to approved organizations, which regulated the specific tunes that marching bands could perform, which prohibited non-approved mottos, signs and advertisements, and which prohibited what they deemed to be inappropriate clothing.

And therein lies the dilemma - the idea of St. Patrick’s Day that had become ingrained in the fabric of society was no longer (if, really, it ever was) the religious and solemn historical tone, but rather the essence of the holiday had clearly become the “Paddywhackery”, including the commercialized green ties, phony shamrocks, satiric greeting cards, green beer, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons, t-shirts and henna tattoos, and of course large quantities of alcohol, often followed by a lively but seldom injurious brawl. While newspapers were clearly duplicitous when they complained, and foreign dignitaries really had no say in affairs ongoing in foreign nations, the people have spoken, and the celebrations, “Paddywhackery” and all, clearly would continue.

And as we ready the next St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, remember any one of literally thousands of Irish Toasts, such as this one:

There are several good reasons for drinking
and one has just entered my head.
If a man can't drink when he's living,
then how the heck can he drink when he's dead?

©2016 theHoundDawg for
No reprints or commercial usage without written permission other than linking to this page, which is encouraged.

                    Drinkware & Tableware
                    Tees Hoodies & More

Resource Center
Articles on the History of St. Patrick,
St. Patrick’s Day, and a wee bit of Irish history.