‘Sober St. Patrick’s Day’ a ‘rip-roaring’ way to revere Ireland’s beloved saint

In this undated photo, attendees enjoy New York's annual Sober St. Patrick's Day party, which celebrates the saint and Irish culture in a family-friendly, alcohol-free setting. (OSV News photo/courtesy Sober St. Patrick's Day)

(OSV News) — Back in 2011, Bill Reilly was “feeling very proud” of his Irish roots while attending New York City’s iconic St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

As he watched the marching bands pass by, Reilly — whose ancestors hail from various regions of Ireland — noticed a young man with “a pretty wild T-shirt.”

“He was about 22 years old, and drunk as a skunk with a bunch of his friends,” Reilly told OSV News. “And his T-shirt says, ‘St. Patrick’s Day today, hung over tomorrow.'”

In that moment, Reilly felt “a light bulb go on.”

“I said, ‘What if next year we could hold a rip-roaring party with world-class entertainers, musicians, singers (and) dancers, but no booze — and reclaim the day,” Reilly said.

Now, “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” is set to mark its 13th year of celebrating Irish arts, culture and food — minus the alcohol — following New York’s annual parade for the beloved patron saint of the Irish and Irish diaspora, whose feast has become one of the year’s biggest days for drinking.

This year’s gathering takes place March 16 at the parish hall of New York’s Catholic Church of the Epiphany, with a lineup of award-winning performers including Brian Conway, a five-time all-Ireland champion fiddler.

Tickets are available at soberstpatricksday.org, where participants also can register to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with the nonprofit’s contingent. The website also features resources for establishing additional “Sober St. Patrick’s Day” celebrations.

Reilly said the event typically sells out since “many people” have become “sick and tired” of excessive drinking on the feast day — and beyond.

“In the last two or three years, particularly among young people, there’s an awareness among some about the beauty of sobriety year-round,” Reilly said, citing the annual Dry January campaign launched in 2013 by the organization Alcohol Change UK.

Reilly said his bash is “billed as the alternative party,” one that appeals to families as well as to “anybody in (substance abuse) recovery, (who) historically have run for the hills on St. Patrick’s Day.

“They love this idea that they can go to a place (like the Sober St. Patrick’s Day party) and feel proud of being Irish,” said Reilly, adding that two decades ago he had “almost lost” his daughter, then 17, to addiction.

Sober ever since, she has become a successful Hollywood stylist and “my hero,” said Reilly.

A temperate St. Patrick’s Day allows revelers to better appreciate the fifth-century man who came to be known as the apostle of Ireland, said Reilly.

Born in Britain to a Romanized family, St. Patrick was captured at age 16 by Irish raiders and spent six years as a slave. During that time, he developed a profound prayer life, and following his escape and reunion with his family, he eventually returned to Ireland to evangelize its people and, according to his writings, thoroughly identified himself as one of the Irish people.

Reilly said that St. Patrick’s “Confession” — which along with the “Letter to Coroticus” can be definitively attributed to the saint — had a “great effect” on him.

Many people are surprised to learn about the real St. Patrick, said Reilly, who has released a three-minute video profiling the saint.

“We have gotten some really great responses from people, saying, ‘I didn’t know he wasn’t (born) Irish, I didn’t know he was a slave, I didn’t know anything about the fact that he forgave his captors,'” Reilly said.

Asked what the saint might say about the revamped celebration of his feast, Reilly invoked a traditional Irish word for toasts.

“Sláinte,” he said. “That means ‘health.'”


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