Drinking Guinness on Arthur’s Day helps Diageo define a drunken Ireland

The marketing mothership of the multinational corporation that owns Guinness has given birth to a monster stereotype

From The Guardian


“When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran
When all you have is a heap of debt
A pint of plain is your only man”



Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939


Jem Casey, Flann O’Brien‘s poet of the proletariat, sends a cast of fictional scoundrels into near religious raptures with his rhyme The Workman’s Friend, a frill-free ode to plain porter. And indeed, is not Casey’s message to the downtrodden ever more relevant to Irish people today? Whether you’re a migrating construction worker, a wage-slashed civil servant or just another unemployed Paddy mortgaged up to the almighty’s eyeballs, isn’t there great comfort to be taken in an auld scoop? Sure, Ireland’s GNP fell by 2.5% last year, our national debt is climbing towards 160% of GNP and the government has sold its people into economic servitude for generations to come, but lads, relax will ye. Diageo, the multinational corporation that owns Guinness, has gifted the Irish people with a brand new national holiday  – Arthur’s Day.


Arthur’s Day was birthed from the womb of Diageo’s marketing mothership in 2009 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing a 9,000 year lease on St James’s Gate brewery. The first I heard of it was when my then boyfriend’s children came home from school bearing some interesting artwork. They proudly showed off their renderings of shiny black pints topped with cotton wool. “Lovely, darlings,” their dad exclaimed through gritted teeth, before calling the school, mad as Lucifer, to figure out what in the hell the teachers were thinking. I wonder how many more parents had to call in before it was decided to cancel the papier-mache Marlboro men the week after?


Even the more cynical among us might forgive Diageo capitalising on the 250th anniversary of a drink so closely associated with Irish national culture. But seeing a buck to be made and a brand to be sexed up, they couldn’t just leave it there. When the corporation announced plans for a second Arthur’s Day celebration in 2010, people were dismissive. The Guardian’s Ed Power, for example, called Guinness the liquid equivalent of a plastic bodhrán or a strap-on leprechaun beard, and concluded that the whole rigamarole would have made sense in 1959, but was hopelessly misguided in the 21st century.


Would it were. Arthur’s Day is now a social staple. The event is heavily marketed for weeks in advance through billboard campaigns throughout the country. Having lived in the UK for the past four years, I’ve largely missed this institutionalisation, and was surprised when, on a visit to Dublin this weekend, I found Diageo’s new holy day the subject of so much conversation. Far from boycotting the event as some suggest they should, the Irish were out in force last Thursday to raise a glass to Arthur at the commercially convenient drinking hour of 17.59 (to mark the founding of the brewery in 1759, you see). They then continued to through till Diageo’s music events, scheduled much later in the evening. My friends told me (over a few pints of the black stuff, naturally) that the number of sloppy drunks on the streets last Thursday night left them wondering whether any of the revellers had work the next day (with a 14.4% unemployment rate, this may or may not have been a facetious comment). The picture is borne out in reports from the Irish press, where doctors and gardaí have confirmed the extra pressure on state resources caused by Diageo’s successful marketing initiative.

And this leads me to my biggest issue with the Arthur’s Day phenomenon. Of course, I think it’s irresponsible for a corporation to promote a national day of drinking in a country already straining under the social costs of alcohol abuse. Do they not sell enough fecking hats on Paddy’s Day? But mostly I regret that at a time when Irishness needs a serious rebrand, we are allowing our national image to be exploited by multinationals, allowing stereotypes of a drunken Irish populace to be propagated for the benefit of shareholders. After the humiliation of the Celtic Tiger crash and the travesty of our leaders’ spineless acquiescence to Europe and adoption of Nama, this is the time to rethink what modern Irishness means and to promote the nation’s best qualities.


This is why I want to shake Leo Varadkar, the minister for tourism, who announced collaboration with Diageo to bring tourists to Arthur’s Day this year. Really Leo? Really? Is it a good idea to tell the world at large that the most interesting and important thing about the Irish is how fluthered we get? Come on over for a visit lads! We’ll all get drunk, it’ll be great craic. Do you want to invest in our banking system while you’re here? No? Why not?


This is a difficult thing for me to say, and I don’t say it lightly, but it’s enough to make a woman switch to Murphys.