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Why are people saying 'Down with Arthur's Day'?

The event has gathered a lot of critics, as well as supporters – but why do people dislike it?

Image: Photocall Ireland

BY AOIFE BARRY AND PAUL HOSFORD

EARLY THIS WEEK, legendary Irish musician Christy Moore announced the release of his new single – an anti-Arthur’s Day song, no less.

With lyrics that pull no punches, it’s an unflinching look at the holiday that the folks behind Guinness – Diageo – created back in 2009 to be celebrated worldwide.

Arthur’s Day 2013 will be held on 26 September and will see over 1,000 musicians perform at 500 free indoor music events in all 32 counties.

Ostensibly the event was begun to celebrate the 25oth anniversary of Guinness, and Moore’s main issues with it are the fact it is advertising for a globally-famous company, and that it is focused on alcohol.


(ChristyMooreOfficial/YouTube)

The lyrics to his song leave us in no doubt about what he thinks, as he refers to the day as a “happy, clappy advertising scheme”. Moore’s isn’t a lone voice in the wilderness – Mike Scott from the Waterboys has also lent his vocals to the choir singing about their dislike of the day.

A Song for Arthur’s Day features on an EP to be released by the Waterboys on Arthur’s Day itself.



The song ends with this line: “Down with Arthur’s Day”.

Not altruistic or philanthropic

But what are others saying about the day?

Suzanne Costello is the CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues. She says that the day is a “well-resourced marketing campaign”.

“Arthur’s Day is neither an altruistic nor philanthropic initiative. It’s a very well-resourced marketing campaign to increase the sales of Diageo products,” says Costello.

“The reality is that alcohol, and not music, takes centre stage on Arthur’s Day, which is an alcohol marketing event that serves exactly the same function as the alcohol industry’s sponsorship of sports and arts events, which is to increase awareness of an alcohol brand, sell more of that alcohol and, ultimately, increase shareholder profit.

Costello also hit out at the encouragement of revelers to “drink responsibly”.

“There has clearly been nothing ‘responsible’ about drinking behaviour on Arthur’s Day in recent years, with a reported 30 per cent increase in ambulance call-outs in Dublin city centre alone following the event last year, and much like any weekend night in Ireland this is now another opportunity to see our excessive drinking habits laid bare.”

No matter what the attempted positive spin put on alcohol consumption by those who sell it, the fact remains that people will die of alcohol-related illnesses in Ireland on Arthur’s Day – just as they do on every other day.
They will be some of the 88 who die because of their drinking every month. 2,000 hospital beds will be filled in our hospitals on Arthur’s Day by people with alcohol-related illnesses, many of them the young men and women among whom rates of alcohol-related liver disease are rising at an alarming rate.

Creative advertising

The issues with Arthur’s Day have also been brought up in years past. At a Dublin City Council meeting in November 2010, a motion on Arthur’s Day was referred to the Strategic Policy Committee on Arts.

However, the council has confirmed to TheJournal.ie that there had been no change to cleaning schedules in the wake of last year’s event.

“There was no significant littering issue at last years Arthur’s Day event.  Any clean ups were  conducted within existing resources,” said a council spokesperson.

Cllr Professor Bill Tormey described Arthur’s Day as a “brilliant example of creative advertising which I admire”, but said “societal damage comes first”.

In 2010, Dublin City Council said it would no longer be associated with the day through the use of its logo on advertising and marketing material.

Columnist Eamon McCann wrote in the Belfast Telegraph about his opinion on Arthur’s Day this year, describing it as a “scam” that “targets” young people because of the music it features.

In September 2012, comedian Colm Regan also wrote about Arthur’s Day, calling it a “trick” pulled by Diageo “convincing Ireland to care that Arthur Guinness existed”.

Tourist attraction

Niall Byrne of Nialler9.com, the prominent Irish music blogger, told TheJournal.ie that he thinks the Irish “don’t need a festival to celebrate Guinness”.

“A festival centred around a drink is hardly what we needed,” he said.

Arthur’s Day is a marketing campaign first and an obviously hugely successful one at that. The Irish don’t need a festival to celebrate Guinness – we do that every week anyway.

Byrne believes “we get the things we deserve and as a nation, we don the Leprechaun hats all too easily for the day without coercion”.

The big draw to the day – besides the alcohol – is the music, with national and international bands playing in a range of venues around the country.

Byrne points out that there are some quality musical acts, such as Bobby Womack and Janelle Monaé this year, which gets a positive reaction from people involved in the music industry.

“But then you remember previous years: the jammed pubs not used to hosting acts of this calibre, the early drinking that leads to early evening displays normally seen late on a weekend night,” he pointed out.

“Arthur’s Day has never really been a pleasant experience for me personally so I try to avoid it. But maybe it’s not for me anyway. I’ve gone for the music while trying to avoid the marketing which is pretty impossible really.”

He wonders about the reliance of foreign acts to pull in the crowd and whether the Irish acts chosen get paid much. “I do wonder whether the majority of people care about the music on the day,” concluded Byrne.

A Facebook site and Twitter site have been set up to promote Anti Arthur’s Day – but despite the negative feelings around the day, people will be celebrating it in their droves.

What the vintners say

Padraig Cribben of the Vintners Federation of Ireland said this week that, generally, publicans are on the fence about the day, saying that it doesn’t give the boon at the tills that one might expect.

“I think it is becoming more of a celebration of some of the cultural activities, it was perceived as otherwise than that but it looks like Diageo is changing the emphasis on it,” he said.

“It’s something that I suppose is welcomed by some publicans and not welcomed by others who would see it as someone else’s party and they’re expected to pay for it.

“Overall, in the context of drinking in a given week, I don’t think you’d see a significant spike because of Arthur’s Day, maybe a spike on that particular day but then a corresponding dip on Friday and Saturday,” he concluded.

What Diageo says

A statement from Diageo said that Arthur’s Day “has always supported and promoted emerging Irish music and brought them together with the best of Irish and International artists on the day”.

It said that Diageo “takes its corporate and social responsibilities very seriously and implements a strong responsible drinking awareness campaign around Arthur’s Day”, providing advice to pubs.

It also co-operates with local authorities and other public authorities, including An Garda Siochána, “to ensure everyone has safe and enjoyable day”.

We also promote responsible drinking and discourage alcohol misuse year-round through our support of drinkaware.ie and other resources for consumers.

Read: Temporary cut-price pints are illegal, Department affirms>

Read: Lead singer of The Stunning slams Arthur’s Day ‘smugness’>

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