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St. Patrick's Day 2010: It was about church, not Guinness

Guinness sells 10 million glasses of beer daily (but no green beer) and far more on St. Patrick's Day. That's a new phenomenon. Not long ago, all pubs in Ireland closed on St Patrick's Day.

By Correspondent / March 17, 2010

A man dressed as St. Patrick poses for pictures as Sydney Opera House is lit with green lights during St Patrick's Day celebrations in central Sydney Wednesday.

Daniel Munoz/Reuters

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Boston

Not so long ago, there was no Guinness beer – and certainly no green beer – in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day.

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In fact, all the pubs closed on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. Families attended church and later went for a walk or worked in the garden.

The holiday was exactly that, says Carmel McCaffrey: a holy day.

"When I was a child in Ireland, the pubs didn’t even open. It was a holy day. We went to church," the Irish scholar and former Johns Hopkins professor said in a phone interview from Maryland. "We'd usually just meet up with friends and have a meal. There were no drinks."

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That's not what you'll hear in Dublin today, as the holiday to remember the British missionary to the Druids switches focus from religion to revelry.

"As long as St. Patrick’s Day has been around, they’ve drunk Guinness," insists Mark McGovern, a Guinness brewery spokesman said by telephone from Dublin.

The company's St. James's Gate Brewery makes 3 million pints of beer a day for domestic and international consumption, and about 10 million glasses of Guinness are consumed daily in 150 countries. "On St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sure it’s more than that," Mr. McGovern says.

Guinness assurances to the contrary, most Irish sources say that only in the past two decades did St. Patrick's Day include alcohol in Ireland. And, the bacchanal roots of the holiday were imported from America.

It's only been a national holiday since 1903, more than 150 years after Boston's Irish community organized the world's first St. Patrick's Day parade in 1737. It became a government-backed festival in 1995 as a way to boost tourism.

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