Unofficial officially offensive to some Irish

By Amanda Graf

“Drink ’til you’re Irish.”

This slogan is not unfamiliar to a campus that celebrates a faux Irish holiday every year by drinking as much as they can. But for many, the slogan cuts deeper than just words on a t-shirt.

“Has the time not come for us to ditch, once and for all, the caricature of the drunken Irish and to consign it to the realm of history along with the slur of the Fighting Irish?” Reverend Sean Brady, archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, asked his congregation in his Ash Wednesday homily last week.

The Rev. Stuart W. Swetland, former director of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, 604 E. Armory Avenue, agrees with Archbishop Brady. Rev. Swetland believes Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day is offensive to Irish people and the Catholic Saint Patrick, as well as harmful to the University’s students, campus and community.

“It perpetuates a terrible stereotype of the Irish, which is unfair. And in our day and age, I thought we were past these kinds of things,” Rev. Swetland said.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

Jon Doyle, junior in LAS and president of the Irish Illini, a registered student organization, said stereotypes linking Irish people and alcohol do exist. But he does not believe the students intend to offend the Irish on Unofficial.

“I think it’s a little more lighthearted,” Doyle said. “People are entitled to their own opinions, and I think it’s disappointing that people don’t know the history of St. Patrick’s Day. But everyone is just having fun in their own way.”

During his nine years on this campus, Rev. Swetland said he “was never pleased with Unofficial,” citing the distraction it causes from daily education, the physical and mental danger to students, and the damage done to the University’s reputation and the surrounding community.

Rev. Swetland, now a professor of theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., said that while he was on campus many professors and students, both Irish and non-Irish, complained to him about the offensiveness of Unofficial.

Since the holiday began over a decade ago, students have celebrated Unofficial as if it were St. Patrick’s day, with green clothes, big parties and, most notably, bouts of binge drinking that begin early Friday morning and last through the night.

“It’s as if the quintessential aspect of Irish-ness is drunkenness,” Rev. Swetland said.

St. Patrick’s Day originated to honor the saint who helped bring Catholicism to Ireland, the same island that held him as a slave for six years. Rev. Swetland said that St. Patrick was dedicated to fighting the same vices that are now encouraged on Unofficial.

“Unofficial does great harm to the idea of St. Patrick as a missionary, as someone who brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland,” Rev. Swetland said.

Doyle said students do not link the holiday with the historical figure of St. Patrick. They are more interested in simply “having fun.”

“It’s a fun day to put on the green and go out with your friends,” Doyle said. “I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with anyone wanting to celebrate the holiday as long as it’s in a safe, legal and respectful way.”