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Sober St. Patty's Day Goes Global

By Ben Feuerherd 03/15/13

From NYC to Belfast, booze-free events aim to "reclaim the true spirit" of the holiday, the founder tells The Fix.

Happy puke-free St. Patty's! Photo via

You don't need to be wasted this weekend to show your love o' the Irish: Sober St. Patrick's Day is kicking off booze-free festivities across the globe this year, including in New York City on Saturday, and in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Sunday. The group hopes to “reclaim the true spirit" of the holiday by offering an escape from drunken debauchery for children, families, people in recovery and anyone else who has no desire to binge on green-tinted booze.

"The real audience is someone sitting on the fence who knows they have a problem with alcohol or drugs, but is scared they won't be able to have fun without drinking," Bill Reilly, the organization's founder, tells The Fix. He says that the event "fundamentally grew out of the recovery community," and is designed to show that you can have a blast without booze. This year's second annual event in New York is back by popular demand: "The Fabulous Overflow Party" at Regis High School in Manhattan will include Irish dancers, folk singers, and a presentation by Irish-American author, actor and politician Malachy McCourt (tickets available here). After the success of last year's event, civic leaders from Belfast decided to follow suit, by including alcohol-free events in their four-day-long celebrations. "In Belfast, they have a parade and outdoor concert, both alcohol-free," says Reilly. Other cities have also shown interest in Sober St. Patrick's Day: "There's a group in Boston that wants to do it, in Chicago and Washington," says Reilly. Potential hosts are asked to stick to a few guidelines, such as keeping the event free or affordable, and inviting the local recovery community to take part.

But just how bad is the St. Patty's Day debauchery that Reilly's organization is trying to avoid? It's "a hot mess," says Ally, a former bartender at an Irish bar in Manhattan's West Village. Due to all the excessive drinking, the environment on St. Patrick's Day can become dangerous, she tells us: "People get violent, there are fights at times. Last year we had three fights and didn't have enough bouncers on, so I had to hop over the bar and break up the fight myself." And by the end of her 9 am-4 am shift, she would be left with "buckets of throw-up" to dispose of. "Last year this girl was taking a tequila shot—everybody pre-games—first sip and she has the blow-fish face. She threw up all over the bar," says Ally, adding that on this night, "Most bartenders know not to go out."

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter

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