DUBLIN – More than 200 years after his death, Arthur Guinness is dividing the Irish.
At 17:59 p.m. Thursday, drinkers raise a toast to the 18th-century brewer who invented the iconic stout here. Arthur’s Day, created four years ago by corporate owner Diageo to celebrate the brew’s 250th anniversary, is a celebration that supports Irish bars struggling after the worst recession in the nation’s modern history, the company said.
But opponents, led by medics and musicians, say the event encourages binge drinking and disorder in a country beset by alcohol abuse.
“Their mind-set is entirely noble in the sense that they’re trying to maximize profits,” said Frank Murray, of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in Dublin. “But the downstream effects of excess alcohol consumption are huge.”
While the event may help Diageo boost falling Guinness sales in Ireland, it’s spurred debate about alcohol in a country with some of the world’s most voracious drinkers, with the argument dominating radio shows and newspapers this week.
The average Irish adult consumed almost 40 percent alcohol more than U.S. imbibers, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization, and Guinness is still the nation’s favorite stout.
Since the inception of Arthur’s Day four years ago — the time, 17:59, refers to the year the Guinness brewery was founded — it has since morphed into a nationwide festival every September.
The London-based company is staging 500 concerts as part of the event, with bands including Manic Street Preachers and the Script turning up at bars.
The campaign against Arthur’s Day is gaining momentum. In 2012, emergency ambulance calls in Dublin rose by 30 percent from the prior week amid the revelry, the Irish Times newspaper reported.
Emergency consultant Stephen Cusack in Cork described the streets of the city on Arthur’s Day last year as being akin to the “last days of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Artists playing at Arthur’s Day gigs will tell customers to drink responsibly and Diageo is encouraging pubs to give out free water, Diageo spokesman Peter O’Brien said.
While some drinkers may overindulge, at Neary’s people enjoy the day sensibly, James Hardy said of customers at his Chatham Street establishment. “People will come in here, have a good time for a few hours and at 5:59 they’ll raise a glass to Arthur Guinness.”