Author of Have Ye No Homes To Go To? The history of the Irish pub
Arthur’s Day was established – some would say invented – in 2009 by Diageo to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the founding of Guinness brewing company. From the start there were rumblings of discontent with the concept, many viewing it as no more than a slick marketing move by Diageo, the now owners of Guinness. Despite endorsements from high profile celebrities like humanitarian and musician Bob Geldof, film director Guy Richie and former England footballer Peter Crouch others such as singers Christy Moore and Mike Scott of The Waterboys and film director Lenny Abrahamson criticised this new venture. The US based Huffington Post dubbed it ‘Diageo Day’ and called for a boycott. Critics pointed to the holding of the event on Thursday night – the traditional student drinking night in the cities – as opportunist. Diageo did not help their case when they kept it on Thursday night each subsequent year thus rendering it an inaccurate celebration of an anniversary.
The Irish Times newspaper termed it ‘a master class in how to fabricate a national holiday’ and referred to its ‘a la carte attitude to traditional holidays’. It noted the countdown as a mimicking of the traditional welcome to the New Year and the ‘faux patriotism that comes with the celebration of a ‘national’ drink’ ‘ and what they called the ‘hagiographic treatment’ of Arthur Guinness as a type of secular saint. It warned its readers: ‘If Saint Patrick’s Day, Christmas and Halloween are festivals that offer an excuse for drink, Diageo has flipped the concept on its head and made the drink an excuse for a festival.’
The mechanics of the day was straightforward. At 17.59 the brewing company asked drinkers to raise a toast to Arthur to celebrate the anniversary. There were various musical, social and cultural events run on the day. Over the years the line ups were stellar and the day was celebrated in Dublin, Belfast, Lagos, Kuala Lumpar in 2009. Jakarta, Indonesia joined the list of participating cities in 2010. It continued on in spite of substantial criticism. In 2012 there was widespread discontent when the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland reported a 30 percent surge in ambulance call outs on each successive Arthur’s Day since its inception.
Finally things reached a head – pun intended – in 2013. In September a social media campaign called ‘Boycott Arthur’s Day’ came to national and international attention. Irish and international musicians lent their support to the cause. On 24 September a live debate was held on the current affairs television programme Prime Time on the national channel RTE1. It included the Guinness executive Peter O’ Brien defending the celebration. The singer Christy Moore, a long time critic of the celebration and a recovering alcoholic, had released a single to mark the occasion which he sung live on the programme. After years of increasing discomfort among the public the celebration came to an end in 2013 and was replaced in 2014 by a programme to support emerging artists in Ireland called Guinness Amplify.
It may have been officially abandoned but occasional reports still come through about the continued celebration of the event. In September 2015 MSN news reported that a bar in Jundai, Brazil celebrated the occasion while nearer to the origin of the event they reported that Spell’s Bar in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon celebrated ‘The Day Formerly Known As Arthur’s Day’.