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St. Patrick’s Day in Buenos Aires: An Expression of Urban Folk Tradition
By María Inés Palleiro, Patricio Parente and Flora Delfino Kraft


Furthermore, one of the distinctive features of the celebrations on the streets of Buenos Aires was the radical heterogeneity of the artistic displays. Such heterogeneity was evidenced by the diversity of the mini-musical shows (murgas, rock music, Scottish bagpipes) related to different ethnic and social backgrounds, which may be seen as indicators of the lack of a ‘clear’ and ‘unique’ shared social identity. The distinction from liturgical celebrations, and in this case from Celtic festivals, is more obvious if we consider the scarcity of icons representative of Ireland, such as shamrocks and leprechauns, together with the relative absence of the marketing of identifying symbols of the community. In this sense, the street celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day show a multicultural and pluriethnic convergence which cohabits in Buenos Aires in a plural mosaic of identities.     

A crowd celebrating St. Patrick's Day at Reconquista street, 
downtown Buenos Aires
(Infobae.com, 18 March 2006

In reference to the street celebrations of 2006, we find the same numerous attendance, but with a greater active police presence and barriers that officially marked the public celebration area. In this way, the intervention of local state bodies in the public festivities can be registered, in part, into the framework of policies of multiculturalism and citizenship (Canale 2006). In parallel, this state cultural policy is linked to the plea for regulation, demanded as much by the Irish community – in its claim of a distancing and usurpation of traditions – as by the residents of the area, of the ‘incidents’ which took place in 2005 and which were recontextualised by the media that year in the debate on ‘lack of safety’, as we will examine in more depth below.

St. Patrick’s Day 2006 and the rhetoric of safety

The celebrations of 2006 showed signs of the impact of an intertextual network of debates about the absence of security, [3] initiated by media campaigns sparked off by, among others, the case of the kidnap and murder of Axel Blumberg and the tragedy of the young people who died in the Buenos Aires nightclub Cromañón. The latter event, which led to the political trial and subsequent dismissal from office of the governor of Buenos Aires, Dr Aníbal Ibarra, set the scene for a debate about the city government’s safety mechanisms, which could be seen in the discursive construction of the news surrounding the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Thus the Buenos Aires morning edition of Clarín newspaper reported on the celebrations under the headline ‘St. Patrick’s Day: without incidents, but several closures’, focusing attention on the control mechanisms put into operation for the celebrations. In this way the news report stressed that ‘This time, aiming to avoid incidents, the sale of alcohol on the street was banned...’ and ‘by order of the public prosecutors... 1,100 cans [of beer]… were seized... charges were filed against 40 people … The Security Department of the Government of Buenos Aires informed the press that it had closed … shops… selling alcohol… and 5 bars… for … violating the Buenos Aires law… which regulates safety in nightclubs’. The construction of a semantic field surrounding regulation and punishment for any infringement associated with the excessive consumption of alcohol which gives rise to out-of-control behaviour is evident here. The enumerative style, in which the accumulation of details relating to punishments dominate along with the mention of the security authorities, articulates this semantic field drawn around regulation, constructed from the antithesis regarding the excesses of 2005, implied in the temporal sintagma ‘This time’. The use of the typographic tool of bold lettering is also orientated towards highlighting this rhetorical effect, and also intensified by the attention given to the discourse of the image. The article includes a photograph depicting a police officer in a medium shot profile, accompanied by others, whose function, stressed in the paratext which accompanies the photograph (‘A number of police officers patrolled the streets in the traditional celebration’), is to ensure the safety of the street celebrations. All these elements contribute to the discursive construction of this ‘rhetoric of control’ which marked the celebrations of 2006.

St Patrick's Day in Luján, 1912
(The Southern Cross, 22 March 1912)

The St. Patrick’s Day celebrations according to The Southern Cross newspaper

In March 2006, the local newspaper The Southern Cross, the Irish community’s means of media circulation in Argentina, summed up in the motto ‘expressing our Argentine plenitude, from our Irish ancestry’ published an editorial in an exhortative tone, entitled ‘May St. Patrick’s Day return to being an Irish festival’, signed by F. O´Killian, a contributor to the newspaper. In a clearly endo-groupal positioning, tied to the ‘genuine’ tradition of ‘the Irish blood which flows through all the descendants of far-distant Erin’, the article exhorts, using the inclusive ‘we’ which establishes a differentiation regarding the exo-group of non-Irish, to ‘clean up our image’, rectifying the lack of control of the street celebrations and alcohol consumption, associating its dangers with the tragic events of Cromañón. In this way the article’s author demands ‘safety and regulation’ from the authorities of the Government of Buenos Aires, and closes the article by establishing a distinction between an ‘authentic Irish gathering in Adrogué’ which corresponds to ‘the style of origin, in a safe and respectful atmosphere’, and ‘the other’ which ‘cannot continue like this’. Using the rhetorical tool of antithesis, the author requests ‘responses and proposals’ in order to achieve a transformation in the way it is celebrated. The context of this editorial corresponds to a front page article on ‘St. Patrick’s Day. The thousand ways to celebrate it’, from Dublin to Boston and New York, to Munich and Tokyo, to Luján, Mercedes, Lincoln and Capilla del Señor (Province of Buenos Aires), and from the ‘Solemn Mass’ of the ‘Patron Saint’ to the ‘street shows and beer’ which ‘are shown by the media’. This context, which also includes an agenda of celebrations subscribed to by the Federation of Irish-Argentine Societies, connects the canonical religious celebration of the ‘Mass celebrated in honour of St. Patrick’ to emblems of nationality like the ‘tributes’ to ‘General Don José de San Martín’ and to ‘Admiral Don Guillermo Brown’ and with the ‘social gathering’ of the Irish community in St. Brendan’s College. All of these elements demonstrate the metaphorical concentration of ethnic and religious meanings around the emblematic figure of St. Patrick, united in a dynamic between endo-group and exo-group, linked to a distinction between ‘genuine’ and ‘spurious tradition’ to use Handler and Linnekin’s (1984) terms. Such aspects serve as a framework for a debate on the safety and control discourse, associated with the excesses of the street celebrations, inserted into an intertextual web which gives rise to a kind of ‘rhetoric demanding social regulation’ into which the discourses surrounding the Cromañón catastrophe can also be placed. Our hypothesis maintains that this rhetoric produced some modifications in the forms of celebration in 2006, in relation to those we documented in 2005.

Beer advertising at a public house in Buenos Aires, 17 March 2005

Advertising discourse on St. Patrick’s Day

The impact of graphic advertising in the St. Patrick’s Day street celebrations, which unite five thousand participants, is becoming more and more notorious for the dimensions it has attained in the last four years. For this reason in this section we will try to explore the dynamic which supports the celebration on the streets on the day of Ireland’s patron saint. As this feast day is considered a commercial event, we will take into account the strategies of group identification used as means of persuasion which, in advertising narrative discourse, are associated with the Irish community. Broadening the concept of a commercial event, the advertising takes elements susceptible to being recognised by the wider public. These elements put forward as identifying are based on the supposed representations to which the potential audience it is directed towards relates, in this case, Irish identity. Furthermore, we understand that advertising ‘campaigns’ as concentrated, intensive actions, designed to achieve an objective, which not only refers to the sale of a product but, also to achieving the desired effect in a section of the population, namely the sale of a behaviour, through the use of discursive strategies (Kaplún 1997). We also highlight that a particular feature of these discourses is the homogenisation of diversity, for example, the term ‘Celtic’ as a signifier in the advertisements is used in different contexts with distinct meanings. The purpose of this strategy is manipulation starting with the convergence of plurality in synthetic expressions which are repeated, stripping the message of nuance and complexity so that it may be effectively appropriated by the public.

In recent times, a diverse range of beer brands have been launched onto the market, like Warsteiner, one of the beers that achieved greatest coverage on the streets of downtown Buenos Aires in the week leading up to 2005’s celebrations. This company, together with the Guinness brand, sponsored the beer party in what were considered the ‘sweet times’ of the ‘dollar-peso one to one’. [4]

In the campaign that they used, Warsteiner’s graphics stand out as the bottle of beer is taken as a religious symbol. In an iconic subversion with liturgical associations through which the product is worshipped, the religious element is subverted by worshipping alcohol. Furthermore, these graphics were displayed on the streets, especially in the ‘La City’ area of Buenos Aires, attempting to attract the prospective attendees (or clients) who get together to celebrate the day by drinking beer on the streets and in the pubs. Thus these advertising narratives, drawing on an important iconic foundation, based on the burlesque reversion of the saint’s day, contain, in their semiotic game, another implicit narrative which is considered so popular that it can form part of ‘what is not said’: the saint ‘is’ the emblem of a community commonly associated with alcohol; and this saint ‘is’ beer’s paradigm. This element implied by the advertisement gives rise to a game of narrative ellipsis, which sets up an intertextual breach between the canonical stories relating to the Irish community’s patron saint and the narrative of alcohol, and in particular, beer. It is precisely this ‘unsaid’ narrative which completes and, at the same time, makes the iconic reversion possible. In summary, it is worth pointing out that the elements chosen in the advertising messages assigned to be recognised by the public are concerned with operations of the construction of Irish identity favoured by the local media. In this way an association would be produced among the public, beginning with identifying the community with beer as it is considered the element which identifies ‘Irishness’.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 1 March 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Palleiro, María Inés, P. Parente and F. Delfino Kraft, '
St. Patrick's Day in Buenos Aires: An Expression of Urban Folk Tradition' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:1 (March 2007), pp. 35-46. Available online (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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