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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


Ireland’s patron saint in the virtual nation of the internet: Identity debates and resistance

We shall now examine the idea that St. Patrick’s Day appears as a key element for the debate about the redefinition of traditions in the urban context, within the virtual community that is the internet. For this reason we consider relevant the reflection of social identities starting from the recent massive updates and circulation of this celebration commented on in some webfora. We particularly refer to the high levels of attendance of this celebration in recent years; St. Patrick’s Day is seen by those attending as an element of the group identification of the Irish community, which does not invalidate the attendance of people outside that community, consuming large quantities of beer, as we noted in reference to the street parties. Attendance extends to young people, whether employees or not in the downtown area, who have access to virtual communication on the internet. We highlight that the commentaries which arise in some web fora refer, [5] on the one hand, to the need to define a contrastive identity in comparison with the immigrant festivities, and on the other, to the devaluing of those who adopt customs promoted in advertising and the media. [6] In this manner, in different messages they try to establish and mark the boundaries of the ‘traditional’ performance of each group in the face of the complex need to institute a differential and contrastive identity highlighting the effects of recent media promotions on social conduct.

Indeed, in some virtual commentaries, through different critical references, the implied relationship of the overestimation of ‘foreign’ practices which entails the devaluation of the festivities of the local public, is mentioned. At the same time as, while still recognising the plurality of the communities who settled in the country, and the inter-ethnic relationships of their descendants, the search for a singular identity which distinguishes itself from other cultural units and expresses itself in social rituals continues. Moreover, the existence of a presumption regarding traditions is inferred from the commentaries on the web, given that they are seen as a set of successive and identical phenomena which should be celebrated for their perpetuation and continuity, and whose beginning dates back to an ‘original’ instance with mythical resonance. Thus, the ruptures, discontinuities and redefinitions of the elements of the past given in the present, as key aspects of the ‘traditional’ performances, are not taken into account. [7] In this way, ‘importing festivities’, as is debated on internet fora, corresponds to a re-traditionalisation, where the meanings assigned to the feast day have been selected from the past by advertising agencies, and adopted by the participants. Also, the axiological qualification which alludes to ‘being mediocre’ in this communicative context is significant. This can be understood as a means of devaluation in the face of the over-valuation of what is Saxon, which is related to an economic and cultural subordination exteriorised as much in the approval of ‘foreign’ customs linked to the English code, as in the participation in ‘traditions’ imposed by advertising and the media. [8] Finally we wish to highlight the singular absence of references to the festivities in Buenos Aires on the ‘official’ web-page designated for the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, despite the fact that this celebration has been held on a grand scale for at least the last four years. [9] Therefore we can infer that the Buenos Aires celebration is still not ‘visible’ for the Irish community, which is paradoxical as, in Buenos Aires, people believe they are recreating the ‘legitimately’ Irish feast day.

The possible effects of a discursive transference

In reflection, we underline the possible divergence in some registers presented in 2006 in relation to the previous year. In effect, we have noted a discursive distancing as much in the media circulation and in the comments on some web fora, as in the sphere of the Celtic festival previously examined. In 2006 we observed that in the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, there was little mention of this celebration in the media, and also a reduction in the advertising references to beer aimed at associating Irish identity with that product, targeted at the overwhelming majority of non-Irish people attending. Moreover, we have noted the repeated mention in publications after the event of the effectiveness of institutional regulations on those attending the celebration, through the closure of some businesses and a greater police presence. [10]

The divergence we refer to particularly takes into account the information on the front page of the capital’s newspapers in 2005, [11] in which the image of bottles and rubbish after the party was notable: this news story is later expanded upon inside the publications. Yet one year later, the celebration is only referred to inside the newspaper Clarín. Although the high levels of attendance of the festival in the downtown area were highlighted, it was also repeatedly pointed out that ‘this is the first time that the sale of alcohol in the streets was not permitted’. Similarly, the mention of a greater institutional presence at the event was disseminated in the online version of Clarín on the day before the party. Here it was indicated that the public area would be cordoned off to clearly outline the contrast that Parente pointed out regarding the rapid changing of boundaries in the event a year previously. Also, in some web fora the communications only make reference to getting together to ‘celebrate St. Patrick’s’ without debating the participation of people outside the migrant community in the celebrations. We think it possible that these differences may, in part, be linked to some of the comments made by members of that community about this issue. The majority expressed their disapproval of the copious consumption of alcohol in the streets caused by this celebration, as this facilitated a unidirectional association of the saint with beer. In this way, the identification significance that the saint has for this endo-group, linked to his sainthood, is excluded.

We therefore suggest, as possible lines of inquiry for further research, on the one hand, the effective intervention which some members of this group may have in certain social institutions. This incidence may be aimed at mitigating the image perceived as negative, noting the unfavourable light in which their migrant community has been represented to the rest of society. Similarly, it reflects the role of the institutional mechanisms triggered by the demands of the residents of the area, as a consequence of the disturbances caused the previous year. It is therefore possible that protests by certain social groups offer a better opportunity for an effective and evident state presence.

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin
(Embassy of Ireland in Buenos Aires)

In conclusion

We have presented here a non-exhaustive account of the convergence and dispersal of the figure of St. Patrick and his value as an emblem of group identification. We began with his function as enxemplo, as spiritual edification, present in the different versions which refer to his life and legend. We continued by pointing out the redefinition of Irish traditions in the Canadian and Mexican context, as a migrant group expresses its contrasting and different identities in its social interactions, emphasising folk-tradition performance in parades and street parties. We also considered the importance of the religious element as an aspect of group cohesion within the Irish community, and the symbolic function of identification which the liturgical celebration of St. Patrick in rural and urban contexts produces, and which enables the construction of an exo-group based on excesses and the excessive consumption of alcohol. In this sense, we noted the reversion of the emblem of the saint for that of beer, from advertising (‘the young saint of parties and beer’, ‘the sinner saint’, ‘the Irish saint’) to the party on the streets of downtown Buenos Aires, in which beer was linked to the plural convergence of identities and memories. Finally we examined the debate surrounding the validity of this festival in the city, which appeared on internet fora, in relation to the problem of identity construction.

In view of what has been put forward here, it can be considered that the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day constitutes the emblem of cultural identification of a specific migrant group which is shown in the celebration, understood as a performance. As with all emblems of identity, this celebration presents elements of rupture and continuity, which favour the adhesion of other participants from outside the Irish community, who transitorily appropriate this differential identity, in the invention of tradition and redefinition of St. Patrick’s Day in the city of Buenos Aires.

Ultimately, we noted the effect of a media discourse related to the problem of safety, which gives rise to the appearance of a ‘rhetoric of control’, and produced modifications in the way it is celebrated, especially those related to the street parties and with the consumption of alcohol associated with the emblematic figure of the saint. Such transformations, in the light of the processes of redefinition of practices and discourses we documented in dealing with the celebrations in 2005 and 2006, demonstrate the impact of context and its fluid relationship as much with the processes of physical appropriation of public space as with the symbolic appropriation of ethnic and religious emblems of identity construction.


María Inés Palleiro, Patricio Parente and Flora Delfino Kraft

* University of Buenos Aires, Department of Anthropology


[1] See Fishman (2004) for an analysis of the concepts of performance and (re)traditionalisation within the framework of new perspectives on Folklore.

[2] As has been comprehensively argued by Artal (2004), it could be asked to what extent these practices are transgressive and question social hierarchies, or whether in fact they justify the status quo.

De esta forma, cabe preguntarse hasta qué punto estas prácticas son transgresoras y cuestionadoras de las jerarquías sociales o más bien legitimadoras del statu quo, como muy bien discute Artal (2004).

[3] See Delfino Kraft & Tella (2005) for a study of the discursive construction of insecurity in advertising discourse from an anthropological perspective.

[4] Although it is not the objective of this article, we refer to the social impact of economic policies established in the 1990s. One of the significant characteristics was the parity between the Argentine Peso and the US Dollar, formulaically designated as the 'one to one' (uno a uno), typical of Buenos Aires folklore.

[5] For reasons of spatial constraints, in this article we limit ourselves to highlighting some statements from the web forum http://www.pcmasmas.com.ar, which was consulted in 2005.

[6] One of the user statements demonstrates the complexity of the debate around identity and the legitimacy to participate in various celebrations: 'What bothers me is that, instead of continuing the traditions of our ancestors: [that is,] if you are a Catholic from a Catholic immigrant family, celebrate Christmas or the Virgin's Day, if are a descendant of Mapuche people, celebrate the Nguillantún, and so on. So why do some people celebrate St. Patrick's Day or Hallowe’en??? Because they are common, that's why. Because they ape people on TV, people in the First World, particularly Yankees, right? (‘Lo que me molesta es que, en vez de continuar con las tradiciones de nuestros antecesores: si sos católico de familia inmigrante católica festejá Navidad o el día de al Virgen, si sos descendiente de mapuches festejá el Nguillantún, etc. Pero porqué algunos festejan San Patricio o Halloween??? Porque son de cuarta, por eso. Porque imitan a los de la tele, a los del primer mundo, en particular a los yanquies, Ta?’). 

[7] In experiencing tradition, the origin of cultural practices is irrelevant. Its authenticity is always defined within the context in which it takes place. According to Handler and Linnekin (1984), what is meant by 'tradition' is not its historical meaning or its essence, but rather it corresponds to a symbolic and arbitrary designation of the meaning assigned from the present.

[8] In this way, the cognitive representation of English as a universal language may be understood as a consequence of the current political hegemonic position of the United States (Nobía 2004).

[9] See: www.stpatricksday.ie/cms/stpatricksday_celebrations.html. On this website, the various parts of the world where festivals also take place are mentioned. such as Russia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, the Caribbean, London, etc., but not a single country in Africa, the Middle East or South America is mentioned.

[10] In an article in the newspaper Clarín entitled: 'San Patricio: sin incidentes pero con varias clausuras' (19 March 2006), it is emphasised that the ban on selling alcohol on the street was intended to prevent incidents. Therefore, 'by order of the municipal attorneys […] a truck with over a thousand cans, and three other vans carrying alcoholic beverages, were confiscated.' The article also informs that five pubs for selling alcohol outside of their premises, for exceeding their capacity, or for allowing public dances without permission.

[11] This refers to the Clarín newspaper of Saturday, 19 March 2005; a year later, the information about this celebration was included on page 64 of Clarín, in the section 'La Ciudad' (18 March 2006). 



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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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