---- — DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland’s love affair with pub and pint is sparking national soul-searching as never before because of an unofficial holiday dreamed up by Guinness.
Thursday’s celebrations of Arthur’s Day, honoring the 18th-century founder of Ireland’s quintessential drink, feature surprise musical performances in 815 pubs and clubs across Ireland as well as concerts worldwide from Malaysia to Jamaica.
Launched in 2009, Guinness says the annual festivities provide a needed tonic for a 7,500-strong Irish pub network struggling to maintain profits in the face of a five-year debt crisis that has ravaged employment and incomes.
Many pubs are offering free pints of the dark brown stout at 5:59 p.m. — a reference to the founding of Guinness in 1759 — followed by the appearance of a band or singer, among them internationally popular acts, many kept secret until that moment. All entertainers are paid by Guinness’ British parent, Diageo.
“It’s really a musical treasure hunt. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year,” said David Doolan, a 28-year-old software engineer who plans to follow tweeted tipoffs as musical acts turn up in Dublin pubs. He’s caught parts of impromptu performances by Tom Jones, Mumford & Sons and Stereophonics in past festivities.
But this year, Guinness has been put on the defensive amid surging protests that Arthur’s Day is compounding an alcoholic culture that costs Ireland 3.7 billion euros ($5 billion) annually in hung-over workers, a Europe-leading rate of liver disease, late-night vandalism and violence in hospital emergency rooms.
“They shouldn’t call it Arthur’s Day. They should call it Vomit Day,” said Aisling Fitzsimons, a 50-year-old manager of a convenience store who says she has to hose down the sidewalk outside most weekends.
Two performers who definitely aren’t playing are Irish folk singer Christy Moore and the Celtic rock band The Waterboys. Both have penned anti-Arthur’s Day songs that harness an Irish sense of unease of being played for fools by a brewing behemoth.
“Arthur’s alco-holiday is coming ‘round again. He’s the patron saint of porter, canonized by the advertising men,” Moore, a recovering alcoholic, sang Wednesday night during a nationally televised debate on state broadcasters RTE focused on the Guinness promotional machine.
The song’s punch line predicted that Ireland’s emergency rooms would be transformed into “drunk tanks” while “Diageo goes AWOL at closing time.”
But one of this year’s star attractions, Dublin rock band The Script, accused Moore of hypocrisy and of using the protest song to generate free publicity for his own upcoming album.
“If Christy Moore has an idea about how to fund hundreds of free music events and countless musicians in a festival, then let’s hear it,” said Script frontman Danny O’Donoghue. “If Christy feels that strongly about it, ban alcohol from all your gigs.”
All sides agree Ireland has a deeply ingrained alcohol problem. Government statistics show that Irish households last year spent 7.7 percent of their money, or $8.5 billion, on alcoholic drinks.