Trouble brewing as Guinness celebrates in Ireland

DUBLIN - It may be one of the most recognisable Irish brands but a national celebration of all things Guinness on Thursday has not gone down as smoothly as the drinks company might have hoped.

The spike in alcohol consumption that accompanied previous "Arthur's Day" celebrations has rekindled concerns about Ireland's relationship with alcohol, and sparked calls for a boycott.

Dublin Ambulance Service last year reported a 30 per cent rise in call-outs during the event, and healthcare professionals warn it is simply another excuse to get drunk.

Arthur's Day was first held in 2009 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Guinness founder Arthur Guinness signing the lease on the St James's Gate brewery.

Since then it has evolved into what one government minister this week described as a "pseudo national holiday".

Guinness' parent company, Diageo, insists it is a showcase of "Ireland's talent and creativity" which celebrates and supports the traditional Irish pub.

It points to the 500 free music events being held across Ireland by artists including The Script, Emeli Sande, and the Manic Street Preachers.

Other musicians have taken inspiration from the day.

"We'll puke in our hands/and piss where we stand/and fill the A and E wards/ we'll raise a glass/fall on our ass," The Waterboys sing in "A Song for Arthur's Day".

Dr Stephen Stewart, director of the Centre for Liver Disease at Dublin's Mater hospital, said such events only serve to promote excessive drinking, particularly among young people.

"The relationship Irish people have with alcohol is not healthy," Stewart told AFP.

"Many people are going to end up in our emergency departments with serious injuries on Arthur's Day and proportions of them are caught up with very heavy drinking and will end up with liver disease," he added.

Discussions on Ireland's volatile relationship with alcohol are nothing new, but the issue has featured heavily in the media this week and even drew comment from Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

He refused to support calls for a boycott, but said excessive drinking was a part of Irish culture that has to change.

"It doesn't take any particular day to have an impact on the situation in Ireland's accident and emergency departments," Kenny told parliament on Tuesday.

"One only has to look at the fact that any time, 2,000 beds are taken up in our health system because of the consequences of drink for validation of that."

There is speculation that the backlash will cause Diageo to call time on Arthur's Day because the hangover might just not be worth the party.