It all began in 2011 when William Reilly, an Irish-American television producer, attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. As he looked out onto the crowd, a young twenty-something man’s outfit caught his eye. His green shirt read: “ST. PATRICK’S DAY TODAY, HUNGOVER TOMORROW.” Reilly decided to approach him – politely asking where he bought his shirt. Beer-in-hand, the young man responded, “In my local mall in New Jersey. Isn’t it cool?”
After nearly losing a family member to alcoholism, Reilly didn’t exactly see it as “cool.” Surely this man wasn’t the only person in New York celebrating the holiday in such a way, but there was something about this encounter that resonated with Reilly. Disappointed with how the Irish were being portrayed, alas, this was the moment that Sober St. Patrick’s Day was born. Aiming “to reclaim the true spirit of the day and to change the perception and experience of what St. Patrick’s Day can be,” the inaugural event began in 2012, drawing nearly 400 attendees to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the sober way.
New York is really only the beginning. Reilly and his team are hoping Sober St. Patrick’s Day will spread nationwide. The movement is quickly beginning to gain steam internationally – the Belfast St. Patrick’s Festival has adapted sober events to this year’s roster. This year, along with hundreds of other New Yorkers, TIME’s Amy Lombard attended the event – documenting the music, dancing and attendees who opted to focus on Irish tradition without the green beer and hangover.