The St. Patrick’s Day Loophole; How The Irish Took On Lent & Won


WHAT have you given up for Lent? If you’re an Irish Catholic, you’ve probably been asked this 60 times since Ash Wednesday heralded the start of a season of abstinence ahead of Easter Sunday.

With Catholics and non-Catholics alike getting onboard for 40 days of giving stuff up (with alcohol, chocolates and being pricks the leading vices to abstain from), this posed a significant problem for the Irish; how would they go on the lash on the 17th of March?

“It was one of the first instances of the normally-devout Irish nation rebelling against the Church,” says historian Mark Graves, speaking at a lecture titled ‘How The Irish Took On Lent and Won’.

“St. Patrick’s Day always falls in the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, so difficult choices had to be made. Renounce the Church or renounce the drink, or look for a loophole”.

To crack how they would keep the craic, the Irish first pleaded with the Church for a compromise on the dates; with Easter taking place at a fairly arbitrary period of the year and the start date changing from year to year, was there a possibility of perhaps just moving it to April, where the Irish would happily abstain for the whole 40 days without the need to down pints for a full day?

With this option being turned down by the Pope himself, the Irish had to dig deep into the scriptures of the Bible, to find the true definition of Lent and see if there was any ‘wriggle room’. Intended as a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, Lent seemed unavoidable; there was no precedence for stopping the fast period at any time.

“They argued everything; double prayer for every other day of Lent, giving up two things for 39 days, but the Church was hearing none of it,” explains Graves.

“All seemed lost, the Irish Catholics were destined to celebrate their patron saint without festivities, bountiful feasts, or a big session of drink with the lads. Until one Waterford man named Seamus McCloskey finally found a solution in the 1960s”.

McCloskey, an amateur astronomer, devout Christian, and a hoor for the pints, deduced that according the ever-expanding orbit of the Earth around the Sun, time as we know it behaved differently now than it did in biblical times.

Specifically, McCloskey worked out that although Jesus did in fact spend 40 days and nights in the desert, in today’s time, that would amount to about 40 days, 39 and a half nights, allowing a half-day gap where technically, you didn’t necessarily have to fast.

“The Irish were asked if they wanted their Lent to be half a day shorter, or to get it in the middle of the fasting period, and the vote was unanimously for having 12 hours on Patrick’s Day to go on a mad one,” concludes Graves.

“This was quickly counteracted by an American astronomer who proved McCloskey wrong; in actual fact, Lent should be longer by about 15 seconds, if anything. But at that stage, the lads were on the tear and they’ve never looked back”.

As years go by, the 12 hours known as ‘McCloskey’s Miracle’ have grown into a full day where kids can go back on the sweets, people can get drunk on pints, smoke as much as they want and fight as much as they like.

Spare a thought this Patrick’s Day when you’re on your first pint in 2 weeks for that Waterford astronomer who solved the problem with some slightly-not right calculations, or perhaps just straight up lied to the Church because he ‘just wanted a pint for fuck sakes’.