Thoughts On The Irish Stereotype

March is moving onwards and once again advertisers are rolling out stereotypical Irish images of shamrocks, rollicking leprechauns and beer-drinking, freckle-faced party goers.

When St. Patrick’s Day approaches, let’s face it, most Americans think of cheesy “Kiss Me – I’m Irish” T-shirts, green beer, Irish fighting songs, claddagh rings and leprechauns.

Irish Stereotype Collage

Collage Created With Some Images from Vintagerio.com

And so I started thinking about whether I find these stereotypical representations of the Irish and Ireland offensive or not?  To answer this question I think we must appreciate how these stereotypes first arose.

The mass exodus of emigrants out of Ireland over the past centuries has resulted in a large Irish diaspora being spread to the four corners of the world.  Differing views of Irish immigrants have developed in the nations where we settled.

Stereotypes have arisen from the perception of Irish immigrants by others, some fueled by a romantic notion of the ‘Emerald Isle’, and some fueled by displays of boorish, drunken behavior.

Whether good or bad, flattering or offensive, there is no denying a strong stereotype is connected with the Irish, especially here in the United States.

There is the assumption that being Irish we are genetically predisposed to drink too much, leading to images of fighting, drunken Irish.  But is this truly offensive?  There is a seed of truth in the origins of this stereotype.

Our love-hate relationship with the demon drink is world renowned.  Unlike other cultures we drink less in the solitude of our own homes, instead preferring the socially stimulating environment of public drinking in aptly named public houses.

Our blarney, bravado, joking, singing, music, drinking and affinity for literature are often displayed openly in a true Irish bar.  So should we really complain when these attributes are assigned to us in advertising caricatures, witty word puns, and media clichés?

Do we want to start a “politically correct” campaign against faux Irish images, claiming they reduce our magnificent heritage to a racial slur, all the while allowing drunkeness to represent Irish pride?

 

And guess what my answer is?

 

www.vintagerio.comImage Credit

Get over yourself and enjoy it ! ! !

 

As one of America’s oldest, most deeply rooted and largest ethnic groups, we are big enough and bold enough to take it on the chin, and let it all run off us, like water off a duck’s back.

Other cultures might shout out if they were represented by such hackneyed stereotypes, but that doesn’t mean we should too.  If we can’t laugh at ourselves, then we have no business laughing at anyone else, or at anything at all for that matter.

And truth be told, Irish beer, food and hospitality businesses enjoy the attention and increased sales associated with promotion of this Irish stereotype.

If I had the audacity to complain about Irish stereotypes, then would I not need to remove every vintage image of shamrocks and Irish people I have used on my blog over the past year?

So there you have it!  Sit back, relax and enjoy the attention on all things Irish, real or imaginary over the coming days.

In conclusion I think this clever pun on Irish stereotypes sums it all up perfectly:

 

“I’m so sick of all the Irish stereotypes,

As soon as I finish this drink,

I’m punching someone.”

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

P.S.  If this topic piques your interest, we can use this blog to delve deeper into the origins and meanings of different Irish stereotypes.  I believe acceptance of the Irish stereotype gives me license to be sentimental and tell our Irish American story peppered with a little bit of nostalgia.

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Comments

  1. How funny that you posted this today! I’ve been meaning to email you and ask you how you felt about the Irish stereotypes around this time of year! Thanks for answering my question. :) And I’ve seen the last quote you put on this post a couple of times and it always makes me smile!

    • Aimee – That’s amazing that we both were thinking of the same topic today. These stereotypes are sometimes hard to take, but I have decided it is better to laugh it off. Hopefully by emphasizing the other wonderful aspects of Irish and Irish American culture we will eventually lose our notoriety as the world’s greatest drunks. Only time will tell, but in the interim I don’t plan to get too upset about it. I fear it is out of my control.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  2. Melissa says:

    Ah, St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish stereotype. Or, as my friends and I call it, “Amateur Drinking Hour”. ;)

    • Melissa – I think you have summed up the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations perfectly. When I lived in New York in the early 1990′s it was usually the non-Irish, claiming they were Irish for the day, who were drunk. We Irish just had a good time and couldn’t believe the celebrations we were witnessing. I think I truly suffered from culture shock on the first St. Patrick’s Day I spent in New York City. I had never before seen anything like it in Ireland.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  3. I’m so thankful that for over a decade, I’ve been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by both dancing and organizing dance events showcasing authentic Irish heritage – steps passed down for generations, executed to traditional Irish music. Gotta love the Irish diaspora!

    • Kate – That is lovely to hear. My little girl who is now six is learning Irish dancing. She will be walking with her Irish dance school in the Louisville St. Patrick’s Day parade. She is so proud of learning the steps and I am so happy that she too is furthering her understanding of authentic Irish heritage. I went to Irish dance classes as a young girl in Ireland, so my little one wants me to practice with her. The first few weeks I thought I was going to have a heart attack as we skipped around the kitchen – it’s a strenuous workout.
      Anyway, keep up your wonderful work and I admire your dedication to Irish dancing.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  4. Linda Carragher Bourne says:

    Thank you for bringing this up, Irish American Mom! I am the furthest bit from being all “PC” about anything. (I guess I like t’ laugh too much! :) ) However, during the month leading up to Saint Patrick’s Day, and on the Day itself, I AM particularly sensitive to the stereotypical aspersions cast on Our People.

    In addition to all the so-called jokes, the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirts and buttons, on and on…and ON, there are the bookstore displays. Yeah. Inevitably, I walk into ANY bookstore during this time of the year, and, what do I see, smack dab in front of me? Two very prominent display “towers” of books: One comprised of fascinating, informative fiction and non-fiction, honouring African American History. The other? An “overload” of “cartoon-ey” type books, “celebrating” St. Patrick’s Day. It makes me mad. I’ve been known to ask to speak with the Manager; I point out to him/her the incongruities of Respect shown to each ethnic group represented. Often, I’ll make suggestions of GOOD books to display our *actual* Irish Heritage. Sometimes, they’ll heed my plea, and make some changes. Sometimes.

    Saint Patrick’s Day, as observed in Ireland, and in many Irish American homes, is sometimes a Holy Day, ALWAYS a day of Family and Fun. The REAL kind. And. Yup. We’ll hoist a pint, or five, if we’ve a mind to. Smile. But, NOT in a manner that makes us look like Idiot Leprechaun caricatures. Because, we’re not.

    Thanks for “listening!”

    Slainte!
    Linda Carragher Bourne

    • Hi Linda – Thank you so much for weighing in on this subject. It is a touchy one, and I must say I admire your courage in addressing this issue at your local book stores. I had never really thought about how, even in book stores this over-the-top, cartoon type image of the Irish is portrayed, in a place supposedly supporting the more learned side of our heritage.
      I suppose I have taken the easy way out in my approach today. I remember years ago when I was working in a nursing home in Florida, someone crashed into my car in the parking lot. The police were called. The moment I opened my mouth to speak, the policeman made a big joke, inferring I might have been drunk when I parked the car that morning. It really was an offensive thing to say, when I was innocently doing my job taking care of elderly patients. Of course everyone looking at my car laughed at the so-called “joke”, so I just laughed it off too. I came away from that incident realizing how deep these stereotypes run in America, but I have no idea how to change it. Perhaps that is why I have adopted this grin and bear it attitude. I fear it is a stereotype too difficult to change.
      I plan to write a post later this week about how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, emphasizing how the religious aspect of the holiday and family fun are central to the Irish celebration. Anyway thanks again for joining in this discussion and offering your two cents worth.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  5. Mariana says:

    Great post. I like your view of the subject :)

  6. Working in the schools, I find the stereotypes of March most disturbing because of the enormous double standard they represent. All of February is Black History Month and much time is spent presenting a version of history that contradicts old stereotypes. Often the programs and information in February are titled “multicultural” though the focus is always on African American culture. That does not carry over to Irish in March, to the Latino cultures in May’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations, or to the Italians in October. We actually no longer talk about Columbus on Columbus Day. Native American culture doesn’t fare well either. You’re right that we shouldn’t be so sensitive about how our culture is portrayed, but the stereotypes shouldn’t be the only thing we see.

    • Lynne – Native American culture definitely does not fare well in American schools. Not having been educated in America I mistakenly believed that my children would read myths and legends from Native American folklore as part of their schooling, but I have been sorely disappointed. I love to write children’s picture books and I am working on some Irish themed books. Some of my work retells old Irish legends and others focus on topics of Irish heritage like step dancing. I hope some day I will find an agent or publisher who is willing to work with me. I truly believe that positive books about Irish culture will eventually help debunk these old stereotypes.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  7. I hope you do publish those Mairead, they sound wonderful! My dad was Irish, My mom German, two cultures with some interesting stereotypes. We don’t necessarily celebrate St.Patrick’s Day or Oktoberfest, instead in March we have a huge Irish Dinner Party with friends and family, I cook tons of traditional food, and in September we do the same for my German heritage. I find it’s a fun way to share my heritage with friends and celebrate family. I enjoyed reading this so much, thanks for sharing your thoughts Mairead!

    • Holly – Celebrating family is the best way to observe St. Patrick’s Day. Your dinner parties sound fantastic. Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to our conversation.
      Best wishes and enjoy all your planning, preparation and celebration of your Irish heritage in the coming weeks.
      Mairéad

  8. Anne Heffernan says:

    Think it’s gas that we (according to some ) are
    such big drinkers, lots of other cultures like to drink too. I think the big difference is we enjoy having a chat over a cup of tea/ coffee during the day and later perhaps with wine or beer etc. I’m a Dub living in NY married to a fella from PA, and I have noticed that many Americans don’t offer you tea or coffee when you call around for a chat which is different to home.
    Must have a go at making your potato cakes, miss the floury potatoes from home eg Golden Wonders.
    Our local Target and craft shop Michaels have a lot of St Paddy’s day Knick nacks not sure if they would sell so much in Ireland?!?

    • Anne – Having grown up in Dublin like you, I too miss a cup of tea when having a chat in the afternoon with neighbors or friends. The cup of tea is a great ice breaker in Ireland, plus it is easy to have on hand for unexpected visitors. Here in the south, when I ask someone if they would like a cup of tea, I am often asked for iced tea, which I seldom have in the fridge. I love how in Ireland we universally accept the cup of tea and a biscuit for a friendly get-together.
      Happy you found my site – it sounds like we have a lot in common. Thanks so much for chiming in.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

      • Anne Heffernan says:

        Wow Mairead didn’t realize you were from Dublin, I grew up in Booterstown which is near Blackrock.
        BTW I liked your piece about saying “Yes” the first time you are offered tea etc in the USA as it’s not like Ireland where we can’t take no for an answer :)

        • I’m from Raheny, Anne. I know of Booterstown from the DART station. I love to take my kids to Bray on the DART from Raheny whenever we are home. They love to run along the promenade and throw stones into the sea. It’s a great day out.
          Thanks for reading my post on Irish tea etiquette, where we never take no for an answer.
          Best wishes and have a lovely weekend.
          Mairéad

  9. Hi Mairead, You are spot on. The best part of being of Irish descent is you get to laugh at the supposed insults. I laugh at all who attempt to insult my lineage. I guess we are too happy, congenial, inviting. How many cultures have people wanting to be them for a day? There will always be people who are insulted I guess, but I was born with a thick Irish skin and I was born a creature of God, so I forgive the insulters and enjoy being myself.
    Cheers,
    Brian.

    • Brian – Laughing off the supposed insults is definitely the way to go, and I honestly don’t think these stereotypes are seen as insults by others, since as you point out, they just want to be Irish for the day. I too have that same thick Irish skin and don’t let it get to me.
      Take care,
      Mairéad

      • Hi Mairead, we Americans come from many different backgrounds. We are parts of 300,000,000 others. We differentiate ourselves by our ethnic backgrounds as part of our individual background. The Irish stereotype joins the Polish, Italian, Mexican, African, French Canadien stereotypes etc. You know you are American when the stereotypical insult is handled as a joke, one that is given back in turn. I seem to remember some stories that were a bit insulting about Kerry but then I heard them from a man from Cork. You picked a good subject though as everyone has an opinion.
        Brian.

        • Brian – I heard plenty of ‘Kerrymen jokes’ growing up in Ireland, but then I do come from a Cork family. You make a great point about how the creation of a stereotype marks the Americanization of a people. This subject sure has generated some great responses. I am enjoying the online conversation this post has generated.
          All the best,
          Mairéad

  10. Mariana says:

    The things most of you are talking about don’t happen only in the United States. Here in Argentina, specially in Buenos Aires, St. Patrick’s Day is a chaos. There are several Irish Pubs in the city and a huge amount of people go there to drink and celebrate something they don’t even know. It all ends up in fights and lots of garbage laying on the streets. It is for them just an excuse for drinking lots of beer.
    Luckily, irish descendants organizations choose to organize other kinds of celebrations, involving irish dancing, celtic music bands, traditional food and parades.

    • Mariana – I had no idea that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are so big in Argentina. But then I suppose Argentina is home to the fifth largest diaspora of people with Irish roots. Glad to hear that those with real Irish connections usually celebrate the day by highlighting our heritage and culture, not just our affinity for a few drinks.
      Thanks for your global insight on this topic.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  11. Those stereotypes were designed to be negative when they came out first. They were daughter propaganda generated from that surrounding the Great Reform Act in 1832. But in the USA they were reversed within places like Notre Dame where if you saw that nasty little dancing elf with a glint in the eye it brought out another well known Irishism, Fág an Bealach. Since if you didn’t willingly you were going anyway.
    Mind you, I’ll say listening to the Rammer-Jammer last year should stiffen them for a few years.

    • Thanks so much for letting us know how far back these stereotypes go. I had no idea that they date back as far as 1832. I imagined that they came to life around the 1870′s after the Irish had arrived en masse to the US. Thanks for some great insight.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  12. Oh my! It’s funny, the English side of me wants to say, “Oh, please people let’s honor this real person of St. Patrick in a much more respectable way other than getting drunk on green beer”! THEN, the redneck Georgia part of me says, “Oh, shut-up and have a drink already!” :-)
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours, my dear Irish friend!

    • You are too funny, Kay. Love how your two sides would deal with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I think your Georgia side is closest to the Irish view on things.
      All the best, and I hope you too have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
      Mairéad

  13. Thanks for posting on this topic Mairead.
    I think some may find the Irish stereotype of drinking a little too close to home and take some offense to it. Growing up in Ireland, neither of my parents touched a drop. However, my uncles, aunts and cousins more than made up for them. Most families have at least one member that’s “fond of the ole drink”.
    If you haven’t seen it, Des Bishop the Irish-American comedian has a great 3 part documentary that hits home for a lot of people in Ireland. http://youtu.be/_A_tnM2w-L8
    I too enjoy a tipple every now and then in moderation. Something I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed about. As far as St. Paddy’s day goes……Why would we complain when the rest of the world celebrates our culture, even if they only celebrate by drinking green beer, wearing leprechaun t-shirts and silly hats?
    My favorite quote I read recently……Everyone can’t be Irish…..Someone has to drive!

    • Thanks John. I love that quote at the end. I always enjoy Des Bishop. He can be very funny, but also deals with some very serious topics in a very objective way. I must watch the documentary you recommend when I get a chance. Thanks again for your comment.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

  14. So much heart and so much passion, working hard to play hard, crying and laughing the whole way.
    That’s how I sum it up!

  15. Hi Mairéad,
    I just got my wisdom teeth out and have been bored out of my kind recovering so finding your blog today was truly a blessing! First, I love your name! So Irish and beautiful! I am roughly 3/4 Irish (Galway I believe) and proud of every inch! I love your posts and this one is especially true. For my family, St. Patrick’s Day is a day for family and friends to gather together, eat some authentic food and celebrate our Irish life. Thank you for the lovely and genuine entertainment!

    • Jackie – I’m so glad you found my blog too, and thanks for your kind words about my ramblings. It’s lovely to hear that your family is so proud of their Irish heritage. Hope you have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day and I hope your gums will heal soon so you can enjoy the celebrations without being in pain.
      Best wishes for a speedy recovery,
      Mairéad

  16. Found your post as a result of searching for negative Irish stereotypes. The college I work at put up a display today promoting awareness of alcoholism. The display was decorated in green paper, streamers, and covered in shamrocks. I asked about the shamrocks and questioned the connection to alcoholism and was told that my thinking it pertained to the Irish alcoholic stereotype was true. I was shocked that an institute of higher learning would intentionally promote such a horrible thing, but after reading your thoughts, I suppose I’m overreacting. But I wonder why they don’t put up such a display connecting alcoholism with Native Americans or the homeless. True, we don’t celebrate with special days set aside for those groups, but the stereotypes of alcoholics in those communities is just as strong. Perhaps we just love the Irish more around here.

    • Kay – I was a little shocked when I read your comment. I too cannot understand how a college would allow such a pointed use of the Irish stereotype. When I wrote about not getting too riled up about caricatures of drunken Irish, I was referring to the use of beer-drinking leprechauns in advertising. Intentionally singling-out the Irish as being most in need of alcoholism awareness training is truly in bad taste.
      Thank you for stopping by my website and for adding to this discussion.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

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