Irish Catholic Guilt

Guilt is widely accepted as a stereotypical Catholic trait, with the guiltiest of all Catholics being the Irish.  Since we are in the Lenten season, I thought why not explore this concept of Irish Catholic guilt and its impact on the infamous Irish psyche.

By discussing Irish character traits, I hope I don’t reinforce cultural stereotypes nor create an overly simple picture of the Irish.  This is merely a light-hearted look at some attributes bestowed upon us by the rest of the world.

I’ve included my favorite Catholic guilt quotations in the graphics throughout this post. I hope you enjoy them.

 Edna O'Brien - Guilt Quote


So what is this guilt we speak of? It’s an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of the stomach caused by an overly functioning conscience. The guilty suffer from intense internal reactions of regret, triggered by external events barely noticeable to others.

To understand these feelings, they have to be experienced. I often wonder if there are people who never, ever feel even the slightest twinge of guilt.


Do you have to be raised Catholic,

with a fear of hell fire and brimstone,

to appreciate this internal battle of the mind?


Is the severity of a guilt attack

related to cultural, genetic or moral inheritance?


Let’s face it, everyone experiences guilt at some point or another. Every person who has reached an age of reason is conscious of shame and remorse. The question is, do we Irish, practice self-condemnation and reproach to a higher degree than others?

The answer eludes me. I have only seen and experienced the world through the lenses of my own Irish upbringing. I welcome your two cents worth in the comments section below.


Bono - Guilt Quote

As an Irish person I feel pangs of guilt from time to time, sometimes over the most trivial things. I have a tendency to volunteer, to stretch myself to the limit, born out of a serious sense of guilt. When an appeal comes out for help at a school event for example, I’m usually overcome by guilty feelings that if I don’t help, nobody else might step up to the proverbial plate.

Edward Burns - Guilt Quote

If we Irish are the most guilty of all nationalities then what might be the cause? Potential origins are wide and varied.  Some claim years of religious persecution, imperialism, and extreme poverty created a national Irish Catholic inferiority complex.

Our ideas about sin may also trigger these guilty feelings. When we do something wrong we instinctively feel bad, and do everything in our power to make it better.  No matter how hard we try to be good, we know we will fail because that is simply part of human nature.


” “All that praying you made us do,” complained Maggie. “And making us go to Mass.
And starving us on Good Friday … And making us feel ashamed of our bodies
and guilty about absolutely everything. No, Ma, you were the pits.”
Nuala glowed with pride, truly she had been the best of Catholic mothers.”
- From “Late Opening at The Last Chance Saloon” by Marian Keyes


Guilt is often portrayed as a flaw, a deep weakness of the Irish psyche. But I see guilt differently. I think it gets a bad rap.

I actually like guilt. Believe it or not, guilt can be good, giving us a great sense of responsibility for what goes wrong.  We all fail occasionally. That’s simply a manifestation of our humanity. When we fail or forget something, a twinge of regret sweeps over our Irish Catholic psyche. It’s what keeps us honest. So in my book, there’s nothing wrong with a little guilt.

But take note, I did say a ‘little’ guilt. Obsessively compulsive, over-the-top, never-letting-it-go kind of guilt is far from healthy.

Excessive guilt can be a stumbling block for some.  I personally think we should accept those guilty feelings, forgive ourselves, then move on. Never deny responsibility for a failure or project blame outwardly. Just accept life’s challenges, forgive and make the necessary changes.

Bradley Cooper - Guilt Quote

Without a smattering of guilt, we might all go around feeling unaccountable, at ease with our place in the world, believing we’re worth it, that the world owes us something. Those twinges of guilt, whether they are inherent to our nature because we are human, or because we are Irish, keep us grounded. They encourage us to try to improve, and let others feel confident that we will always give our best, because if we don’t,….. well you know …. we’ll be overcome by our Irish Catholic guilt.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom




Thou Shalt Not Blow Your Own Trumpet – A Commandment Of The Irish Psyche

Irish people do not like to show off.   We have a palpable fear of being perceived to blow our own trumpets, so much so I feel confident in claiming self-deprecation and self-effacement are traits of the Irish psyche


Image Credit


“Who do you think you are?”


To most Americans this is  a question asking about family roots or ancestry.  The words have been popularized by the NBC genealogy television program.  But to an Irish person this interrogative holds a totally different meaning.

These words echo in our Irish minds, a reminder of the deadly sin of pride. How many of us were asked this question if we grew too rambunctious for poor Sr. Mary or Sr. Catherine, as she tried to maintain control of a class full of energetic children?  These words stir that infamous Irish Catholic guilt supposedly bred into us from birth.

We heard this message in many forms over the years.  We listened to it on television, on radio, from teachers, priests, and some may even have heard it at home.  Here are some other versions:


Don’t be blowing your own trumpet.


Don’t go getting a swelled head!


What kind of highfalutin’ idea is that?


Don’t be getting notions of yourself!


I could go on and on.  These warnings take on many forms.

I would love to hear if you have heard any in your Irish American homes.  Please feel free to share in the comments below.

When I first came to America I was taken aback by how easily people spoke of their own talents and capabilities, but soon I learned Americans also freely admire and praise others for their virtues and talents.

Americans accept admiration graciously, never feeling compelled to accept a compliment by throwing in a little negative to reduce the power of unexpected praise, a very definite Irish trait.


And so my question today is why do the Irish

consider humility such a prized virtue? 


Egotistical pronouncements and self-promotion are far more acceptable in America than in the Emerald Isle.

Does this false modesty arise from an old Irish tradition

where community was more important than the individual?


Did years of living under a system of colonialism

create this self-deprecating behavior?


Is talking boldly about oneself frowned upon,

because we prefer our actions to speak for themselves?


Are Irish people suspicious of praise because of

low self -esteem?


I can’t believe I even typed that last question – it makes me sound very American. I truly believe our outward modesty is born of something other than low self esteem.

Anyway, I don’t know the answer to these question of how and why Irish self-deprecating ways evolved, but I would love to hear your two cents worth on this world renowned trait of the Irish Psyche.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

Wise Old Words From Ireland For Mother’s Day

Wishing all mothers of the world a very happy Mother’s Day this weekend. Although this holiday is celebrated on different days throughout the world,  this weekend let’s all join American families as we honor our mothers with our sincerest sentiments of love and gratitude.

To mark this day I thought I might share some Irish wisdom on motherhood and some Irish blessings for Mother’s Day. Our mothers are a precious gift from God.  So together let’s celebrate their selfless, unconditional love.

Some of these quotes are nostalgic and sentimental in the style of years gone by.  One is written for mothers-to-be. Kavanagh’s poetic words memorialize his mother.  One excerpt even explores the notorious Irish Catholic style of mothering, but all pay well-deserved tribute to mothers everywhere.

I hope you enjoy these quotations as much as I enjoyed gathering them.

Irish Mother In Window from Vintagerio.comImage Credit


“This heart, my own dear mother, bends,

With love’s true instinct, back to thee!”

~ Thomas Moore.



“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.

No man does. That’s his.”

~ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895



“A man loves his sweetheart the most,

His wife the best,

And his mother the longest.”

~ Old Irish Saying

Mother And Children - www.vintagerio.comImage Credit

“A mother holds her children’s hands for a little while,

But their hearts forever.”


~ Unknown (I’m not sure if this is originally an Irish saying,

but it is so lovely I just had to include it.)



“Tis the month of Mary,

Blessed Queen of the May,

Mother of God we pray you,

Bless and protect all mothers,

On this their special day.”

~ Irish Prayer



“May embers from the hearth warm your hands,

May sunshine from an Irish sky warm your face,

May a child’s bright smile warm your heart,

And may everlasting love warm your soul.”

~ Irish Blessing Credit

“There is but one and only one,

Whose love will fail you never.

One who lives from sun to sun,

With constant fond endeavor.

There is but one and only one.

On earth there is no other.

In heaven a noble work was done,

When God gave us a Mother.”

~ Old Irish Verse



“Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but

they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”

~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy



“Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world,

a mother’s love is not.”

~ James Joyce

Mother and Child ClipartImage Credit


“May the emerging spirit of your child

Imbibe encouragement and joy

From the continuous music of your heart,

So that it can grow with ease,

Expectant of wonder and welcome

When its form is fully filled…..


And it takes its journey out

To see you and settle at last

Relieved, and glad in your arms.”


 ~ John O’Donohue - To Bless The Space Between Us



A mother’s love’s a blessing,

No matter where you roam.

Keep her while she’s living,

You’ll miss her when she’s gone.

Love her as in childhood,

Though feeble old and grey,

For you’ll never miss a mother’s love,

Till she’s buried beneath the clay.”


~ Thomas P. Keenan from the song  A Mother’s Love’s A Blessing.


Vintage Irish MotherImage Credit


” “All that praying you made us do,” complained Maggie.

“And making us go to Mass. And starving us on Good Friday…

And makind us feel ashamed of our bodies

and guilty about absolutely everything.

No, Ma, you were the pits.”

Nuala glowed with pride, truly she had been the best of Catholic mothers.”


~ Marian Keyes

Excerpt from Late Opening At The Last Chance Saloon.



“I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

you walking down a lane among the poplars

on your way to the station, or happily


going to second Mass on a summer Sunday–

you meet me and you say:

“Don’t forget about the cattle–”

among your earthiest words the angels stray…..”


~ Patrick Kavanagh

Excerpt from his poem In Memory Of My Mother.



Mother and Baby - Clipart

 Image Credit

“God made a wonderful mother,

A mother who never grows old:

He made her smile of the sunshine,

And he moulded her heart of gold;

In her eyes He placed bright shining stars,

In her cheeks fair roses you see;

God made a wonderful mother,

And He gave that dear mother to me.”


~ Pat O’Reilly

Excerpt from his poem Wonderful Mother




Lá Na Máithreacha Sona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)


Irish American Mom




Happy Easter To All

Wising everyone around the world a very happy Easter on this Sunday morning.  Today many of us will gather with our loved ones to celebrate new beginnings, renewal and the resurrection of Jesus.  I hope this weekend you too have the opportunity to be with your loved ones.  For those who can not be with family, may the blessings of Easter bring you peace and joy.

Here is a beautiful Irish blessing to help us embrace the spirit of Easter. Credit


“At the breaking of the Easter dawn

May the Risen Savior bless your home

With grace and peace from above,

With joy and laughter, and with love;

And when night is nigh, and day is done

May He keep you safe from all harm.”


I pray this Easter may be a time of renewal for each and every one of us, when we find direction and meaning in our lives, no matter the trials we have overcome nor the discoveries that lie before us.



Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom


The Irish Psyche And Sigmund Freud

The Irish psyche is a deep topic for a blog post on the day after St. Patrick’s Day, when many facets of said psyche were on display all over the world.  As I did a little research for this post I came across a quotation attributed to the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud.

In the movie The Departed, Matt Damon’s character claims that Freud said:


“This is one race of people for whom

psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”

- Sigmund Freud (about the Irish)


Some claim this Freudian quotation was derived from a phrase by one of his followers.  This student of Freud claimed that the Irish, when in psychic trouble go to poetry, go to storytelling, or to escapism.  He believed the Irish have no interest in picking apart their own brains.

Freud is also claimed to have stated that the Irish are a mass of contradictions and impervious to the rational thought processes that might resolve them.

And finally another follower of Freud supposedly said the Austrian doctor categorized people as “Irish and non-Irish.”

Whether or not Freud actually said these words, we may never know.  However  it seems clear that the Irish psyche was at some point a topic of conversation for this famous psychiatrist and his students. Credit

The real question for me is why Freudians were so intrigued by the Irish psyche?


What characteristics of the Irish people led them to these conclusions? 


What exactly did Freud mean?


Was it said as an insult, a compliment or neither?


My proud Irish side wants to answer by saying we are too fine tuned to benefit from inward thinking, or perhaps we are just too complex for analysis.

But then there is my down-to-earth, practical Irish side that realizes we don’t do psycho anything very well.  We hate to share our emotions, we are ridden with guilt, and believe life’s fleeting fortunes are precursors to inevitable doom and gloom.

Let’s face it, no psychoanalyst is getting inside my Irish head – there’s barely enough room for my thoughts in here.

Irish people are stubbornly polite.  Saying what we think is difficult at times, but then in complete contrast there are times when we can’t stop talking and saying exactly what we think.  We are a mass of contradictions.

Words that come to mind to describe our nature are stubborn, humble,  explosive, friendly, bad-tempered, humorous, hardassed and artistic.  See what I mean?  A mass of contradictions.

And so this got me thinking about all the factors which helped form our elusive Irish psyche over the centuries.


Is their something about our Irishness begging to be explored?


Is there a story of Irish psychological development crying out to be told?


What is it about the Irish and our personality that makes us different and possibly unique?


Why did so many Irish succeed in America?


Do we really put the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL?


Can Irish proverbs help us better understand our collective psyche?


And so I decided why not create a section on my blog dedicated to discussing the Irish psyche.

But am I qualified to talk about this topic authoritatively?  Not in the least. Pychoanalysis is definitely not my realm of expertise. My degrees are in physical health and well being. But why let that stop me.  I’m going to take on the topic of the Irish psyche in true narcissistic, Freudian fashion.

I may not hold any psychology credentials but I have been educated in the school of life on both sides of the Atlantic, helping me to develop my own opinion of the Irish psyche.  I may not be able to personally answer all of these questions, but I can moderate a good discussion, and together who knows what insights and stories we may discover.

So stay tuned for more interesting posts on the Irish psyche.


Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom