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Is it time to change the Irish stereotype?

March 20th, 2023 8:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

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ANOTHER St Patrick’s weekend, and another very welcome bank holiday weekend.

Our national saint’s day is celebrated in more countries worldwide than any other national day, with public holidays observed in many regions across the globe on March 17th.

We send our politicians abroad to ‘sell’ the country to our neighbours across the pond, across the Atlantic, and even further afield. But what does it mean to the Irish, after all these years? Is it really a celebration of our national culture, or just a celebration of revelry?

There’s no doubt that the parades have long held fascination for observers of all ages. Kids love the excitement of either watching from the sidelines, or maybe even being invited to participate with their local school or sports club.

Adults love the roguery of the various floats that often have eerily accurate but wry takes on current events, be them political or otherwise, and many adults enjoy participating in them, too.

Then there are the rural parades that regularly give an opportunity to local machinery firms to show off their wares – from tractors, to diggers, to jeeps and more. And of course the emergency service vehicles that often add a bit of aural excitement for young ears, too.

And then, in the subsequent hours, the fun in the pubs, hotels and restaurants begins, when the Irish music plays and the Guinness and green lager flows.

Unfortunately, it is this latter scene that is most associated with visitors’ impressions of the day, as the ‘downing of the green’ is for many the real essence of the day.

It is an image of Ireland that our national tourist board has been working hard to change for many years. 

Their three-day St Patrick’s Day ‘festival’ in Dublin works hard to offer visitors more than just the shamrock-and-shillelagh version of Ireland. It’s a long time since John Leech’s cartoons for Punch magazine used racist stereotypes to depict the Irish as drunken louts or, as one observer put it ‘beggars, bricklayers or bogmen’. And yet, just last weekend, the host of the Oscars, Jimmy Kimmel, joked that ‘five Irish actors are nominated tonight … which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.’

And this came just hours after the popular US comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL) broadcast a sketch of actors playing Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell speaking in gibberish, with the presenter saying ‘Wow and they haven’t even started drinking yet.’

It seems we have a long way to go in order to change the portrayal of the Irish when it comes to how we are viewed abroad.And yet, there is a good chance that on every street in every town in Ireland this weekend, there will be scenes of some level of over-exuberance as many people take the enjoyment to another level, and find themselves in a spot of bother. Watching the outcome in the courts in a few weeks’ time will no doubt confirm this theory. And it won’t be confined to this country, either. Irish bars the length and breadth of the globe will be packed to capacity as our nation’s fondness for the sweet nectar is emulated.

While many public figures blasted Jimmy Kimmel and SNL’s lazy stereotyping of a whole nation of people last weekend, this weekend may well prove that their depiction of the Irish is not that far from the truth for many. And will US President Joe Biden be pictured with the obligatory pint of Guinness in his hand when he visits us next month? Maybe it’s time that we took it upon ourselves to change the perception of the ‘fightin’ and ‘drinkin’ Irish and not leave it to the glossy tourism ads and expensive media campaigns to correct the perception.

Before we look to condemn others for their opinions of us, it might be time to realise we are, just sometimes, our own worst enemies.

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