Cruel Images Of Irish Need To Disappear

Roundup: Historians' Take

J. Michael Finn, State historian, Ancient Order of Hibernians, in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dspatch (Feb. 21, 2004):

With St. Patrick's Day quickly approaching, it is good to address the subject of Irish defamation. We Irish continue to allow the most heinous forms of defamation of our history and culture that would not be allowed by any other nationality or religion. It is time we all stepped forward to rid the marketplace of these stereotypes.

Where did all of this Paddy nonsense begin? During the famine of the 1840s, it was necessary for the British to justify their failure to save millions of starving Irish. So they depicted the Irish as drunken, violent, lazy animals. Surely, no one would want to give money or food to that kind of people. Cartoonists of the day depicted the Irish as apes with turned-up noses and animallike pointed ears.

Why turned-up or pug noses? That happens to be a symptom of untreated syphilis. Most often they had a bottle of whiskey sticking out of their pocket and a gun in their hand. The association of the Irish with apes in caricature was carried across the Atlantic and American political cartoonists such as Thomas Nast drew the Irish as, you guessed it, out of control, violent gorillas. (You know Thomas Nast, he's the guy that drew all of those classic Victorian images of Santa Claus).

Of course, the Irish are their own worst enemy when it comes to defamation. Just look at some of the images we use of leprechauns. Pointed ears with monkeylike features are common. The original folklore collectors who described leprechauns described them as small old men with beards, not elves or animals, and certainly not with a glass of green beer in their hands. We must first clean up our own shop before we can expect others to stop.

The Ancient Order of Hiberians has made considerable progress over the years in working with the national greeting-card companies to stamp out these stereotypes from their merchandise. However, much more work is needed as some companies are slipping back into the old stereotypes.

Do not purchase greeting cards that defame or make fun of our race or religion. Be sure to let card-shop owners know of your objection to any cards that depict the Irish as drunken fools or animals. These cards often make fun of St. Patrick and the Catholic faith. These images are neither cute nor funny.

In answer to the most common merchant response, "No, we can't take a joke, and certainly not at the expense of our race or religion."

If we want the public to take the Irish seriously on issues that we care about (Freedom for all Ireland , abortion, etc.), the Irish community must shake this "drunken Paddy" image.

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More Comments:

Niall Padraig Mc Kiernan - 7/25/2005

OK - I happen to be 100% Irish. But that doesnt entitle me to cry about every awkward look or comment like you do. We have many rights in this great country The US constitution was NEVER intended to prevent cry-babies from being insulted, mocked or otherwise offended. Thats a 20th-21st century thing called PC. PC isnt a law and most everyone thinks its rediculous. SO get a life - Irish are what they are and thats that good or bad. Lets not be like every other group and cry all the time ok???!!!

diane richards hughes - 5/16/2004

Say what you like, but not all the 'stereotypes' about the Irish are erroneous. I know lots of people who are ignorant, bigoted catholic and substance abusing. This country has been damaged more by the catholic church than anything the english did or did not do. I have no axe to grind here, i'm welsh and have little time for the english, or any colonial forces.

Vernon Clayson - 2/27/2004

I have some Irish ancestry, along with almost all of the
various nationalities that inhabit this country, but we don't hear the good, we only hear the bad about those of Irish descent; that would be the drunken, loutish, lying and impious among us, but enough about Ted Kennedy, he already gets too much publicity. We should focus on the good his brothers and other great Irish-Americans did in a dignified and classy manner. Does anyone believe that Ted Kennedy would act as he has if his brothers were still around, not hardly, they weren't exactly like Jimmy Carter enduring a madcap younger sibling.