Irish Stereotypes: Organizing Our Thoughts

In a recent discussion dealing with stereotypes of the Irish character here at, an extensive dialogue ensued.  It was suggested that we, as a community, should formulate a response to these stereotypes which seem to always show up even more in the days leading up to St. Patrick's Day.

We've decide to craft a Wild Geese community editorial for publication on the site and for widespread distribution to local, regional, national, and even international media outlets.  It is hoped that these efforts will raise the profile of the Irish (and Irish-Americans in particular), showing that the double standard which currently exists with regard to disparaging remarks and attempts at humor when it comes to people of Irish heritage are not only inappropriate, but also largely unrepresentative of the vast majority of Irish people throughout the world.

We're asking all members of The Wild Geese community to read through the thoughts that have already been collected by a small panel of fellow members, and then to add any additional remarks in the comments section.  In this way, we will be able to circulate an editorial which can truly be said to represent the consensus of the Wild Geese community.  On Monday, February 24th, we'll compile all input and craft a final editorial which will be published here at, and distributed for publication to media outlets throughout the world.

You can read the original discussion by clicking on the following link:

The Irish Character


  • Address negative stereotypes (e.g. drunkenness, fighting, etc.)

  • Highlight positive aspects of Irish culture / heritage (work ethic, hospitality, etc.)

  • Flood media (i.e. online, print, radio, television, websites) with our concerns, but accentuate positives in so doing

What are the negative stereotypes we want to address?

  • Drunkenness (“Irish Yoga” t-shirts; “Irish Drinking Team” t-shirts)

  • Laziness as portrayed through the above and through other media

  • Our desire to continually be brawling and bullies

  • Our cognitive abilities as being slow or utterly lacking

Why is it important to expose these stereotypes as potentially harmful?

  • Not healthy to “normalize” binge drinking (cf.

  • Distorts view of the Irish in American society to young people, both of Irish descent and non-Irish

  • Our rich culture suffers from the above stereotypes

  • Inform others of our rich history and what we as a culture and nation have brought to others

  • These stereotypes can cause harm to the self-image of young Irish Americans and can affect hiring decisions by non-Irish who believe them.

What are the positive aspects of Irish culture / heritage we want to highlight?

  • Work ethic (canal diggers, coal miners, policemen, firefighters, etc.)

  • Strong family ties

  • Patriotism, from the American Revolution to current wars. Examples: (Fighting 69th from Civil War to the present, leadership from Commodore John Barry to astronaut Mark Kelly)

  • Faith-based values (faith, tolerance for others, contributions to charities ... both domestic and international)

Additional thoughts:

I think the ads and PSAs (public service announcements) that highlight little known facts about black Americans are very effective in presenting a continuous history of African-American contributions to U.S. society. Could we do the same thing for the Irish. For example, I believe that there are more Irish-American winners of the Medal of Honor than any other group. If that’s correct, that would be a fact to be highlighted.

Come March the media will arrive at any pub that calls itself “Irish” (that is, they have a picture of Michael Collins on the wall), take photos of the people drinking at the bar but the voices of those who attend cultural activities such as plays, GAA events, lectures, concerts are not heard and certainly don’t make the papers. While these events are not meant to attract reporters, it’s a shame that they will descend on the bars. We must persuade the nation’s cultural elite that there is a very talented, vibrant group of Irish Americans out there that has nothing to do with the stereotypical Irish drunk. Impress on people that our story is far more complex and infinitely more interesting than they have been led to believe.

The Sober St. Patrick’s Day event in NYC has gotten tremendous publicity in its first two years, I suspect because of the work of its organizers. In fact, the Sober St. Patrick’s Day movement has grown to include other cities, including Belfast. That’s the kind of idea that should steamroll through the country and world. Others have been held in Casper, Wyoming (go figure) and Richmond, Virginia. A Sober St. Patrick event will be held in Cleveland, Ohio this March for the first time.

Take a look at the image below and decide if these stereotypes are a problem.  This cartoon was plucked from a blog (which we will not name here) on March 17, 2011 with the accompanying comment, "The streets will run green with puke tonight!"

Views: 1594

Tags: News, Opinion

Comment by Kelly O'Rourke on February 17, 2014 at 9:30am

Great thoughts there.  I hate to see the t-shirts that make light of drunkeness which has hurt so many Irish families.  The shops won't stop carrying them if tourists continue to eagerly buy them up, so we need to change minds on the consumer end.  Good on you, Wild Geese!

Comment by Colleen Corcoran on February 18, 2014 at 2:55pm
I think humor is a great attribute of the Irish and it would be great to include that. I agree with avoiding the emphasis on drinking, that has hurt many Irish families!
Comment by Vicki Sharon Boland Peters on February 18, 2014 at 3:09pm

After visiting Ireland.I came home with all the memories of friendly people.I to hate to see the Irish being pegged as a bunch of drunks.I know some of it is done in fun.Both times I came to Ireland.I never ran into a drunk Irishman.Each one I met were kind and helpful and I just love to sit and listen to there tales and beautiful music.

Comment by Niall McArdle on February 18, 2014 at 5:17pm

I have written about this topic several times on my blog, most recently just the other day in response to a Phone App called 'Drunk Leprechaun'. The article, if anyone is interested, is here:

Comment by Kieron Punch on February 19, 2014 at 7:52am

In addition to the number of Irish recipients of the Medal of Honor it could also be noted that there have been more Irish winners of Britain's Victoria Cross than any other individual nationality, with the exception of the English (i.e. more recipients than the Scots, Welsh, Australians, Canadians, South Africans, Indians etc).

Comment by Mike McCormack on February 19, 2014 at 12:14pm

  The identification of the Irish with alcohol is grossly exaggerated.  It began back in the days when the pauperized Irish took a drop to ward off the despair and depression that naturally resulted from the unfair colonial exploitation imposed on them by an alien regime.  As an old song says, When Paddy has Powers, all the weeds look like flowers.  As anyone who has studied the medical ramifications knows, the prolonged use of alcohol, no matter how valid the reason, can lead to the disease of alcoholism – and it is a disease – a fact that many did not know years ago.  Add to that the propensity to fall victim to that disease among those in more northern climates and you have the crux of the issue.  However, as the Irish began to climb the ladder of social acceptability, that issue diminished in the majority of the race, but anti-Irish forces kept dragging that ancient derisive image to the fore in an effort at character assassination.  The Anglophiles who largely controlled the media created a ‘Stage Irish’ image to justify keeping in the Irish in subordination.  Those of us who have encountered an inebriated Irish reveler on St Patrick’s Day will usually find that he or she is Irish in name only, born and raised in America and has little or no knowledge of the heritage that they are demeaning.  As for being lazy, the strong Irish backs that build America’s roads, rails and canals as well as the courageous Irish who defended her when she was in need are the things that checkmate that statement.  From the very first action to merit the Medal of Honor by Lt Bernard Irwin of County Roscommon to the present day, more recipients of America’s highest honor have been  Irish-born than any other foreign nationality.

  St. Patrick’s Day is not an excuse for a party, but a reason for pride - pride in an Irish Christian heritage that is second to none.  Those who debase themselves on that day are either not Irish or are Irish in name only, and their condition at the end of the day is a direct reflection of their appreciation for, or ignorance of, our heritage.  Further, those who respect that heritage don’t call their patron saint by a nickname; the difference between Paddy’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is the difference between the office Christmas party and Midnight Mass - the only thing they have in common is the date.

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on February 19, 2014 at 5:26pm

Good comments, Mike ... but I'll respectfully disagree about the "Paddy's Day" part.  I understand those who have such convictions (and that's fair enough), but I'd say close to 100% of people here in Ireland (even those who are still devout Catholics) call the holiday "Paddy's Day."  There is almost never, as far as I can tell, any disrespect of any kind intended. 

Comment by Niall McArdle on February 20, 2014 at 11:18am

avoid the stereotypes: wear a decent teeshirt on the day.

Comment by Danny Alexander on February 22, 2014 at 11:54am

There is a good discussion over on Irish Central concerning Spencer Gifts and the AOH.

Comment by Geraldine Callaghan on February 23, 2014 at 9:02pm
Mike McCormack, that is a great viewpoint and so true. I do agree with you on "St Paddy's versus St.Patrick". I personally find it disrespectful, probably because the good Sisters of Mercy would have soundly corrected me if I called our revered Saint "Paddy"! I realize many that do refer to Him as Paddy don't mean any disrespect. I believe that starting in March we need to really get to the news Media to recognize the great contributions the Irish have made and continue to make to this country. We need to highlite our music, poetry, wonderful writers, those who faught and died for American Independence. If you go to Gettysburg, Mannasses, and Mary's Heights you can see the bravery and courage the Irish showed. These are only a few places. Throughout the country you will find the Irish played such a big part in the formation of America. They worked under very difficult circumstances were discriminated against, called ugly and disparaging names, often refered to as "savages" there was no social assistance or help available from the Government. The Catholic Church did provide some assistance. They worked hard, ignored the slurs, educated their children and got ahead. They always had a sense of humor, loved their music, songs and dance. Many people don't believe it but there were signs in the windows of buildings stating "Irish need not Apply" for whatever position was being advertised. New York, Philadelphia and Boston had, still has, a very large percentage of their Firemen and Policemen who are of Irish heritage. Hopefully we can emphasize these attributes and not the "Drunken" stereotype.


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