Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day and Being Irish

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UNOFFICIAL ST. PATRICK’S DAY is a bar-developed
holiday that reduces Irishness to slogans
like “Drink Until You’re Irish.” Compared
to the sustained and openly abusive
treatment endured by so many individuals
and groups, this is a passing and minor issue.
For that one day, however—for each of the
past 5 years, since arriving from Ireland to
this campus—I feel angry, embarrassed, and
To see those who can put on or take off
the clothing of Irishness (who have, perhaps,
an Irish grandparent), or those who “become
Irish for the day,” generate and reproduce
such stereotypes is painful and demeaning.
The narrative of the Irish as drunks and
party-animals is derived from an older characterization
of the Irish as irrational, unable
to control their emotions (see also “Fighting
Irish”), and ultimately as sub-human. Nineteenth
century cartoons routinely represented
the Irish as pigs and apes. While the Irish
have in many senses reclaimed this notion of
emotionalism and refashioned it to support
tourism and cultural exports, there is a bittersweetness
as the history is inexorably linked
(until all too recently) with colonization, with
mass emigration, and with general poverty.
It’s not that I’m opposed to drinking or
drunkennes… hell, partying is fun. But the
“drink until you’re Irish” concept is simply
offensive. If you want to drink, drink. But please
don’t imply that drinking a bottle of vodka at
8AM captures the essence of my nation.
This is the country that has more Nobel
Laureates for Literature, per head of population,
than any other country outside Scandinavia.
Our economic growth was, for much
of the 1990s, three times that of the rest of
Europe. Northern Ireland is in the midst of a
complex and important peace process. We
have free third level education for all and a
musical heritage second to none. And you
think you can “drink until you’re Irish?“
There are clear parallels with other
forms of cultural appropriation across campus.
Indeed, a friend of mine was challenged
last year by a ‘Chief’ supporter who
asked, “if the ‘Chief’ is culturally insensitive,
how come you never find an Irish person
who objects to ‘Unofficial’?” In answer,
here’s one Irish man who does.
I don’t expect ‘unofficial’ St Patrick’s Day to
go away any time soon—the bars have too
much to lose. But perhaps students could just
reflect a little. And remember if you really
want to be drunk by 9am, you probably don’t
need to use my culture as an excuse or theme.

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