The Washington Post

St. Patrick’s Day: Everyone is Irish, for better or for worse

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. But many of the people drinking green beer on March 17 will be full of paddywhackery. That’s the word for the act of playing up Irish attributes that are stereotypical to the point of offensiveness: Leprechaun hats, any of these T-shirts and binge-drinking — a.k.a. your typical St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in any town with a university.

View Photo Gallery: As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, the Post movie critic compiled a list of her favorite movies set in, relating to or starring actors from Ireland.

Joe Lee, a professor of Irish studies at New York University, says that honorary Irishness “depends on motive and manner.”

“[It’s] inclusive if it’s a sign of respect; annoying (or at least unfortunate) if its a sign of herd mentality,” he said in an e-mail. “Good if maturely celebrated; bad if just an excuse for moronic drunkenness for creatures steeped in stereotype.”

Irish people — and Irish Americans who take St. Patrick’s Day seriously, as an actual celebration of Saint Patrick, may be disappointed each year to see the same stereotypes rehashed. But others feel that Irish identity, stereotypes and all, belongs to those who have actually been born into it.

On the Democratic Underground message boards, an Irish commenter began a lengthy thread about how he hates the idea that everyone is Irish on March 17. “It's an exclusive club!” replied another.

Members of Reddit altered a popular meme — Scumbag Steve, a picture of a young man surrounded by a caption that explains why he’s a jerk — for St. Patrick’s Day. The caption reads: “Makes ginger jokes all year. Suddenly Irish this weekend.” Ginger is the sometimes derogatory term for Irish people’s red hair.

On the other hand, some Irish people love the inclusiveness of the holiday and don’t feel disrespected by paddywhackery. The Associated Press interviewed the Celtic Women, who perform a blend of classically inspired Irish and adult contemporary music, and they said they appreciated the Americanized celebrations.

“The decorations in the bars and restaurants and the buildup makes us very proud to be Irish,” Susan McFadden, the newest member of the musical group, said Thursday.

“The green beer and dyeing your rivers green — we don’t even do that (in Ireland),” violinist Mairead Nesbitt said, adding: “(I love) the fashion. ... All the great hats and really, really cool-looking stuff that go with it.”

It’s not a new phenomenon, either. In 1950, the Post published a letter to the editor from Helen Herbert Peck that read: “One of the interesting aspects of St. Patrick’s Day is that nearly everyone celebrates it. Yet the real reason for the cosmopolitan character of the day on which we honor St. Patrick is because of the great Irish diaspora. Her exiled children have roamed the world over.”

Readers of Irish ancestry: Are you annoyed by paddywhackery on St. Patrick’s Day? Other readers: Do you consider yourself honorarily Irish on St. Patrick’s Day?

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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