Saturday, March 17, 2012

When Irish Eyes Are Rolling

Top of the morning to you!  It's looking to be a lovely St. Paddy's Day today.  As a fifth generation Irish American, today is one of my favorite holidays.  I love getting all dressed up in green, wearing a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish!" button, eating some corn beef and cabbage (okay, mostly just the corned beef, the cabbage is way too stinky), and generally acting like a hooligan while getting into some shenanigans.
That being said, I don't live up to many of the Irish stereotypes.  I did have red hair in my youth (It has darkened with age to a rich auburn now.), I am Catholic, and I do have a somewhat fearsome temper when sufficiently provoked.  But other than that, I think I steer clear of any of the truly offensive Irish stereotypes.  I don't drink.  I'm a skilled worker.  I am gainfully and steadily employed.  My family follows the typical 2.3 children per household model that is the average for Americans.  In short, you could say that I am proof that the stereotypes about the Irish are wrong.

I share this with you, not out of some misguided attempt to clear the good names of all Irish people everywhere or even because I care about the Irish stereotypes.  I share this with you because I am about to tell you a story about someone I know who believes all of these stereotypes and blatantly shared their bigotry with me last St. Paddy's Day.

Last March, I was sitting in church (with the choir) and quietly listening to the parish announcements.  The lector was sharing the plans for our church's St. Patrick's Day dinner and dance.  It's a big social event at my church with bagpipe players, local Irish folk singers, the requisite corned beef and cabbage, and dancing.  Basically, food, fun, and friends.  The dinner dance sells out of tickets amazingly quickly every year.  Everybody loves this event!  Well, almost everybody.

Those days are long gone or so I thought
As we are sitting there, one of the ladies in the choir leans over to me and says something to the effect of, "Why in the world are they having a party to celebrate the Irish?  Aren't they all just lazy drunks?  What a waste!"  Yeah, I went through a myriad of emotions there.  Incredulity, shock, disgust, and wait for it... you know it's coming... anger!  A)  I'm sitting in church which is normally the last place on Earth you expect to hear bigotry - so there's the incredulity and shock. B) I didn't know this woman too terribly well and I just got a whole new perspective into her psyche - so there's the disgust.  C) I am a fifth generation Irish American, who is sitting next to her fourth generation Irish American mother and our people have just been horribly slandered - ANGER!

I gave the woman a startled look and then proceeded to act like I was deaf.  I wanted to say a few choice words to her, but I was sitting in church and while I'm sure Father Connelly would have been on my side on this one, I wasn't trying to interrupt mass or be forcibly removed from church.  My mother and I sat in stony silence the rest of the way through mass.  Irish tempers have to be controlled with an iron will and silence was the only thing that was going to keep us from saying the thousand angry remarks flying through our heads.

After mass, the Anti-Irish woman came over to us and tried to explain her thinking.  Huge mistake!  I didn't want to hear the reasons why she believed celebrating St. Paddy's Day and the lazy, drunken Irish was sinful.  Again, words failed me or more accurately, I was still in church and throttling this woman wasn't going to win me any bonus points with God.  So, I took a WWJD moment and turned the other cheek.  I left without responding to her.

I wasn't quite this dressed up, but it was pretty close
The following Thursday, we had choir practice and more specifically, it was Saint Patrick's Day.  I came straight from work decked out in all my Irish finery.  Green Irish t-shirt, green Mardi Gras-type beads hanging around my neck, "100% Irish" button pinned to the left side of my shirt, "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" button pinned to the right side of my shirt, green four leaf clover socks, and green eyeshadow.  I was  stylin'! I know, it was way over the top, but remember I teach at an elementary school.  I wear extra green so that any kid who comes in without green on can borrow a piece of my flair and avoid a thousand pinches.

The Anti-Irish took in my apparel with a look of shock upon her face.  I sat down and she said, "So, I guess you really like Saint Patrick's Day." Just a small understatement there.  I proceeded to lower the boom on her about mine and my mother's Irish heritage.  I told her how much I loved the wearing o' the green and the general merriment of the day.  The Anti-Irish continued on like a bull in a china shop and asked me if I had already been out drinking with friends or if I was going out later to "get my Irish on".  OH MY GOD!  She had now lumped me into her stereotypes and assumed I was either already on my way to getting drunk or going to get wasted after choir practice.

In church or not, mother sitting next to me or not, I couldn't control the old Irish temper any longer.  I laid into this woman about her erroneous assumptions and stereotyping.  I was civil.  I didn't raise my voice, but I made sure she understood in no uncertain terms that I was proud of my heritage, that her opinions on the Irish were ridiculous, and that I didn't want to hear anymore bigoted comments about the Irish or any other nationality, ethnicity, or race, for that matter.  She responded by telling me that she was Polish and that there were a lot of untrue stereotypes about them, too.  -Stunned Silence-

I let it go.  No good was going to come of further conversation with this woman about family ancestries.  My mother and I said horrible things about the woman all the way home in the car, but nothing to her face or anyone else.

Fast forward to this week, as a "mea culpa" for last year the Anti-Irish got me a St. Paddy's Day present.  It was a green shot glass attached to a green beaded necklace.  Does anybody know where I can buy some Polish sausage?


  1. My friend Paddy O'Furniture confirmed all the stereotypes for me. But all he does is sit outside in the rain, so what does he know.

    So, are you drunk yet? I've got your favorite over at Mynd Castle, you know I do...

    All in good fun, enjoy your day.


  2. There is something quite wrong with people who don't understand that holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Cinco De Mayo are to be enjoyed by all, not only the Irish or Mexican.

    And, like totally, it is an excuse to party!

  3. I gave it much thought and with some help of Google I think you should let Ms. Anti-Irish get in touch with her Polish heritage and help her celebrate Smingus Dyngus. See explanation here,

    You have a few weeks before Easter Monday, so I think you have plenty of time to prepare to rain blessings upon her.

    Great blog!

    1. A holiday that encourages you to pour pitchers of water on each other for luck, huh? Interesting!