Slurring the Irish

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, March 06, 2012 No Comment(s)

Restaurateur/entertainer John Day likes this one: Irish man walks out of a bar. It’s possible, you know.

Now that’s getting to be an old one, but we tell it again before jokes about the Irish and their national art, which is pub crawling, become banned as a hate crime. There are predictions that the end of the world is coming this year, and maybe one of the signs of impending doom is that the Ancient Order of Hibernians has organized a protest against a major clothing line producing disgusting shirts that portray the Irish as a bunch of drunks. At first, we thought this might be an Irish joke.
The wording of the protest letter, printed in March, the month of St. Patrick, obviously came from a sober man. Among the phrases: “There are those few who use (St. Patrick’s) day as an excuse to overcelebrate but that does not give you or anyone else the right to defame and debase a whole race of people by selling the garbage that you display in your stores.”
We will not mention the clothing line so brutally defamed; that would only create a run on its stores as people slug each other to buy these shirts before they are banned by law and thereby become collector’s items, reminders of a time when a good ethnic slur was only a joke, not a crime.
The sad part of this episode is that when the least offendable ethnic group in this country of terrible ethnic groups gets offended, it could spell the end to ethnic slurs as we have come to love them. The Irish may once have been sensitive, but that was a long time ago when they came half starved (the lucky ones) and became the first major ethnic group to crack the American caste system, which was dominated by white Anglo Saxons. Not counting the Indians, of course.
Break in the Irish did, and when the original settlers saw the groups that poured in after them, mostly too late to follow the Irish Brigade up the bloody slopes of Fredericksburg, people whose chief faults were a funky form of English and a fondness for strong drink didn’t look so bad. And it reached a point where there were no tasteless names that actually offended the Irish or were considered too harmful to even say in public. The Irish did more than melt in the great melting pot; they practically became the pot. Irish names, quaint to the gentry decades before, would become American when worn by prominent persons. Sean, Colin and Ryan became so common that people did not even think of them as foreign. More recently, thanks to a couple of celebrities, Liam and Aidan became popular. Aidan one year was among the most common names for newborn lads. Immigrants to the country, seeking to become American, took mainstream names they never knew as Irish. That did not happen with names such as Gaetano, Bruno or Hyman.
Thus the Irish became uniquely unoffendable. Is 140 a high IQ? For a whole Irish village? And one we wrote about our own family: What do you get when you crossbreed Irish and Germans? Extremely disciplined alcoholics. The association which disturbed the Hibernians is firmly rooted in American culture. Irish pub is as American as Italian restaurant.
And naturally people are going to have fun with that. Irish man gets off the boat in New York, walks into the nearest pub and orders two martinis. “Why,” asks the curious bartender, “do you order two martinis instead of a double?” Paddy says, “one’s for me and the other’s for me brother back in Ireland.”
Bartender tries not to smile and says OK. This goes on every day for weeks. Then one day the guy comes in and orders only one martini. The bartender, concerned, asks, “is something wrong with your brother?”
“No,” says Paddy. “I’m on the wagon.”
Not all Irish jokes involve alcohol. Mick finds the lock on his front door broken. So he gets the door off its hinges and is carrying it down the street to a locksmith. He runs into his wife, who says, “you got the front door. How I be gettin’ into the house?”
“Oh,” he replies, “I left a window open.”
Write it down, as the Irish comic likes to say.
One fears that all this good fun might be endangered if any more Irish start taking themselves too seriously and start writing letters to the editor and boycotting those disgusting St. Patrick’s Day shirts. Just thinking about it makes one thirsty.
And one for me brother in Ireland.

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