What makes a true “Irishman?”

IrishFull disclosure: I am only very slightly kind of part Irish. Technically I am 1/16th Irish. I know, that is really not a whole lot of Irish in me. Yes I have red hair and some times am too quick to get angry, but how does 1/16th allow me to call myself an Irish-Jewish-American? It is the problem that many Irish-Americans face (as evident of the picture above). With St Paddy’s day yesterday I figured it was a good time for me to write about how I feel the pride, even if I do not have the blood line to back it up.

There are many reasons that I was happy to claim I am an Irish American. I have been there (County Cork), I like Dropkick Murphy’s, and I live in Boston. In addition, I am white, I like bland potatoes, I used to be quick to anger,  and I could keep listing. How could I not be Irish, right? To understand why I cling to my 1/16th as a defining part of my identity it is important to think of why everyone else also claims to be Irish when they are 1/42nd Irish.

One reason why people might love Ireland is because it happens to be (in this writers opinion) the most beautiful country with rolling green hills, fresh air, and incredible small villages. But this is probably not the case since many people who are proud to be “Irish,” have never been to the country itself. Maybe it is because Irish people have a plethora of things others want: green beer, patriotism, or a romanticized image. Lets take these three possibilities one by one.

Green BeerGreen Beer: With St. Patrick’s day a hazy memory for most, green beer encompasses what Ireland is, namely: the color green and alcohol. This is of course not unfounded, the Irish generally like their drink. There are many pubs in Ireland and with the recent push for a law which allows drunk driving and the fact that Ireland invented Guinness, all signs point to alcohol. So it is not that outlandish that people associate Ireland with alcohol but there is of course a deeper level than an affinity for booze. I mean, people love booze but would they categorize themselves based on it? Hell, Polish people love their vodka, Germans love their beer, and the Americans (specifically Kentucky) love their bourbon. Why are people not people claiming to be from Kentucky?

Patriotism: Ireland is known as a country where patriots rule supreme. They are “Irishmen and Proud!” A great example is their music. It may be because of the struggles their country has faced or for any number of reasons.
The song entitled “Irish Song (True Irishman)” reeks of pride in the nation of Ireland and the fact that the Irish have gotten through some of the toughest times and oppressions known to man. The nationalism manifests itself in not only their incredible music (and I do mean incredible, you want to relax? turn on harps or bagpipes). The nationalism also comes through in sports (see the Irish Rugby or Soccer fanIrish Fanss…yeah that is intensity) and in everything else Irish. The pride that seeps from true Irishmen is appealing on so many levels, if only to say that you are in “the club.” I have many a time refereed to myself as an Irishman and I will continue to do so, even though I recognize that my 1/16th doesn’t really-totally count. The Irishman has an image of overcoming any obstacle, and then settling down to have a pint. Who doesn’t want that image of themselves? However, that can’t be the whole reason why people assume the image of the Irish is great, it is reinforced by what we call “Hollywood.”

Hollywood has romanticized the image of the Irish by creating a drinking, smoking, fighting Irishman as the symbol for all things Irish American. In the last 20 years here are some of the mains ones to come out with that image: (Click the pictures for the trailer)

GoodFellas (1990)
King of New York (1990)
Millers Crossing (1990)
State of Grace (1990)Millers Crossing Irish
Backdraft (1991)
Mad Dog Coll (1992)
Patriot Games (1992)
The Brothers McMullen (1995)
Celtic Pride (1996)
Last Man Standing (1996)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Angela’s Ashes (1999)
The Boondock Saints (1999)
Frequency (2000)
Thirteen Days (2000)
Gavin’s Way (2001)
25th Hour (2002)
Gangs of New York (2002)
In America (2002)
Road to Perdition (2002)
Mystic River (2003)
Ladder 49 (2004)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Four Brothers (2005)
A History of Violence (2005)
The Departed (2006)The Departed
Beantown (2007)
Black Irish (2007)
Gran Torino (2008)
The Fighter (2010)
The Town (2010)
Kill the Irishman (2011)

Those are some examples of movies with strong Irish men in the leading role who are “true men.” To qoute one of the worst movies of all time – the Boondock Saints 2:

“Rocco: I am so sick of all of this self help, twelve step, leftover hippie generation bullshit!
Connor MacManus: Now they don’t want you to do anything, right? Just sit there. Don’t drink.
Murphy MacManus: Don’t smoke. Don’t drive fast.
Conor, Murphy, and Rocco: Kiss my ass!
Rocco: Fuck it! Do it all I say! Do you think Duke Wayne spent all of his time talking about his feelings with a fuckin’ therapist?
Connor MacManus: There’s no fucking way he did!
Rocco: John Wayne died with five pounds of undigested red meat in his ass. Now that’s a man! Real men hide their feelings. Why?
Conor, Murphy, Rocco: Because it’s none of your fuckin’ business!
Rocco: Men do not cry. Men do not pout. Men jack you in the fuckin’ jaw and say…
Greenly: Thanks for comin’ out.”
see the scene here

The image of the hard-hitting-fast-drinking-Irishman is one that has been taken by Hollywood and exploited, for lack of a better word. I am not a true Irishman, I admit that, but I love many things about the country of Ireland.

What all of these things come down to are the dangers of stereotyping. I am not saying stereotypes are always false, nor am I saying they are always right. What I am saying is that it is up to each person to determine what makes something authentic. If you are born in Ireland, you are Irish. If you don’t do something deemed “Irish” (aka fight, drink, etc.) you can still consider yourself Irish. My advice is to not put yourself into a box.


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