Plastic Paddies

by Maria on March 17, 2009

With the day that’s in it, I have a few random complaints to lash together into a not-too-coherent post. First off, it sucks to be Irish in the US on St. Patrick’s Day. Sorry, I know it’s churlish, and on my better days I agree that all the enthusiasm and interest and desire to party is actually quite sweet, but there it is. If I have to smile politely at one more person telling me they’re Irish (really? whip out your passport, then.), giggle appreciatively at one more crap – invariably Scottish – accent, or spend one more penny listening to Loreena McKinnit or some similarly bogus disneyfied version of Oirish music in the ladies’ loo of the Culver City Radisson where I am already suffering through a full-day operations planning session, I may stab someone. I know the day is not about celebrating Ireland, but about Irish Americans, who are a fine bunch of people now that their Noraid-supporting and parade-homophobia days are behind them. Another thing, no one I have ever known in Ireland has ever eaten corned beef. Ever. It’s the most Enid Blyton food there is, and not remotely Irish. Just saying.

Secondly, I groaned out loud when I heard on the radio that our current Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, was in the White House to meet President Obama. Again, I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but my immediate response was ‘Oh no, once he meets Biffo, Barack won’t think we’re cool any more!’. But I’ve got to hand it to Reuters. They’ve put out a picture of the ceremonial handing over of the green muppet skin where President Obama looks an even bigger nob than Brian Cowen.

Finally, Bono. A couple of weeks ago, Bono made a much-awaited statement to the Irish Times to explain and justify how he can spend so much time campaigning for more taxes to be spent on development aid while he and his U2 colleagues engage in brazen tax avoidance. U2 have been putting their royalties through the Netherlands to avoid them being taxed in Ireland. (An income cap has been added to the previous system where artists based in Ireland didn’t have to pay tax on any royalties.) Bono made one main argument and also gave what is likely the real explanation of the discrepancy between his political stance and his personal finances. The argument: by expatriating profits to minimize their tax burden, U2 is simply part of a “system that has benefited the nation greatly” when “some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue. . . created a financial system that prospered the entire nation”.

The idea is that just as many companies came to Ireland to take advantage of our low corporate tax regime, U2 is right to move part of its business to a lower royalty tax regime in the Netherlands. Bono says it’s hypocritical of Irish people to criticise him for avoiding tax because Ireland as a country has profited from other people’s tax avoidance. It’s a superficially appealing argument, but it’s a bit far fetched to say that because some time in the 1980s, Irish policymakers figured out how to undercut the rest of the EU on attracting FDI, we can’t now point out the inconsistency of a tax-avoiding millionaire rock star campaigning for an increase in government development aid. But the real problem with Bono’s defense was articulated in another context today.

Asking ‘where is the shame?’ of AIG execs and their brethren, Ezra Klein says “the virtuous selfishness prized by the market has been absorbed as an ethical philosophy”. He quotes a Matt Yglesias post that says “We’ve somehow managed to construct something of a post-shame society in which elites have convinced themselves that the rational agent model of human behavior is not just a useful modeling tool, but an ethical guidebook. There’s something to be said for the idea of a sense of honor and personal responsibility. ” Too true. The Edge defends himself saying U2 isn’t breaking the law. That’s not the point; just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical.

But the real explanation for Bono’s aversion to paying his fair share is probably this:

“It hurts when the criticism comes in internationally. But I can’t speak up without betraying my relationship with the band – so you take the shit.”

U2 is a band of five, including Paul McGuinness, and Bono’s affairs are tied up with his colleagues. He can’t make a unilateral decision to pay more taxes, even if he wanted to. Fair enough, it’s a dilemma for him. To which the answer is, sort it out or suck it up.

To be perfectly clear to Bono (who I have a lot of time for), and other philanthropic/political activist millionaires:

1 Philanthropy is not an acceptable substitute for paying your fair share of tax. You earn more, you pay more. End of.

2 No, your time is not more valuable than your money. Pay up.

3 If you, the super-wealthy, object to paying tax because you don’t think governments are the best spenders of money, then roll up your sleeves and get involved in improving the policy and the processes.

(Which, in fairness, Bono is doing, and I have a lot of sympathy for him feeling damned if he does/doesn’t.)

Wrapping up, the only thing worth me being genuinely grumpy about today (apart from the ops off-site) is that, dancing and shillelaghs aside, Ireland is every bit as venal as everywhere else on the planet. We just do it with an occasionally charming manner and arguably cute accent.

And for what it’s worth, I propose we give green back to the Jamaicans. It’s a dreadful colour on people as pale as the Irish, and makes us look as if we all still have TB.



Colin Danby 03.18.09 at 12:06 am

Great post. What is *up* with that picture?


Maria 03.18.09 at 12:10 am

Who knew that was statistically possible? A good picture of Cowen and a bad one of Obama. In the same universe, let alone the same photo.


nolo 03.18.09 at 12:12 am

Excellent cranky post. And corned beef and cabbage is most definitely an Irish American thing that no one with any sense would associate with the Old Sod. It’s an artifact of the intersection of the Oirish and the Jews in that grand melting pot, New York City, and quintessentially American. Not that the horde of Irish Americans here in lovely Cleveland, Ohio have any sense to them . . .


jonm 03.18.09 at 12:19 am

Actually, I’ve gotten to quite enjoy the whole kitch-ness of the day; I mean the crowds marching bands in New York, who ranged from as authentic a bunch of redheads and potato faces as you could wish, through to leotard and sequin-bedecked high schoolers of every color really did seem to be having a good time, and it is hard to begrudge anyone that.

The thing that sticks in my craw is that (in NYC anyhow), the organisers are 100% happy, still – after F**ing 9/11! – to have a bunch of slack-jawed terrorists as the stars of their show, but oh no, it would be such an awful thing to admit to having any gays in the parade.


rea 03.18.09 at 12:34 am

Well, as a great sage once pointed out, it isn’t easy being green . . .


riffle 03.18.09 at 12:38 am

I’ll eat corned beef and cabbage on or about St Patty’s day, mainly because I like it if done right. But I don’t associate it with Ireland.

I call the dish what it is: New England Boiled Dinner.

Wonderful post.


P O'Neill 03.18.09 at 12:46 am

The official White House photo shows Cowen as someone who didn’t know to look in the closet at the Mayflower for an iron.

Note also that our Northern friends chose not to wear the vile weed (“shamrocks”) on their jacket. And that Peter Robinson was having nothing to do with the green shite.

And you’re right about Bono. He’s in JP McManus territory now, trying to substitute philantropic activity for tax obligations.


harry b 03.18.09 at 1:17 am

Surely Bono has a simple solution, which is to figure out how much tax he, personally, would be paying if the royalties were flowing through Ireland, and hand it over. Or is that what you are saying? Better still, he could figure out how much he would be paying in an appropriately progressive tax regime, and pay that.

To whom should he pay it? The Irish government? Or Oxfam? The system wrongly gives him control over the money. But, he has control; should he do what the system ought to require him to do (pay to the Irish government), or should he use it the best way possible?

You’d have been much more pissed off if you’d seen my 12 year old leaving the house today in 15 shades of green and a ludicrous leprecaun hat on. I was mortified.


Xanthippas 03.18.09 at 1:26 am

If I have to smile politely at one more person telling me they’re Irish (really? whip out your passport, then.), giggle appreciatively at one more crap – invariably Scottish – accent, or spend one more penny listening to Loreena McKinnit or some similarly bogus disneyfied version of Oirish music in the ladies’ loo of the Culver City Radisson where I am already suffering through a full-day operations planning session, I may stab someone.

How annoying. For a similar experience, try telling someone you’re Native American. After you are told that they’re Native American too (usually via an ancestor who is invariably some-part Cherokee, at least in this part of the country) they’ll ask you what it was like to go to college for free thanks to government scholarships. Fortunately, many Native American tribes have a perfectly legal tax avoidance arrangements going on with the respective states they occupy, so at least we don’t have to worry about the hypocrisy of any future Native American Bonos.


Antti Nannimus 03.18.09 at 2:00 am


There is nothing hypocritical about avoiding payment of taxes by any strategy that is legal even in a tax system you may favor. No person has a moral or ethical obligation to pay any more taxes than they legally owe. Avoiding taxes is a right, and even a personal responsibility to yourself and your family. Evading taxes you legally owe is a crime. There’s a difference.

Every person is ethically entitled to do the best for themselves and their family within the system we are given, whether we like that system or not. One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Have a nice St. Paddy’s Day!


John Emerson 03.18.09 at 2:16 am

First off, it sucks to be Irish in the US on St. Patrick’s Day.

My sister-in-law, who’s been in the hospitality industry most of her life, says that St. Pat’s day is the most wonderful day of the year if you like to watch people puking on themselves. It seems to me that you are a bit lacking in he milk of human kindness.


J. Otto Pohl 03.18.09 at 2:17 am

Corned beef was a substitute for Irish bacon. They evidently got it from the Jews living in NY who obviously did not eat pork. I am not sure why the Irish did not have butchers of their own capable of producing Irish bacon. Nor do I know why the Jews had some sort of monopoly on meat products. Why not find some pork cut close to Irish bacon from Christian butchers? But, that is the story I have always heard about the change from Irish bacon to corned beef.


astrongmaybe 03.18.09 at 2:27 am

Couldn’t agree more: la fiesta de los micko-americanos borrachos is the worst day of the year, hands down, to be in New York and from Ireland. Green for nausea.


Tor Hershman 03.18.09 at 3:57 am

Soooooo that’s why Mother Superior Conan O’Brien ain’t on right now.


nick s 03.18.09 at 6:15 am

As an appropriately ironic gesture, my wife bought a green-hat tinsel wreath and left it in the office of her Irish colleague. The aim was to buy the tackiest, least-appropriate bit of “celebratory” tat imaginable. It was strangely cathartic.

Previously, said Irish colleague had been in Chicago, where the celebrations — including the green-dyed-water stunt imported to the White House by Michelle Obama — are said to be particularly obnoxious, with lots of nth-genners and wannabes singing kill-the-English songs in Oirish bars.

(As for Bono, I’m reminded of his compatriot’s non-musical Live Aid performance.)


David Wright 03.18.09 at 6:28 am

Wow, a post which manages to unify the crochety-old-man “otta my yard” ethos with the upper-middle-class elitist-academic holdier/worldlier-than-thou ethos. Quite a feat!


Nick Valvo 03.18.09 at 8:08 am

@15. Nice hit tonight. Or are you some other fellow?


otto 03.18.09 at 9:16 am

Happening to be in Dublin yesterday, the Plastic Paddies most in view were the ‘strong men’ walking in the parade with giant plastic dogs, cows, harps, refrigerators and the like supposedly being held aloft by their brawny irish strength. But it was a good day for taking the Dart to Howth, followed by a seafood lunch and cliffside walk in the sun.


Tracy W 03.18.09 at 9:20 am

On the ethics of tax-paying – something puzzles me. Governments often use tax systems to try to discourage or reward certain behaviour. For example, alcohol and tobacco consumption are taxed with the stated aim of reducing consumption, and both a carbon tax and a carbon cap-and-trade system are advocated on the basis that increasing the price of CO2 emissions means that people will in aggregate reduce their consumption of said emissions.
I don’t smoke, but if I in response to a rise in the excise on alcohol drink less, and in response to a rise in energy prices switch the heating off more, clearly I am avoiding taxes legally. But what is the ethical analysis of this situation? Am I ethically obliged to pay the taxes I would have been paying otherwise?
And how about the non-smoking thing? Over my lifetime I have probably not paid thousands of dollars in taxes as a result of not smoking.
And of course the government can reward activities through the tax system too – how about tax breaks for installing solar hot water heating systems? Is someone who takes advantage of those ethically obliged to pay more in taxes?
On the other side, I have some money in New Zealand where it is paying a lower marginal tax rate than what it would be on if I moved it with me. However having the money available in NZ is useful for personal convenience. How much hassle should I ethically endure to pay higher taxes? Does it make a difference that previous NZ governments spent quite a bit on my healthcare and education?


jay bee 03.18.09 at 10:03 am

#7 Not only do Biffo and/or his people not know how to use an iron, they haven’t told him to have his breakfast up in his hotel room. Instead RTE news on Monday showed Biffo at the business/industry (breakfast?) – he was sitting beside a nice man from Calvin Klein or whatever were making some jobs announcement or something. As the cameras were rolling Biffo was shown shovelling the grub into his gob unlike the man from Calvin Klein who has mastered the art of politely pretending to eat while not actually eating.
What do Biffo’s media handlers actually do if they can’t avoid this kind of embarrassing stuff?


flo 03.18.09 at 10:48 am

When are you coming back to Ireland. We need your clarity. The population is depressed and confused and the media is hysterical and all we can do is blame Bono.


mpowell 03.18.09 at 10:55 am

Philanthropy is not an acceptable substitute for paying your fair share of tax. You earn more, you pay more. End of.

What is the justification for this position? It does not seem sensible to me at all. As Harry points out, suppose that Bono decides to resolves his band related dilemma by simply determining how much tax he should pay and handing that money over to the government. But wait! Suppose he has a better use for the money – say development assistance. Surely, there is no moral good that comes from funneling that money through the inefficient government? And if he is specifically spending money on things that he is advocating higher taxes to fund, it hardly seems hypocritical.

In general, I think that private donations are always a justification for tax avoidance. The only caveat, is that you have to demonstrate that first, you would not have been making these donations otherwise, and that, secondly, you can establish that this money is really being better spent. So if you have some cause in Africa that you are concerned about, I don’t think you have the moral right to neglect the interests of your fellow countrymen. But if you are, for example, living in the United States and disugsted with our bloated military budget and making private donations to support sending poor kids to private school in a dollar efficient manner… I don’t see how minimizing your tax burden to fund your private donations could be criticized on an ethical basis.


ajay 03.18.09 at 10:57 am

First off, it sucks to be Irish in the US on St. Patrick’s Day.

Just tell them you’re actually Welsh, and you’re deeply offended to be mistaken for an Irishwoman, especially since the Irish massacred your grandparents during the invasion of Swansea in 1932. That’ll confuse the blighters.


Slocum 03.18.09 at 11:23 am

And how about the non-smoking thing? Over my lifetime I have probably not paid thousands of dollars in taxes as a result of not smoking.

Right. And within the U.S. what of people who, say, move out of California because of the high taxes? Is such a move morally wrong? Does a sense of ethics require that they forward what they would have paid back to Sacramento from their new residence in a different state?

I have a retired relative who splits time during the year between Florida and Michigan. For tax reasons, it works out better to be a Florida resident than a Michigan resident, so that’s what he does. Is that unethical? Does justice demand that he pick the higher tax state rather than the lower one as his official residence?

It all seems rather absurd to me.


2th&nayle 03.18.09 at 11:25 am

St Patrick’s Day never held any particular significance for me until I learned the story of the ‘Batallon de San Patricio’. For some reason that was something I felt I could hang my hat on spiritually, you might say. Which is odd because I’m not Catholic, I’m not Irish, and not Mexican. I’m am however part Cher-o-kee on my mothers side. (h/t Zant.)


Preachy Preach 03.18.09 at 11:38 am

Just tell them you’re actually Welsh,

Like St Patrick!


Davis X. Machina 03.18.09 at 11:52 am

Schoolteacher to the core, I wear black, not green, and give the wee ones an earful about An Gorta Mór, or early Irish monasticism and the preservation of literacy in late antiquity, depending.

Teachable moments. After that, they never ask twice ‘Why aren’t you wearing green?”


Fortuna 03.18.09 at 12:13 pm

Not to be a mood breaker on the orginal post, but the corned beef I had yesterday was pretty darn good whether there’s anything Irish about it or not.


Henry 03.18.09 at 12:18 pm

My response was to post the YouTube version of “The Wee White Turban,” then note the connection to “The Broad Black Brimmer,” sung by The Wolfe Tones, also on YouTube, then explain to those who don’t know why that band’s name was funny (it still is to some of us) by linking to the Wikipedia bio of Wolfe Tone.

Of course that didn’t prevent some people from responding with the worst sort of stage Irish sing song (“mither” and all that) but unfortunately I haven’t worked out the device that lets me send 50,000 volts as an email message to the offending parties. When I do, David Wright will be one of the first I think of.


Steve LaBonne 03.18.09 at 12:22 pm

Not that the horde of Irish Americans here in lovely Cleveland, Ohio have any sense to them . . .

How ungrateful, after all that the community has contributed to Cleveland by way of mobsters, crooked politicians and semi-literate judges.


Katherine Farmar 03.18.09 at 1:40 pm

St Patty’s day

ARGH ARGH ARGH stop it it’s like nails on a blackboard

St Patrick’s Day <- acceptable
St Paddy’s Day <- acceptable
St Pat’s <- acceptable
Paddy’s Day <- acceptable, and probably the most common here in Dublin

… ah, Irish-Americans. I’m normally all about peace, love and understanding, but Irish-Americans make me want to scream.

I used to have corned beef sandwiches at school when I was a wee small child in Junior Infants. And this past Ash Wednesday, for the first time ever, I ate corned beef and cabbage with mashed potato at Green19, the new hip restaurant on Camden Street. It was delicious, and the vanilla daiquiri I washed it down with just made it better.


MH 03.18.09 at 1:48 pm

Come now, we Irish-Americans are a diverse group. We also outnumber the actual Irish-Irish by a fairly large margin, so you’re stuck.


mollymooly 03.18.09 at 1:50 pm

no one I have ever known in Ireland has ever eaten corned beef. Ever.

I know Maria doesn’t know me, but FWIW, my Irish mammy, a home economics teacher, occasionally substituted corned beef for bacon in the + potatoes + cabbage/turnip + parsley sauce dinner. But bacon was more common and more “Irish”.

I’ve just checked the website, and they’re selling Corned Silverside at €7.99/kg

the ‘strong men’ walking in the parade with giant plastic dogs, cows, harps, refrigerators and the like supposedly being held aloft by their brawny irish strength.

Riiight. I saw the harps, fridges, etc, bobbing by; but from row ten of the crowd, the brawny carriers were hidden and the symbolism was mysterious.

Paddys Day has changed a lot in Ireland lately. It’s now St Patrick’s Festival, spanning a long weekend, with a parade that rises above the level of Father-Tedness we remember from our youth. On the day itself, Dublin in the afternoon is full of families and foreigners in Green leprechaunerie. Gardaí check bags for alcohol at the entrance to Stephen’s Green. At dusk, the polite clear off home and leave the centre to hordes of surly adolescents drinking canned beer.


otto 03.18.09 at 2:08 pm

I saw the harps, fridges, etc, bobbing by; but from row ten of the crowd, the brawny carriers were hidden and the symbolism was mysterious.

I also had no idea what it meant.


Bloix 03.18.09 at 2:14 pm

St Patrick’s Day in America is not about being Irish. It’s about being Irish-American. You’re not Irish-American. It’s not your holiday. The Irish did not and do not eat corned beef and cabbage. But the Irish-Americans did. What’s your problem with that?


harry b 03.18.09 at 2:22 pm

Surely St. Patrick’s day in America is abut pretending to be Irish-American.


Russell Arben Fox 03.18.09 at 2:33 pm

Surely St. Patrick’s Day in America is about pretending to be Irish-American.

And sometimes not even that. My wife and daughters and I–who are pretty much English and Scandinavian all the way back–get into St. Patrick’s Day in a big, revoltingly bourgeois and middle-American NPR-listener-style kitschy sort of way. The girls wear green, we have lamb stew and soda bread, we play the Chieftains, we decorate, we stay up late and watch “The Commitments” or “Into The West” or some other piece of cinematic bathos. Pathetic, yes, but we love it. What can I say? We get into holidays around here. (Next up: Cinco de Mayo!)


Thirsty Gargoyle 03.18.09 at 2:38 pm

I’ve eaten corned beef at home many a time, Maria, and indeed was taught how to corn it by our butcher while working in a SuperValu in Clondalkin. It’s very good, though I’d never associate with St Patrick’s Day – I’m sure we’ve never had it then – and it has very little resemblance to the reconstituted mush they serve in tins in England, and is perhaps the Enid Blyton food of which you speak.


Russell Arben Fox 03.18.09 at 2:44 pm


Irish Americans, who are a fine bunch of people now that their Noraid-supporting and parade-homophobia days are behind them.

Really? Has Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexuals of Boston been overturned or rendered moot? I thought the parades in New York and Boston still excluded gay Irish-American groups from participating.


harry b 03.18.09 at 2:45 pm

I’m content just pretending to be English.


harry b 03.18.09 at 2:45 pm

circa 1973


MH 03.18.09 at 2:54 pm

I would like to add that I’ve only seen “Noraid-supporting” once in my entire life despite being raised in a town that was founded by someone whose main claim to fame was his actively militant Fenianism.


Gene O'Grady 03.18.09 at 3:08 pm

I concur with generally disliking the American Saint Patrick’s Day. I do sometimes enjoy watching Filipinos and Chicanos get into the spirit of things with green sweaters and big smiles.

The one thing I know I like far less is this kind of lecture from huffy Irish people. With the exception of three extraordinarily wonderful Irish priests I was privileged to know and work with, I can think of no group more insular, smug, obnoxious, self-centered and condescending than recent Irish immigrants. Not an expert, but I have a strong sense that Irish Americans (a group in which I do not include myself, last name notwithstanding) are in fact closer to an older Irish tradition, and their denigrators were formed by the Republic ca. 1950-1970. Not a close choice I’m afraid.

And give up the corned beef and cabbage bit already.


nolo 03.18.09 at 3:30 pm

@ 30 — clearly, you’ve been to Cleveland . . .


Steve LaBonne 03.18.09 at 3:34 pm

@ 30—clearly, you’ve been to Cleveland . . .

I live and work next door in Lake County- where I’m also surrounded by my fellow Irish-Americans, mostly of an especially annoying dittohead, devoutly Catholic variety.


Ray 03.18.09 at 3:39 pm

‘Recent Irish immigrants’ are unlikely to have been formed by ‘the Republic ca. 1950-1970’


MH 03.18.09 at 3:57 pm

I think we can all agree that Cleveland sucks, but I’m fairly certain that is because it is Cleveland, not because of Irish immigrants.


Patrick 03.18.09 at 4:06 pm

1. When I was a bartender, we referred to March 17 as “the amateur hour.”

2. I live in a college town, and we’re on spring break, so it was safe to go to my favourite bar and have a Guinness. (More because it was a gorgeous spring day than the date, btw.) One the one hand the place had a sign that said, “Happy St. Patty’s day.” OTOH, they were playing the Pogues when I walked in.

3. When I tell folks that my grandfather was in the RIC until independence, when he emigrated, it confuses the hell out of them, not because of the politics, but because they know fuck all about the history.



JM 03.18.09 at 4:27 pm

First off, it sucks to be Irish in the US on St. Patrick’s Day.

[raises hand]

It sucks even to be Irish American in the US on St. Patrick’s Day. Makes me cringe.


rm 03.18.09 at 4:29 pm

Dudes, Cleveland rocks, right? At least, that’s the nostalgia one is allowed to feel if one, unlike Howard the Duck or Mr. Stress, left the city after high school. There may be a parallel there to Irish-American nostalgic kitsch. I speak as a nostalgic Cleveland-American.

I’m fascinated to learn that “Enid Blyton” can be deployed as an adjective. Does it mean something like “completely and totally English,” something akin to the American adjective “whitebread”?


Nick 03.18.09 at 4:34 pm

parade-homophobia days
Erm, is it just me or shomething misshing in transhlation here shurely? Orange? Pink? Both? Neither? Or should I get/come out more?


Nick 03.18.09 at 4:35 pm

Just tell them you’re actually Welsh,

Like St Patrick!
No no no . . . he was Cumbrian (which was Welsh before ‘Welsh’ was invented by the English . . . .


nolo 03.18.09 at 4:44 pm

Ha!! Steve, I live and work in Cleveland, and my bet is once the Ohio Supreme Court gets rid of the residency rule, you’re gonna see a lot more of your fellow Irish-Americans of the annoyingly semi-dittohead safety forces variety (also known as my current neighbors) moving out your way. My next door neighbor, the Irish-American cop with the irritating collection of pro-IRA t-shirts, already has his “for sale” sign up.


Preachy Preach 03.18.09 at 4:45 pm

Nick> I was dreading someone being pedantic enough to pick that up…


Steve LaBonne 03.18.09 at 5:13 pm

nolo, can’t get much worse than at present, because I’m a forensic scientist and most of my colleagues (well, the ones who aren’t non-Irish, Protestant dittoheads) and most of the local cops I deal with all the time already fit this description. Sigh.

MH, I like Cleveland, so a big Bronx cheer for you!


mollymooly 03.18.09 at 5:24 pm

Isn’t Patty a girl’s name? “Paddy”, please.


harry b 03.18.09 at 5:27 pm

Wasn’t famous anti-terrorist campaigner Peter King (R-NY) a Noraid supporter?


Wax Banks 03.18.09 at 6:33 pm

I’ve lived in Boston for a decade and change, am rather lapsed in my Catholicism. I finally began to understand St. Patrick’s Day this year while rewatching the Sopranos episode in which Tony travels to Italy to meet with the head of The Family. See, Tony’s embarrassed because all the guys in his crew are uncultured vile cunts, and the ‘real’ Italians make fun of him for it, but then It’s Real Funny how it turns out all the Euro family members are just ‘cultured’ vile cunts, plus they’re moldering in the Old Country and risibly pleased with just how deep their roots go blah blah blah, and Tony gets exactly what he wants (Furio) by recognizing what they can’t, i.e. cuntistry falls outside any one nation’s law or purview.

Of course then Furio wants to romance Tony’s wife and it’s just, wow, drama!! But then instead of Tony having to kill him like on a network channel Furio just semi-anticlimactically leaves because it’s not TV it’s HBO, and Tony and Carmela fight with swear words and he doesn’t hit her. Which is how you know he’s the hero.



Laura Wimberley 03.18.09 at 6:44 pm

@12 J. Otto Pohl

In urban America, corned beef was cheaper than pork (thanks to the Western grazing/Chicago stockyards). In Ireland, where you could raise your own pig even on a small scrap of land, proper rashers were cheaper.


chris y 03.18.09 at 7:16 pm

Another thing, no one I have ever known in Ireland has ever eaten corned beef.

Just for the record, my wife’s grandmother was born on the south side of Dublin and lived there all the days of her 96 years. And her idea of a good day out was certainly to get a plateful of corned beef down her neck at the local carvery. Many hundreds of fellow Dubliners seemed to have had the same idea on the occasions I went with her. (It was damn good silverside, let it be said.)


vanya 03.18.09 at 7:30 pm

While this was a pretty entertaining post, and spot on about Bono, Gene’s (#42) right that it does smack of that recent Irish arrogance that Irish-Americans have grown heartily sick of. A country whose people can’t even speak their own language anymore is a pretty sad excuse for a nation. I’ve often wished I had Welsh or Basque ancestry instead of Irish ancestry, you know a “real” minority nation, not a sad tribe of semi-Englishmen. And don’t worry, there are still plenty of homophobic NORAID supporters left in Boston and NYC.


John Emerson 03.18.09 at 7:51 pm

Mollymooly 33:

People need to realize how much better mashed potatoes + mashed turnips is than either one is by itself. I add sauerkraut too, and lots of butter, of course.. With all three of them it’s a dish by itself, and not a side dish. Some bacon would be nice but isn’t necessary.

This sounds like a yuppy peasantish affectation, but it’s really not*. You could serve it in a restaurant. It’s a health food. But all three of the ingredients I use have a poverty-food reputation.

*Actually, it is in my case. I eat turnips (parsnips, actually,) to spite Brad DeLong. But it wouldn’t have to be.


otto 03.18.09 at 7:59 pm

It’s the Chinese food that’s good in Dublin these days.


Nick 03.18.09 at 8:34 pm

John Emerson:
“I eat turnips (parsnips, actually,)”

Wait, what? That’s like saying I eat cows (chickens, actually).


nick s 03.18.09 at 8:37 pm

(Next up: Cinco de Mayo!)

And Ocho de Galway.


nick s 03.18.09 at 8:41 pm

Wasn’t famous anti-terrorist campaigner Peter King (R-NY) a Noraid supporter?

Indeed. That re-invention after 9/11 was pretty fucking instant. The (awful) NY Sun noted it, but it’s apparently not polite to mention, especially when he’s parading round the cablenets on March 17th like a refugee from the Lucky Charms box.


P O'Neill 03.18.09 at 9:14 pm

If you think the recent Irish emigrants are smug, you should see the ones we left behind …. (joke)


John Emerson 03.18.09 at 9:14 pm

Turnips, parsnips, and rutabegas are all members of a group which I call “turnips.” They’re actually related to cabbage-type vegetables, but easily distinguishable. There are also those who say that rutabagas are a type of cabbage, not a type of turnip, and my response is this: anyone who says that is a mere analytical philosopher.

Suppose that parsnips are not turnips, and that rutabagas are cabbages, and that cows are turnips, and that cows are spherical. From this it can be shown that…..


michael e sullivan 03.18.09 at 9:35 pm

Saint Patrick’s day in the US isn’t even for Irish Americans, it’s just an excuse for every clueless frat-boy around to drink themselves sick.

I was in DC this past weekend with my wife and sister-in-law. On a normal weekend, such a trip would have involved at least one visit to the four provinces pub for some irish music and darts. Not last weekend. My god, we were seeing the green hats and green beer and green people from the second we got off the train early Saturday morning.

Mexican for us. And drag-queen led karaoke, of course.


Uncle Kvetch 03.18.09 at 9:43 pm

I know the day is not about celebrating Ireland, but about Irish Americans, who are a fine bunch of people now that their Noraid-supporting and parade-homophobia days are behind them.

Sadly, no.

Even as the parade began at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street at 11 a.m., a group of lesbian and gay Irish organizations demonstrated 13 blocks away, at 57th Street, criticizing the organizers for their policy barring gay groups (though not individuals) from marching.

The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, who is the city’s most prominent openly gay official, has stayed away from the parade since being told she could not wear even a pin, button or sash indicating gay pride.


Chris Bertram 03.18.09 at 9:47 pm

How much Irish do you have to have to qualify as an Irish American?


Matt 03.18.09 at 9:54 pm

_How much Irish do you have to have to qualify as an Irish American?_

I think that if you drank a Guinness once, or know someone who did, you qualify.


John Emerson 03.18.09 at 10:12 pm

70: An Irish name anywhere in the two preceding generations, or alcoholism + full honky status.

The American Irish-music scene has a bit of a problem with racists appropriating Irish music as the true white-people music.


Adam A 03.18.09 at 10:58 pm


Turnips and rutabagas are both brassicas, and hence, part of the cabbage family, but parsnips aren’t related at all. Parsnips are in the same family as carrots and parsley.

As far as how Irish you have to be to qualify as Irish-American, it’s an identity thing; almost any level is fine as long as you identify Irish-American. I have a number of cousins who are half Irish/half Italian, but they identify as Italian-Americans because that’s the heritage they feel closer to (despite them looking far more Irish).

To muddy things even further – despite being several generations out, I qualify for being recognized as an Italian citizen. If I can wave my Italian passport in front of you, do I get to call myself an Italian even though I’m not different from many Italian-Americans who happen to not qualify due to some technical limitation?


Adam A 03.18.09 at 11:04 pm

Also, the whole point of having public, ostentatious celebrations for St. Patrick’s Day was to make being Irish not a shameful thing (think Gay Pride Parades). America got from “Irish need not apply” to everyone and their mother claiming some Irish ancestry in a very short period of time – and these celebrations are part of the reason why.


dsquared 03.18.09 at 11:11 pm

I’ve often wished I had Welsh […] ancestry

truly the only day of the year anyone ever says this.

btw, the secret behind the photograph is presumably that deep down where it counts, Obama is also a buffalo


John Emerson 03.18.09 at 11:27 pm

OK , turnips and rutabagas are cabbages, in which case they’re not turnips, and the only *nips are parsnips.


Es-tonea-pesta 03.19.09 at 12:31 am

No, parsnips are carrots.


John Emerson 03.19.09 at 1:19 am

There are no *nips at all? Maybe we can call carrots “carnips.”

I suppose that you guys don’t think that rabbit should be in the poultry section, either, or shellfish in the fish section, and I bet you want tomatoes to go in the fruit section.

Well, your work is cut out for you.


John Emerson 03.19.09 at 1:29 am

Is turnip a form of rape, or is rape a form of turnip? Either way, you people should be ashamed of yourselves.

Convenient Finnish-English vegetable glossary. Rape is not indigenous to Finland, so they call it by the borrowed name “rapsi”.


Thers 03.19.09 at 2:48 am

Not sure what your problem with Bono is — the man’s a great innovator. “Some very clever people in the Government and in the Revenue. . . created a financial system that prospered the entire nation.” Of course, if you use “to prosper” as a transitive verb, you owe royalties.


roy belmont 03.19.09 at 6:08 am

Dave Marsh, one of the rare rock journalists with as much devotion to their craft as to the music itself, as well as the essential attitude, as well as chops and professional status, was going to debate el Bono, owing to interpersonal disagreement escalated to near hostility, evidently, viz. aid to Africa effectiveness thereof, but Bono pulled out, evidently, details at Rock&Rap Confidential.
Slocum et al:
The difference between Mr. Hewson’s tax dodgery and someone leaving California for someplace less burdensome in that regard, is that Bono’s image is what he sells, and his image is frontman for an Irish rock band.
It would be more analogous to talk about someone making millions singing about California, and singing from California in the poetic sense, but moving to Nevada to escape the income taxes California demanded.
Add to that Bono’s posture of giving and concern, lived up to or not in private life. Add to that his Zeligoid appearances at the side of disreputable public figures like Tony Blair etc.
That said, like Maria I’ll still cut him some slack.
Bob Geldof’s perky contentless aspirations to Ghandihood are another matter entirely.


mollymooly 03.19.09 at 11:57 am

@Adam A: “No Irish need not apply” (NINA to its friends) is alleged to be a folk myth, at least as regards the USA.

“No Irish Need Apply”: A Myth of Victimization


Nick 03.19.09 at 12:42 pm

John @79,

Rabbit can go in whatever section you like, but if you start claiming that they are actually turkeys, you might get a few raised eyebrows.

Besides, everyone knows that rutabagas are swedes.


John Emerson 03.19.09 at 4:16 pm

I just read a memoir by an Irish-American woman born around 1916 in Nebraska who says that she believed the “No Irish Need Apply” in her childhood. She didn’t say that it was posted, it just worked that way. She only started to be willing to associate with Protestants in high school, my mother being chief among them.

Reconstructing the past, I think that my mother’s mother was a kind of liberal for the day, by encouraging her kids to associate with Catholics and by befriending Catholics. She was born Lutheran and my grandfather Dutch Reformed, and when they married they became Congregationalists, which was the ambient Old Stock religion around there. These were all in themselves very severe religions, and anti-Catholic (and normally boycotted by the author of the memoir as a child), but I think that by mixing and switching that way my grandparents greatly diluted the nastiness.

In Minnesota the Irish and German Catholics feuded terribly, and the Irish ended up as the sole supporters of the Democratic Party when the Farmer-Labor Party made it a rump party. There still are strong German traditionalist Catholic groups in Minnesota.


John Emerson 03.19.09 at 4:22 pm

Nick, I’ve got it the grocery problem all figured out. Rabbits at the border between avian and mammalian, tomatoes at the border between fruits and vegetables, bivalves, cephalopods, and crustaceans in separate groups at one end or another of the fish (Seal meat would be at the other end next to the mammals), and rape, rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips between the cabbages and the carrots, in that order.


astrongmaybe 03.19.09 at 6:19 pm

One almost charming thing about the Bono statement is its political naivete: it was issued at a moment when the financial services sector is about the least popular set of institutions in the country. (The governing politicians, you suspect, are desperate for a few bankers and accountants to be jailed to take the heat off themselves.) And the true extent of tacit Irish state collusion with international tax evasion is becoming clear, e.g.


Adam A 03.19.09 at 7:04 pm


I would more favor a grocery organization system based on how the food is used, rather than its biological classification. I would put rape and cabbage near the other greens while I would put the turnips, parsnips and rutabagas by the other root vegetables. Since celeriac is a root vegetable, I would put it near the turnips despite it being from the same plant as celery. They probably wouldn’t be near the onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes since those are rarely refrigerated. In my local grocery store, the meat section is divided up by animal, so there isn’t a strict poultry vs. other meat divide – they just keep it all separate. Rabbit can probably fit easily in with a system like that.

mollymolly & John:
I had always been under the impression that there were explicit signs, though from the article, it sounds like I’m not the only one who was under that impression. I think that John’s point that even if there weren’t explicit signs doesn’t mean that there wasn’t real discrimination is spot on. I’ve always been amazed when I hear my grandmother’s stories about growing up. She’s half German/half Italian, but she has an Italian last name. She had lost of trouble when she was young because her aunt and uncle (her parents died when she was young) wouldn’t let her date Italians and no Germans would go out with her (though she did manage to get a few dates when she pretended that her last name was Heiser, her mother’s maiden name, but when they found out her real name, the dating always stopped).

Also, when we moved to Oklahoma in the 80s, my family had lots of trouble with the local population which didn’t like either Italians or Catholics, so it’s not hard for me to imagine that the Irish legitimately had it hard in the early 1900s.


astrongmaybe 03.19.09 at 7:52 pm

Anyone know anything about exogamy patterns among Irish-Americans? I have a skidillion Irish-American second- and third-cousins. When I went to a big family reunion on Long Island a few years back, with maybe 150-200 attending, it was very noticeable that the majority had married other Irish-Americans, but the rest had ONLY married Italian-Americans. Religion is obviously a big issue: no Hispanics isn’t such a surprise, but no Poles, no Catholics of German ancestry, etc. was striking too. Most of them were prosperous blue-collar suburban New Yorkers. Is the Irish-Italian thing is a well-known phenomenon or was that peculiar to the group and the region?


Steve LaBonne 03.19.09 at 8:10 pm

astrongmaybe, could it just be that in that part of the world most of the non-Irish non-Hispanic Catholics are Italian? Perhaps if your family was in Chicago you’d have more Polish in-laws. Just a wild guess.


John Emerson 03.19.09 at 8:25 pm

In MN Polish and German Catholics affiliated and were separate from Irish Catholics, who were regarded as too Americanized.

Regarding Italians, in some places (Portland OR) Italian-Americans were discriminated against during WWII, with a curfew at least. Oral communication by someone who was there.


MH 03.19.09 at 8:34 pm

In my experience, and my person genome, there is plenty of Irish-Italian mixing. My Italian mom and her siblings married Irish. The Irish side of my family tended to marry other Irish, but few of them lived anywhere near Italians.


astrongmaybe 03.19.09 at 8:35 pm

Hi Steve @90, no doubt that’s broadly right, but the relatively big sample size and the total absence of other out-marriages was pretty striking. Just wondered if there was anything else going on.


virgil xenophon 03.20.09 at 7:37 am

All this discussion about St. Pattrick’s Day and things Irish reminds me of that episode on the Sopranos where Paulie keeps having nightmares that he is in Hell–and Hell is an Irish pub called “The Emerald Piper” where it’s St. Patrick’s Day every day for all eternity. LOL! (FWIW, the closest I get to the Irish is my one quarter Scots-Irish McGrath part of the family ancestry–otherwise I’m heavily pure English–‘cept for the Dutch-German Glick part)


Nick 03.20.09 at 12:59 pm

John @86:

Beautiful! Now, what to do with the Jerusalem artichokes?


j 03.21.09 at 12:55 am

Steve & astrongmaybe:
Although my family has been in the US for a few generations, I’m almost completely descended from Irish and Polish Catholics. In my case, this is probably due (apart from the religion) mainly to Chicago’s ethnic geography — they were drawn from an Irish neighborhood that butted right up against a Polish one.

More relevant to the post: I just received what is perhaps the stupidest greeting card ever. I mean, it’s the thought that counts, but Dear Relative could have just called me on the phone and said hi.

[Cover text]:
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s Irish
Pati O’Chair
Jack O’Lantern
Stere O’Speaker
Steg O’Saurus

[Inside text]:
Hope your St. Patrick’s Day is Plenty O’Fun!


12th Bastard Son Of Dionysus 03.21.09 at 12:02 pm

Irish PM Brian Cowen left red-faced after delivering Obama speech at White House –


Kevin 03.21.09 at 3:13 pm

Churlish? Give me a break. Typical modern Irish arrogance and nastiness, more like it.

Get over it.

The entire day is about immigrants carving out space in America; doesn’t have anything to do with you. Don’t like it? Go to a Thai restaurant for lunch on the 17th.

Cowen and the other Dublin pols before him trooping to Washington are just a backdrop for an American ethnic show – just like the Mexicans who troop up to the White House for Cinco de Mayo a few weeks from now. That’s not to say they don’t pander to the Yanks – like generations of folks before them – looking for favors from “Rome.”

If they don’t want to play the role, they don’t have to.

As an Irish American, I’m tediously accustomed to the Irish claiming affinity with me when they want something from my country, from immigration or trade preferences to my “auld” tourist dollar, and giving me their provincial scorn when I might dare to notice that my grandparents had something vaguely in common with their own.

Stash your scorn and enjoy the local customs, or ignore them.


nick s 03.22.09 at 3:38 am

As an Irish American, I’m tedious– [snip]

Yes, Kevin. Now go and finish your Lucky Charms.


Sean 03.22.09 at 11:26 pm

It wouldn’t be St Patrick’s Day in America without the annual international wankfest of anti Irish-American bigotry and whiny complaints about green beer, plastic leprechaun hats and alleged support of terrorists that is as sure to surface at this time of year as the sun is to rise.

First of all, I could give a rat’s ass whether or not the self-appointed arbiters of what is or is not Irish consider Irish Americans or their culture to be authentically “Irish.” My father was Irish-born, as were almost all my relatives. My mother was Scottish, and I spent my life surrounded by people from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The culture I was raised in certainly seemed more “Irish” to me than a lot of what I see coming from the smug, bigoted and self-important West Brits and smarmy, lace curtain yuppie Dubliner types you often see in these discussions, who usually model their heavily affected behavior and attitudes on a very stereotypical and contrived view of the English upper class they wish to emulate, and not in a way that’s flattering to them or the English.

I should be recognized that the US is a multicultural society, and that Irish Americans have a distinct subculture here that is different than that of Mexican-Americans, Italian-Americans, American Blacks, and other ethnic groups. This culture is derived from Irish culture in much the same way Tejano culture is derived from Mexican culture. And while that culture may not seem authentically “Irish” to you any more than Tejano culture seems authentically Mexican to many people in Mexico, to us, the distinction is still very strong. It has nothing to do with what our ancestors went through 150 years ago, but our sense of ethnic identity today. If Irish Americans are ignorant of Ireland and its history, the Irish have certainly returned the favor.

Particularly galling to most of us Irish Americans is the idea that we all support terrorism, simply because we are critical of British rule in NI, or that we are “uninformed” if we do not agree with the received wisdom about NI from such impeccable sources as the Daily Mail, or the imperialist apologist du jour.

Frequently, these accusations of support for terrorism are near identical in tone to those made by American neocons against anyone critical of Ukamerisrael’s conduct in the Middle East, and equally credible.

It’s kind of funny, but I have lived here almost my whole life and I have yet to meet anybody who supports the IRA or Noraid. But I have read a large number of apocryphal accounts of travelers braving the wilds of Irish America, landing in a “Plastic Paddy” bar somewhere, and being accosted by men with beards carrying plastic leprechaun hats and threatening extreme violence if said traveler doesn’t pony up for Noraid or the IRA. Indeed, it was while researching these stories that I stumbled across your post, keywords being “plastic paddies” and “Noraid.”

But I have never seen such a thing in my entire life nor do I know any other Irish American who has. Apparently, only anti Irish-American bigots with special 3D glasses available only in the UK and Ireland are able to spot these creatures, as they are invisible to the rest of us, which does unfortunately make it rather difficult for those of us who talk about nothing but our hatred of the Brits and our desire to blow things up to contribute to the cause.

Either that or it’s an urban myth. My vote is for the latter.

I don’t doubt there are Irish Americans who contribute to Noraid, obviously, but the accusations of fund raising in Irish American bars are mostly if not entirely bullshit.

I have never seen any evidence whatsoever that Noraid supports IRA terrorism. I realize that the US, UK and Irish governments have made this claim, but there is no more evidence to back this claim than there is that many legitimate Muslim charities support Hamas or Al Qaeda. Merely making the claim, and repeating it ad nauseum in as part of the UK government’s traditional efforts to pin blame for the problems in NI on Irish Americans does not make it so. Noraid is a registered charity which is required to file annual statements with the US government and whose finances are heavily scrutinized by the agencies of 3 separate governments. If there was solid evidence of money transfers to the IRA, I should think it would have surfaced and been made public by now, and Noraid would have been shut down by the US government.

The IRA has never enjoyed major support from anybody, and there are smalltown militias in Iraq that are better armed than the IRA was in its heyday. If they really received as much financial support from Irish Americans as is alleged by British propagandists, you would think they would be able to afford something more sophisticated than the Bush league arsenal of home-made mortars and obsolescent Tommy guns they are reported to have had.

So please, next time you come to my country, please try to become a little better informed about who and what we are and what we believe, spare us the whiny racist propaganda, keep your food snobbery to yourself, grab a few pints of green beer, put on some Enya, and relax.

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