The title is as cliched as it’s going to get.
It’s St.Patrick’s Day, a day when the whole world is, or pretends to be, Irish. So we’ve been out and about capturing a little sense of Ireland, without tipping over into national stereotype and what’s known as being a ‘plastic Paddy‘ – a condition suffered by members of the diaspora, and who will claim to be Irish, regardless of how feeble those claims may be. There are those who even go as far as to claim that use of the term (or simple use of the name ‘Paddy’ to denote an Irishman) constitutes racism. I think that’s utter nonsense. Certainly, I loathe the use of the plain term ‘Paddy’ in the context of denoting an Irishman -that does smack of racism- but I certainly have no truck with people who use the term ‘plastic’ in context, largely because it’s almost certainly a true, 100% reflection of the person’s faux-Irishness.
Today, much of the world will claim -falsely- to be Irish. You’re not! An Irish great-grandfather who sailed half way around the world for a new life, from a country you’ve maybe never visited, or visited for a week, does not and will never make you Irish. You’re American, Australian, English, from wherever. The fact that you can claim dual-citizenship won’t make you Irish either. Ever.
With two Irish paternal and one Irish maternal grandparents I guess I might have more claim, than most, to call myself Irish under this feeble definition. The fact remains I was born to English-born parentage, in England, to a household that didn’t feature fiddles being played or Guinness being drunk. Over the years I’ve visited Ireland more times than any of these faux-Irish folk and never felt my ‘roots’ being stirred in any sense whatsoever. I love Ireland, Dublin in particular, and it’s a wonderful place full of wonderful people. The well-established sense of Irish friendliness is, in my experience, an accurate reflection of the island’s people. I’ve never felt inclined to visit the various villages my grandparents came from because, to me, it’s about as relevant as saying ‘well, all of our ancestors originated in the Horn of Africa…so I’m Ethiopian‘. I just don’t feel any pull, any ‘roots’ or need for ‘roots’. My ‘roots’ are pretty much the house I grew up in.
I might just as well call myself Ethiopian as Irish, for all of the relevance it has on my life.
This is going to be, by our usual standards, an extended SLN post. We’ve got some actual, real, Irish avatars who’ve posed for us (Fionnuala has featured on the pages of SLN before) and, to some extent, share my own views on ‘plastic paddyness’. It’s a terrific series of photos from both Harry and Diane, with the words, below, being the various models’ own (with the usual caveat that I’ve woven a straight ‘interview’ technique via IM into a freer-flowing narrative).
‘There’s a lot of, shall we say, national stereotyping goes on in relation to St. Patrick’s Day’, suggests Fionnuala, ‘which is almost a benign form of racism. Every celebration in real life is fixated with drinking. It’s assumed to be a day for drinking. And I don’t like that. I mean, you’ve already identified the whole plasticity of it. And I did read someone refer to it all as a condition called Dermot-itis (a play on dermatitis) in which everyone adopts this ‘begorrah’ attitude. While Australia or the States might have some cause to claim Irish roots in some of their major cities, it gets ridiculous when they’re doing St.Patrick’s Day festivals in places like Austria and people from the Tyrol are desperately searching for Irish blood. It’s silly.’
‘You can’t elect a US President without there subsequently being some need to discover some sort of Irish roots. Let it go, for goodness’ sake. Yeah…Ireland did a lot in regard to the building of the New World but honestly! It has reached ridiculous levels. And more frustrating is the sense of us…real Irish people…just fighting and drinking. What seems lost in this nonsense is the fact that we, the Irish, probably advanced English language literature most in the 20th century, through Beckett and Joyce for example. Will anyone focus on that? No. It’s better to be drunk to the point of insensibility than it is to be in a library, listening to readings of their works. So I won’t buy into the whole drinking thing at all.’
Indeed, Fionnuala and her co-model James (‘it’s not Seamus….it’s James…I was born with the English version of the name, thanks, and I prefer not to have it changed to suit others’ preconceptions and needs’) refused to pose with alcohol present in their photos. ‘It just reinforces that stereotype’, sighed Fionnuala. Instead, the pose above, intended to be posed with beer mugs, was rejected by the pair. ‘Can’t you add in like we’re holding a banner?, sniffed Fionnuala, so that’s what harry has put in in a bit of post-production.
Both, though, readily wore green hats, on the basis that they had no issue with a bit of Irish associated colour in the photos. ‘I’m fine with there being a sense of Irishness in a St. Patrick’s Day post…just not a reinforcement of the drinking culture’.
Despite the pair’s sniffiness to the stereotype, one which I readily agreed with (see the intro to this post), they remain immensely proud of their homeland, in many respects.
‘I think we’re also best placed to criticise some elements of it’, agreed James. ‘There are aspects of it that remain, well, 19th century. Social attitudes to marriage, divorce, abortion…all things driven by the fact that it’s essentially a Catholic island. And that past power the church held remains like marbling through Irish society, despite the fact that the church has a greatly diminished power. That’s a good thing. We need to be 21st century and secular, not 19th and pious. I’m not trying to diminish anyone’s faith, but I don’t think it has a place in a modern society. You see vestiges of it around the globe in other countries too. I’m not going to single any particular nations out, but many are still under the sway of an almost medieval deference to the churches. Many governments still have deference to churches. The church, for me, isn’t relevant in the 21st century…at least not in that sense of previous generations. If you want to have a faith, fine. Practice it. But don’t expect that the rest of your town, country or continent must follow suit. Just as you expect us, who aren’t particularly religious, to respect you, you also a duty to respect our views, whether you like them or not.’
‘Both of us are RL naturists’, chimes in Fionnuala. ‘Ireland has exceptionally few facilities for naturists, and without SL it’s probable we’d never have discovered that there are like-minded souls out there! Well…that’s not strictly true in the internet world, but you know what I mean…SL provided a platform for us to meet. Another forum, in a sense. James and I live at opposite ends of the island in RL. We’ll probably never meet in RL. But through SL we’ve met each other and compared notes and views. We’ll pick each others brains on where we holiday…what beaches are suitable for skinny dipping, still illegal in Ireland, incidentally, and so on.’
‘What sticks in my throat’, James picks up, ‘is that today, in SL, people will assemble in Irish bars in sims to talk up their Irish credentials. These are to be avoided, in my view. I’ll certainly be in SL today, but I’ll avoid those sort of sims like the plague. Lag-hell filled with moronic opinions on Ireland and its culture. Ignorance on a grand scale!’
I must say that while I shared their views to some extent, I’m probably not the best placed person to comment on the ‘plastic paddy’ debate, viewing it from outside.
So I was surprised when I met up with some other Irish avatars I know, Dublin sisters (real life sisters, incidentally) Niamh and Brid, who weren’t quite as scathing, but who disliked the whole Irish streotype going on in and out of SL.
‘Don’t generalise, please’, said Niamh. ‘Buying into this drunk and Irish thing…yeah, we do like a drink from time to time…and there are those who do it to extremes, who fit the stereotype perfectly. Equally, there are those who don’t, so please don’t tar us all with the same brush. It’s like me saying ‘All Americans are fat rednecks’ or something. We know that’s not true. Some are fat. Some are rednecks. Some are well-educated and slim. Would I dream of stereotyping? No, I would not.’
Both Niamh and Brid are SL naturists, but not RL ones. ‘Not enough opportunity to do so. We keep saying we’ll go on holiday sometime and try it, but our lives move away from each other now we’re in university. When we started we had adjacent bedrooms in RL, last year at school. And we’d go and dance at Sweden Naturist and just have so much fun winding other avatars up in a gentle way. No makice. I think we’re in SL about four years now. We do still play, but not as often as we used to, and while we were pretty much joined at the hip when we started, now we lead separate SL lives in the main’.
A bit more Irishness later in the day, but I thought that I should split what was initially going to be a long post, and let some people roll over what some Irish avatars think about the whole ‘green beer’ idea for a bit.
Enjoy the day, and I’ll catch you later on for the second part…’Top of the evening to ya!’