This is not us: Disproving common Irish stereotypes

When you type ‘the Irish are known for’ into Google, the search engine automatically presents a selection of the most common searches. Unfortunately, this is not us.

This predictive search data shows that many incorrect and misleading perceptions of the Irish still prevail globally – the most common of which link the Irish to fighting, drinking and holding a grudge.

Since it first opened, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum has worked hard to challenge the negative stereotypes attached to Ireland and its people. And it’s continuing on that path by debunking four of the most Googled Irish stereotypes.


The Irish are known for fighting

Historically, the Irish have been more likely to fight on the battlefield than in barroom brawls.

The term ‘Fighting Irish’, which is still used by American football team Notre Dame, was first coined for the Irish soldiers of the 69th Regiment who fought during the American Civil War. Years later, during World War I, this New York regiment made up primarily of Irish Americans continued to earn that name as it took part in fierce fighting toward the end of the war.


The Fighting 69th (Library of Congress, Public Domain)

Throughout history, Irish emigrants have had a strong presence in many foreign armies. After succumbing to England’s forces in the 18th and 19th centuries, thousands of soldiers sailed abroad to fight on the continent. Since then, they’ve had a prominent presence in Spanish, American and Argentine forces – to name just a few.

Today, however, Irish soldiers are primarily peacekeepers. Since Irish troops were first deployed on UN peacekeeping missions in 1958, they have maintained an unbroken record of service. Despite its small size, Ireland is the UN’s sixth largest troop contributor.

The Irish are known for their temper

The idea that the Irish are short tempered is a stereotype nurtured by colonial Britain. It was also picked up by North American commentators as anti-Irish sentiment rose with the arrival of famine-era coffin ships.

Many historical sketches portrayed the Irish as violent people. However, many Irish people throughout history have shown that they can stay level-headed in the face of hardship.

Two Buddhist monks are counted among the most forward-thinking pioneers of the Irish diaspora. There’s the trans trailblazer Michael Dillon, as well as U Dhammaloka – the Dubliner who became a peaceful agitator against the British in Burma back in the early 1900s.

In modern terms, the Global Peace Index indicates that Ireland is now among the least violent countries in the world, placing eighth – just after Switzerland. 

The Irish are known for holding grudges

While some Irish people are great at holding grudges, many have been known to show good will, kindness and forgiveness even in difficult circumstances.

In fact, a handful of Irish men and women have won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to overcome the past and work toward peace.

In 1976, Elizabeth Williams and Mairead Corrigan won it for their peace activism in Northern Ireland. Then, in 1998, John Hume and David Trimble won it for their efforts to bridge the gap between the nationalist and loyalist communities and work toward peace.

The Irish are known as drunks

The drunken Irish stereotype is long established. As Dr. Alice Mauger of UCD points out, Plato was among its earliest cultivators when he described the Celts as “drunken and combative”.

However, she also highlights how the British media reinforced the idea by satirising and commenting on Ireland’s drinking habits as early as the 16th century.

More recently, this stereotype was strengthened by American vaudeville, variety shows and cartoons. And it continues to be preserved in literature, song and film about the Irish today.

However, Ireland has had periods of relatively low alcohol consumption, according to research by Diarmaid Ferriter. And as early as the 1830s, hundreds of thousands of Irish people signed up to be teetotallers. (The figure may have been as high as two million). This movement was led by a Capuchin friar called Father Theobald Mathew who wanted to improve the lives of Ireland’s poorest labourers.

More recently, in the 1970s, UCD’s Joyce Fitzpatrick established that the people of Ireland drank less than the average Englishman. Since then, many other studies have supported her thesis, but the stereotype still persists.

The EPIC Museum’s latest campaign aims to challenge these negative stereotypes. To understand the true character of the Irish, pay it a visit today. Book your tickets here.