It’s time for St Patty’s Day and Irish-Americans are disgracing themselves again

Donald Clarke: No semi-sane Irish person could watch these TikToks without risking extreme bile reflux

Happy incoming Saint Patty’s Day. It is (more or less) the season to whinge about Irish-Americans chewing up the culture and regurgitating it as a clotted mass of electric-green spew. Nowhere is this habit more prevalent than among the creators of TikTok. A scroll through the videos revealed by a search for “Irish ancestors” will test the snark glands of even the most committed hate-watcher. There are dozens of these things and they are almost all crimes against the nation.

The format is consistent. An American person, playing themselves, does something vaguely modern. We then cut to “my Irish ancestors” – actually the creator in a shawl – raising an objection or offering qualified support. TikTok veterans will be used to the convention of recycling the same, often startlingly incongruous, piece of music used by an early contributor to the trend. In this case, the speeded-up version of Ryn Weaver’s hitherto tolerable Pierre soon takes on the quality of the death metal the CIA used to blast outside General Noriega’s compound.

A few themes dominate. Our ancestors were proud of their child-bearing hips. Those same female ancestors were not allowed to have a job (?). Our ancestors were permanently drunk. Our ancestors were consistently violent. Those last two come together in a bizarre clip that has a fellow in the sort of laced-up shirt painted heroes wear on the cover of romance novels confronting his descendant drinking Irish whiskey. The modern-day chap explains the tipple is Jameson, causing the Celtic Fabio, now revealed as (spoiler alert) a Protestant ancestor, to roll up his sleeves and administer a walloping. Because, apparently, Protestants objected to a distillery founded by a Scottish Freemason.

The properly offensive stuff, however, has to do with potatoes. Here’s one – welcome back, Pinky-and-Perky Ryn Weaver – that has the creator eating a McDonald’s hash brown in her car. The Irish ancestor wonders what that is in her hand. “Potatoes,” modern-day American replies. The ancestor places her hand on her chest and smiles sweetly in a flattered manner. Another one – where have you been, helium Weaver? – has the creator explaining to an ancestor that she doesn’t like potatoes. The offended emigrant sighs and hugs a porcelain dog wearing a shamrock-bedecked top hat, as survivors of the Great Hunger were wont to do. We get both tubers and booze in a video that – yes, it’s her again – has the creator telling the ancestor she is “getting absolutely obliterated”. Her venerable predecessor rolls a fist and bellows: “YESSSSSSSS but where are the potatoes.”


And on and on and on. The stuff with the potatoes is not easy to parse. Sometimes, there is the slightest hint of underlying poignancy, a sense the creator is aware many of their relatives, those who didn’t make it to Tuna Fish, Iowa, died as a result of their enforced dependence on an unreliable root crop. For the most part, , the gag seems to be nothing more nuanced than “the Irish used to eat a lot of spuds”. Ha, ha! Now, put the shawl back on and do something hilarious about having 13 children before you were 30.

Every Halloween, right-wing Americans clog up social media with complaints that, unlike Mexicans and Native Americans objecting to culturally appropriated costumes, the “Irish” are happy for others to dress as leprechauns and simulate delirium tremens. Are we? To use the language of the slasher movie, the call is coming from inside the house. These madly inappropriate stereotypes are largely perpetuated by people who think themselves part of the greater Irish family. Notwithstanding concerns about a currently Oscar-nominated black comedy, you just don’t get this stuff from the descendants of Irish immigrants in London, Manchester or Glasgow. Those families have retained a connection to the old country that, even in the age of ubiquitous global communication, is harder to maintain for third- or fourth- generation immigrants thousands of miles to the west.

No semi-sane Irish person could watch these TikToks without risking extreme bile reflux. Contrast that with the almost universally positive reaction to Steve Coogan’s Martin Brennan. The canny, possibly well-oiled balladeer, unveiled on This Time With Alan Partridge, teeters hilariously between celebration and satirical archetype. Coogan’s consistent interaction with contemporary Irish culture has kept him sensitive to the dangers of cheap romanticisation.

Still, we should show some understanding and some humility. Whereas it is a shame the TikTokkers so often inadvertently do the work of 19th-century Punch cartoonists, it is good they are at least trying to connect with their heritage. None of us is perfect. Think of one Irish TikTokker, a vigorous rebutter of the trend, who wondered if the silly uninformed Americans knew we still had only a “28-county republic”. Well, it could happen to any of us.

Now, I need never again hear 78-rpm Ryn Weaver.