Brianna Parkins: Be patient with us clueless foreigners this ‘St Patty’s Day’

‘I envy the American and European tourists happily bopping around Dublin with their Craic Dealer hoodies’

St Patrick’s Day, the one day of the year Ireland’s population swells to triple its size if we are to trust the honesty of everyone wearing a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” T-shirt. I personally have never understood that T-shirt because I have never wanted to kiss someone solely based on their being Irish, in fact sometimes it acts as a deterrent. This has nothing to do with attractiveness and more to do with avoiding a long winded, entirely unnecessary conversation trying to find out if they know anyone I know.

In Ireland we would never wear T-shirts that say “Kiss me, I’m Irish” in the country where we all live with the threat of immediate and merciless slagging for our actions. For most of us, we can go about our daily business without fearing physical violence, it’s the emotional and verbal kind we need to look out for. We live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance of doing, saying or wearing something that will cause our loved ones and complete strangers alike to exclaim “would you be well?” and roll their eyes in our direction.

And we would be right. A man slipped on ice in 2010 and we still haven’t let him live it down thirteen years later. We are gleeful public shamers waiting to pounce on one embarrassing thing a person has done, using it as a stick to poke them with forever, usually in the form of a lifelong nickname.

I envy the American and European tourists happily bopping around Dublin with their “Craic Dealer” hoodies and “Ireland” knitted hats with Viking horns on them. They always look like they are having a good time taking photos groping the Molly Malone statue and tipping about churches to various distilleries. They don’t care what we think. The one thing these people seem to know how to do is have fun.


I’ve long suspected self-awareness is the enemy of enjoyment and I think this proves it. This and the Viking Splash tour. And water parks. And freestyle motorcross shows. But we cling to it just like we think we can only have a good experience if it’s “authentic”. We are hostages to authenticity, especially when it comes to travel and our own culture which of course is our biggest blind spot.

People must get some land when they turn up and find the old country might have changed from great granny’s stories

I do have some sympathy for the Irish, I really do. It’s a culture a lot of people think they have rights over because of the Irish tradition of heading off somewhere foreign, marrying a local and having kids. The issue is the culture evolves and mutates into its own local identity so “Irish” culture becomes “American Irish” or “Australian Irish”. The practices and values of those communities branch off and become their own little subcultures but often people (especially those who don’t have a direct Irish relative living any more) can’t see that – they think of themselves and what they do as only Irish.

People must get some land when they turn up and find the old country might have changed from great granny’s stories. I gave myself a facial spasm once trying to keep my expression neutral while an ex-partner’s aunt cornered me with her opinions of Ireland drawn from her recent visit.

Her chief complaint was there were “too many young people in tracksuits in Ireland” even though she went in winter. She had been expecting you all to be exclusively fashioned in dapper tweed jackets, Aran jumpers and paddy caps on your big Tesco trips and I’m sorry to say you let her down. You could at least have the decency to be carrying a shillelagh.

I understand now how the movie Wild Mountain Thyme seemed entirely reasonable to the people who made it. I was once asked to bring back “an official IRA T-shirt” just like the one “his great-grandfather had”. I could have explained that people belonging to illegal organisations don’t go around in T-shirts advertising it and that paramilitaries usually fund themselves with means other than a handy chain of gift shops with a lovely line of apparel. But I didn’t, I just told him he should try online.

These are the people who swear blind to you that it’s “St Pattys Day”. The type that say they are allowed to pinch you on March 17th without repercussions because you didn’t wear green. In primary school I once walloped a particularly strong fingered and vicious child which I viewed as a proportionate use of force for the shocking act of violence foisted on me. The teacher did not and explained I should have known that I had to wear green or the ‘leprechauns’ would get me because I had an Irish family. An Irish family who never did this pinching carry-on because it’s not actually done in Ireland. My mum might have laughed at this story but not as much as the time she received a note from the school canteen advertising a special Irish lunch option to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

Be patient with us clueless foreigners this St Patrick’s Day...fleece us as repayment as is traditional in Irish tourism.

Was it bacon and cabbage? Coddle? Stew? Crisp sandwiches? No, they proudly announced they would be serving traditional Irish tacos, just like Peig Sayers and Fungi the Dolphin used to enjoy. The fillings you see make the tricolour – orange is carrot, white is over processed shredded cheese and green is lettuce. Which means the tacos were an insult to Mexican and Irish culture. Quite the achievement.

So be patient with us clueless foreigners this St Patrick’s Day now you know what confusing messages about Ireland we were pounded with. Just fleece us as repayment as is traditional in Irish tourism. And while you’re complaining about us having ridiculous notions about Ireland, remember that you were the ones who built the leprechaun museum.

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins

Brianna Parkins is an Irish Times columnist