Approach to diaspora ‘old-fashioned and condescending’

Notre Dame professor says it is wrong to view Irish-Americans as ‘plastic Paddys’

Ireland’s approach to its diaspora in the year of The Gathering is “old-fashioned and condescending”, according to Notre Dame University’s Dublin centre director Prof Kevin Whelan.

Speaking ahead of an address to the Galway Arts Festival this weekend, Prof Whelan said it was wrong to view Irish-Americans as “plastic Paddys” who lacked knowledge about Ireland.

“In fact our knowledge of Irish America is equally limited. We are totally disinterested and incurious about their lives. We need to broaden our view and have a much more generous version of what an Irish identity might mean,” Prof Whelan said.

“Our address to the diaspora is insipid to say the least – old-fashioned, condescending and, in a way, we haven’t even started to engage with them on a proper level.”


Prof Whelan said he supported the concept of The Gathering, disagreeing with Gabriel Byrne’s depiction of it as an attempt to “shake down” the diaspora “for a few quid”. He said: “It met with a lot of negativity and hostility. Whatever it’s doing it’s inviting Irish Americans into a conversation about Ireland and they have responded.”

Prof Whelan will chair a discussion entitled “Thicker than water”at the Galway Arts Festival tomorrow which will feature a contribution from the Gathering chairman Tim O’Connor, former Irish consul general in New York, and Prof Mícheál Ó Súilleabháín from the University of Limerick.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times