In the mid 1800s when millions of Irish were driven from their homeland by the famine, genocide perpetrated on them by the English, many came to the United States. But they weren’t welcome. Those who had stolen this country from the indigenous peoples wanted to keep it for themselves. Looking at our current political discourse it’s clear some things don’t change. But I digress.
Immigrant Irish were denigrated in the newspapers and cartoons, dehumanized as an apish race of people with all manner of character flaws. And thus some of our most negative stereotypes and stories of the Irish began to take root in our culture and in our stories. The hat, pipe, and soon the drinking would be woven in these stories until this image became both pervasive and iconic. That people flock to Ireland on holiday and purchase these iconic images on everything from t-shirts to t-towels has always been an issue for me. But more distressing is that the Irish perpetuate this stereotype – that they not only gladly sell these tourist souvenirs but have plastered this image on a fleet of tour buses. Although we generally avoid heavily touristed sites when we visit Ireland, there are always encounters with tour buses and when our encounters include a Paddywagon I am always saddened and amazed. Amazed that anyone would really ride on one of them, more amazed that any self-respecting Irish person would actually drive one. For if we travel to Ireland, or any other country in the world, only to encounter the stereotypes of that place we are diminished rather than enriched. And so for the place and people we visit.
There is so much waiting for the visitor to Ireland. Deep and meaningful encounters with the land, landscape, legend, and culture. Encounters that can enrich our lives. But we must look to the stories beyond the stereotypes.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org