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The Do’s and Don’ts of Irish people on Saint Patrick’s Day

The Irish: a great bunch of lads

Irish people! They’re everywhere! There are even some left in Ireland. But let’s not think about those ones right now, fine upstanding people though they are. This is about how to deal with the Irish you find in your midst - the mythical, magical, Irish abroad, with their (our) twinkly but mysterious Cillian Murphy eyes and their (our) pale yet well structured Domhnall Gleeson faces. This, 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, is their big day: for celebrating the imperishable Irish nation, for poetry and song and stories about the time they (we) ended up in a lock-in with Shane McGowan. You may wish to join in the mystic rites of the national day. If that’s the case, here are some handy tips to ensure that your Patrick’s Day doesn’t end with your Irish friend/colleague/co-worker/neighbour barricading herself up in a post office in a desperate bid to free herself of your attentions.

DO: Offer to buy us a Guinness. It’s OK. We can safely acknowledge without stereotyping that on this day of all days, drink will be a factor. Guinness has been Borg-like in assimilating the idea of Irishness unto itself. Resistance is futile. Lots of us actually quite like it and the ones who don’t won’t be offended. Yes. Good. Stout. Lovely.

DON’T: Tell us about how trashed you got on that wicked stag do you went on in Dublin where you drank 14 pints of Guinness in this great pub in Temple Bar. No, we don’t know the pub. Yes, we’re sure the beer there was very good. We’re also almost certain it was a tourist trap and you were stung. Either way we’ve never been there and have no intention of going now.

DO: Ask us about where we’re from. Most of us, in spite of the fact, we - well, we left - have a pretty strong sense of local identity, and will be happy to tell you why our bit of Ireland is THE BEST BIT OF IRELAND.

DON’T: Ask if we know your friend’s cousin’s uncle from Ballybunion. We could play six degrees of cabbage and bacon all day, and yes, the likelihood is that, in spite of our protestations, we probably do have some connection to another Irish person you’ve met. But it’ll be far more pleasing for everybody if we let this emerge naturally in the course of conversation.

DO: Father Ted quotes. Everyone loves Father Ted. Yay! No problem there.

DON’T: Except shouting “DRINK! FECK! GIRLS!” In the pub. It was funny when Frank Kelly playing Father Jack did it. I served with Frank Kelly*. I knew Frank Kelly**. Frank Kelly was a friend of mine***. You, senator, are no Frank Kelly.

*I didn’t
**I didn't
***He wasn't

DON’T: On the subject of comedy quotes, don’t do the Alan Partridge fussy eater gag. It’s a funny line because of the reaction in the show. It’s not funny when you do it in your big English accent in the middle of a crowded pub full of people singing songs about the awful things the Brits did to us.

That said, “Dere's more to Oireland dan dis” is acceptable.

While we’re here

DON’T: Ask for a potted history of 1,000 years of Anglo-Irish relations, unless you want to be taken to the dark places of our psyches we rarely discuss with the outsiders. You’ve seen Michael Collins, yes? Grand. That’s it really, give or take a few small details. It’s complicated, and won’t be resolved from these bar stools. But take note, saying “we’re all the same”, or “was it all worth it though?” is not helpful.

DO: Have a basic understanding of how the island is run now. You’re too old to be asking us “which ones are the Unionists?”, and it makes us all feel like you haven’t really been paying attention (we know you haven’t, but it’s rude to make it so obvious).

DO: The hucklebuck (sorry)

DO: Talk about Saoirse Ronan. Though don’t expect much sense out of us beyond “she’s great, isn’t she?” We’ve essentially pinned the hopes of a nation on her. No pressure.

DON’T: Ask us how to pronounce “Saoirse”. We can pronounce it, you can’t. It’s a vowel sound you are incapable of making and we’d be here all night trying to teach you. See also “Muireann”, the new baby in season 2 of Sharon Horgan’s and Rob Delaney’s Catastrophe. There’s no point in even trying to spell this out phonetically for you.

DON’T: Talk about the bloody island in Star Wars. Yes, we know Sceilig Mhichíl is in Ireland. Yes, we know it’s great. We learn about it in school. It’s already famous.

DON’T: Ask us to wear a wacky leprechaun beer-branded hat. Not happening. At all. Your giant felt hat is racism and cultural appropriation and problematic and all the other things and if you’re not careful we’ll tell the internet and you’ll be in TROUBLE.

DO: Marvel at our ability to recite the poems they made us learn by heart at school.

DON’T: Ask us to say something in “Gaelic”. 1) it’s called “Irish”, 2) Our language is not a party trick and 3) We’ve kind of forgot how to speak it properly since we left the country (or since we left school for that matter).

DO: If you do end up in an actual Irish pub somewhere, be quiet when people are singing. Except for the sing along bits. Probably best to follow your Irish friend’s lead on this, or watch this educational video:

DO: Pogues

DON’T: Cranberries

DO: Ask us about gaelic games. They’re great. Stuff like this happens.

DON’T: Ask us about the GAA, the people who run Gaelic games.

DO: Laugh at the St Patrick joke. This is crucial. The Saint Patrick joke is the best joke, and if you don’t find it funny, you may as well give up on any hope of cordial relations with an Irish person. The St Patrick joke is this:

“Ye alright there in the back lads? Will I put the radio on?” - Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland.


Don’t: “Have you got any Irish in you?” Just no.

There it is, your 1,000 word plus guide to dealing with the most easy-going people in the world (honest). Go forth and enjoy your day.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh Go Léir!

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.