Are Irish stereotypes in Hollywood true?

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, you might try to engage with Irish culture through film and TV, but these depictions aren’t always accurate! In this blog, Student Ambassador Zequi Adams breaks down these stereotypes , as seen in some of his favourite shows. If you’ve watched Leap Year one too many times, read on and see what clichés you need to look out for…

The other day, on a jog, out of breath, I found myself wondering why my top TV shows revolve around Irish/Irish American culture and community. *I Know, I Know, wrong time to be having such epiphanies but anything to distract from the tiredness, right? *

One of them is actually so darn good, it’s one of the top 3 HBO shows OF ALL TIME (yes, no kidding!). Hint? Alcohol ban, suffrage, beach, early 1900’s? Got it? No? Well, SPOILERS AHEAD!!

If you’re like me (someone who until recently had never been to Ireland and still never been to the United States), a lot of your preconceived notions of Ireland and Irish people should come from Hollywood movies and/or TV shows, and the last thing any reasonable person would want is to walk around with stereotypes about a group of people or a whole country – stereotypes that they ingrained from movies and TV shows.

Being fortunate enough to actually move to Ireland via UL, I guess I’m in a pretty good position to test the theory of Irish stereotypes in Hollywood to see if they stand up to scrutiny.

Ray Donovan

Brief Synopsis: A family of Irish and Irish-Americans living in Boston. Plagued with the suicide of their sister/daughter, the Donovan brothers move to Hollywood where one is a former boxer with the ‘shakes’ (as they call it), the other, a Hollywood fixer, the third, still grappling with child abuse from younger days and fourth trying to find his place racially, being half black.

Consistent and stereotypical themes we see are:

  1. Catholicism: Yes, Irish are mostly Catholic with Ireland having a demographic of 79% Catholic. Interestingly it’s a very welcoming country for people of all faiths. It’s almost indistinguishable from countries I’ve been to with more diverse religious demographics
  2. Family-Oriented: Yes, Irish people are very family oriented. How do I know? Because I come from a family oriented society, I can see one from a mile away
  3. Resilient: This is a pretty obvious one, a historically accurate fact. Anybody who knows anything about Ireland knows what the Irish have endured and how far they’ve come to be where they are now.

Boardwalk Empire

Brief Synopsis: Two Irish-American brothers running Atlantic city in the prohibition era who try to navigate the criminal underworld, their relationship with the Irish liberation movement and twist and turns of betrayal, love and family.

Consistent and stereotypical themes we see are:

  1. Corruption: We can chalk this up to creative liberty because a country that’s come up as one of the top tech and finance hubs isn’t particularly a quintessential corruption story.
  2. Drinking:  Permit me to explain this with a good Irish joke – ‘An Irish priest is driving along a country road when a police man pulls him over. He immediately smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and notices an empty wine bottle in the car. He says: “Have you been drinking? “Just water,” says the priest. The cop replies: “Then why do I smell wine? “The priest looks at the bottle and says: “Good Lord! He’s done it again!’

Get Shorty

Brief Synopsis: An Irish hitman who is juggling working for the cartel, family life and being a movie producer.

Consistent and stereotypical themes we see are:

  1. Brutish: This one is subjective. Some people might consider the Irish confidence and ‘in your face demeanor’ brutish but being here for a while and experiencing Ireland in person, I’d say if you haven’t been around a number of Irish people, it would be pretty hard to get the Irish sense of humor and demeanor.
  2. Hyper-Masculine: Unlike depicted in this show, I don’t think Irish people display hyper masculinity to the point of toxic masculinity. Living on a campus setting where such phenomena would be expected to prevalent, there’s little to none. Most of the people I know here have and maintain healthy relationships so that this stereotype is one of those non-existent negative ones.

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