Beautiful landscape, drinking and fighting. Stereotypes of the Irish abroad

Essay, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Stereotypes

3 Special circumstances in Ireland’s history

4 Stereotypes about the Irish
4.1 Landscape
4.2 The drinking Irish
4.3 The Fighting Irish

5 Conclusion

1 Introduction

This paper examines stereotypes about the Irish from the perspective of other countries. It will therefore first define stereotypes in general and then state special circumstances that have influenced the emergence of stereotypes about the Irish in particular. After setting out the most common Irish stereotypes, illustrated with examples from film, music and the media, the conclusion will summarise what has influenced the stereotypes mentioned and how they have, in turn, influenced the Irish.

2 Stereotypes

An easy way to explain the concept of stereotypes is to call them “’pictures in the head’ of individuals looking out into their social worlds” (Stangor and Schaller, 1996, p.3), which corresponds with the traditional concept of stereotypes in psychology. However, although being an “oversimplified impression of the characteristics of a group as a whole”, these definitions do not go far enough, missing an important aspect: the perspective of and so the influence on the stereotyped persons (Stangor and Schaller, 1996, p.3).

A more specific type of stereotypes is the group schema, which is also the type relevant in this paper. What this classification describes is a “collection […] of beliefs about the characteristics of a social group” (Stangor and Schaller, 1996, p.7). When anchored in a person’s mind, the schema inevitably allows the person to quickly categorize and judge every member of the respective the group very easily, as details considered to be unimportant are turned a blind eye to; but it also influences the behaviour towards the members (Stangor and Schaller, 1996, p.7).

Still, stereotypes can also be understood as a cultural entities, in so far that they actually depict prominent features of a certain (cultural) group which are overdrawn. These cultural stereotypes are “widely held by persons in the culture or society in question, and widely recognized by persons who may not themselves hold the stereotype” (Blum, 2004, p.253).

3 Special circumstances in Ireland’s history

For Ireland being a comparatively small country, the amount of its cultural products known worldwide is outstanding. The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish national day, is exemplary for the most important “good” Ireland has been exporting over an extended period of time: people – and, inextricably linked with that, Irish culture.

The term for this scattering of the Irish population is diaspora, and comprising 70 million people of Irish descent, it is estimated to be the largest in the world, according to the Irish International Diaspora Centre (2001). Hinting at the emigration wave triggered by the Great Famine in the 19th century, American historian James Dunklery has even placed Ireland across the Atlantic, provokingly arguing it was more an American country located in the wrong continent (Fagan, 2003, p.112).

Nevertheless, undeniable and comprehensible is the fact that the Irish emigrants, not only in the U.S.A but also in countries like Australia and New Zealand, Argentina and Great Britain, left a mark –intentionally or unintentionally.

A mixture of stereotypes arose, influenced by what the Irish immigrants represented, how they behaved, and what they themselves expressed about the distant homeland. This way, on the one hand the romanticized pictures were constructed which draw tourists to Ireland today:

“[…] a carefully crafted dream-world, one which has borne the brunt of national myth for more than a century, […]. Contrasting with the romantic idealisations of the chronotype was the reality of emigration—as the myth of the West was being constructed, its population was leaving”. (Graham, 1997, p.69)

On the other hand, also numerous stereotypes appeared which characterized the Irish in a quite negative way. When large numbers of desperate poor Irish emigrants began to enter America, they were quickly labelled as “inebriated, overly sentimental, dense, illogical, and pugilistic” (Stapleton-Corcoran, 2008, p.638), an image enforced by the portrayal of so called stage Irish in American variety shows and vaudeville sketches, beginning in the 1840s. Newspaper Cartoons even showed them as drunk, violent monkeys (Manning, 2008, p.825) ­– which certainly led to prejudices and distrust, rejection and violence in the society. This applied for American countries just as for Britain, where this widespread anti-Irish attitude persisted well into the 20th century (Delaney, 2011).

Many of these old stereotypes are still present today, especially due to the fact that they were preserved in literature, songs and films by or about the Irish. Hence, these will serve as examples and evidence for the stereotypes to be explored in detail in the following chapter.

4 Stereotypes about the Irish

The stereotypes most commonly mentioned in connection with Ireland and the Irish will be examined in this chapter. Their respective historical background will be analysed and reference from movies, literature und songs incorporating these motifs will be given.

When it comes to movies, there is one work cited countless times as a typical representation of stereotypical Irishness: John Ford’s 1952 The Quit Man. Notwithstanding the fact that it is now well over 50 years old and some aspects have been understandably criticised, it has still been described as the defining Irish film, as subsequent films about Ireland or specifically the theme of emigration “equally wrestle with the stereotypes Ford’s film pioneered in foregrounding, either perpetuating or contesting them” (Renes, 2007, p.94).

These mentioned stereotypes in the romantic comedy featuring John Wayne which have led to declaring it as the “quintessential Irish film” are namely “its wild and romantic landscapes, and its hard-drinking, fist-fighting but ultimately good-natured stereotypes”. They convey the impression of a nostalgic and pastoral Ireland, “which became the template for the majority of overseas productions and still continues to influence new generations of filmmakers today”. (Fenell, 2005, p.13). These three themes will be elaborated in the following subsections.

4.1 Landscape

The beautiful Irish landscape is an example for a stereotype that is in fact a mainly positive one. The attributes which are mostly linked with Ireland’s pristine scenery were almost exclusively inspired by images from the West of Ireland. As much as it attracts tourists today, it attracted artists in the 19th and 20th centuries who desired to capture the unspoiled, wild and remote landscape, inhabited only by rural communities (see figure 1). (Bourke, 2014, p.6)

This whole setting, appealing very strange and alien to some, did also result in quite negative depictions, like in 1910 plays by J. M. which “extolled the virtues of a primitive society on the edge of Europe, punctuated by violence and lawlessness, its landscapes of savage mountains inhabited by wild men and promiscuous women” (Duffy, 1997, p.67).

The majority of representations of Ireland’s scenery, however, show the opposite. What has formed the predominant image of Ireland today are “representations of Ireland over the centuries [which] have been enclosed within a circuit of myth and romanticism” (Gibbons, 1987 cited in Renes, 2007, p.95). A small village on the rural Westcoast has not coincidentally been chosen as the setting of The Quiet Man. A lot of screen time is dedicated to the idyllic surroundings and pastoral landscapes around the village, imaginary home of the returning emigrant Sean Thornton. An earlier example of a cinematic production of the Western Ireland’s wild beauty is Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran from 1934, a documentary that “can be seen as an expression of romantic primitivism, the fascination in American culture with the struggle between man and the wilderness”. (Gibbons, 2005, p.210)

This mystification and glorification in themselves have been cause for criticism, having created an Ireland that has never existed, films like The Quiet Man representing “a primitive Eden, a rural idyll free from the pressures and constraints of the modern world” (Gibbons, 1987 cited in Renes, 2007, p.94).

Although Ireland has changed in many aspects, as it has become much more modern in recent years, many of the idyllic images are still in place and, as previously mentioned, can now be found in countless advertising prospects for tourists. So this particular stereotype of the beautiful wild landscape, despite having been mystified and glorified for different reasons, has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the perception of Ireland and thus also on the tourist industry.


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Beautiful landscape, drinking and fighting. Stereotypes of the Irish abroad
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Stereotypes, Ireland, Irish, Drinking Irish, Fighting Irish
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Aaron Matthiesen (Author), 2015, Beautiful landscape, drinking and fighting. Stereotypes of the Irish abroad, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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