Plastic Paddy

plastic paddy

Plastic Paddy is a slang term used to describe some members of the Irish diaspora, or those with no ancestral connection to Ireland, who appropriate (often stereotypical) Irish customs and identity. A Plastic Paddy may know little of actual Irish culture, but nevertheless assert an Irish identity. The term is pejoratively used to refer to people on the basis of their perceived lack of authenticity as Irish.

People who were not born in Ireland, and who did not grow up in Ireland, but nonetheless possess Irish citizenship and an Irish passport are often labelled as Plastic Paddies. The term came into common use in the 1980s when it was frequently employed as a term of abuse by recently-arrived middle class Irish migrants to London. It ‘became a means of distancing themselves from established Irish communities.’ And the use was a part of the process by which the second-generation Irish are positioned as inauthentic within the two identities, of Englishness and Irishness.

Ironically, both English hostility when faced with the specter of Irish identities, and Irish denials of authenticity of those same identities, utilizes the pejorative term ‘plastic paddy’ to stereotype and undermine processes ‘of becoming’ of Irish identities of second-generation Irish people. The message from each is that second-generation Irish are ‘really English’ and many of the second-generation resist this.

The term plastic paddy is used by the Irish media as a term for an outdated image of Ireland and Irish culture as seen and promoted by the non-Irish citizens including the Irish diaspora. Within an Irish context the term is used as a reaction to and defiance of the diaspora-based celebration and increasing commercialization and sponsorship of St. Patrick’s Day as being demeaning to the Irish. It can also be used in a derogative term for Irish people who support English football teams, while Irish journalists have used use the term to describe Irish bars in Australia with the ‘minimum of plastic paddy trimmings.’ First generation Irish-English model Erin O’Connor was called a ‘plastic paddy’ in Ireland due to her parents’ choice of forename and non-Irish birth despite them both being Irish citizens. The Killarney Active Retirement Association displayed a tongue-in-cheek banner promising to ‘Chase the plastic Paddy out of Ireland’ in the Kilkenny 2005 St Patrick’s day celebrations while being chased by leprechauns themselves.

‘Plastic Paddy’ was a term used to ‘deny and denigrate the second-generation Irish in Britain’ in the 1980s, and was ‘frequently articulated by the new middle class Irish immigrants in Britain, for whom it was a means of distancing themselves from established Irish communities.’ ‘The adoption of a hyphenated identity has been much more problematic for the second generation Irish in Britain. The Irish-born have frequently denied the authenticity of their Irish identity, using the derogatory term plastic paddy, and the English regards them as ‘assimilated’ and simply ‘English.’ The term has been used to taunt non-Irish born players who choose to play for the Republic of Ireland national football team, fans of Irish teams, who are members of supporters clubs outside of Ireland, and other Irish individuals living in Great Britain.

Scottish journalist Alex Massie wrote in ‘National Review’: ‘When I was a student in Dublin we scoffed at the American celebration of St. Patrick, finding something preposterous in the green beer, the search for any connection, no matter how tenuous, to Ireland, the misty sentiment of it all that seemed so at odds with the Ireland we knew and actually lived in. Who were these people dressed as Leprechauns and why were they dressed that way? This Hibernian Brigadoon was a sham, a mockery, a Shamrockery of real Ireland and a remarkable exhibition of plastic paddyness. But at least it was confined to the Irish abroad and those foreigners desperate to find some trace of green in their blood.’

Australian songwriter Eric Bogle wrote and recorded a song titled ‘Plastic Paddy.’ In ‘Spiked,’ Brendan O’Neill uses the term to describe ‘second-generation wannabe’ Irishmen, and writes that some of those guilty of ‘Plastic Paddyism’ (or, in his words, ‘Dermot-itis’) are Bill Clinton, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Shane MacGowan. British Mixed martial arts fighter Dan Hardy has called American fighter Marcus Davis a ‘Plastic Paddy’ due to Marcus’ enthusiasm for his Irish ancestry. In the book ‘Why I Am Still a Catholic’ by Peter Stanford, the television presenter Dermot O’Leary describes his upbringing as ‘classic plastic paddy,’ where he would be ‘bullied in a nice way’ by his own cousins in Wexford for being English ‘until anyone else there called me English and then they would stick up for me.’

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