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Humourless ‘Paddies’? Racist ‘jokes’, more like

Last update - Thursday, February 25, 2010, 10:56 By Metro Éireann

While reading the Daily Telegraph website recently (not something I’m proud of) I happened upon an article by a journalist who seemed particularly aggrieved by the case of an Irish union rep suing a Conservative councillor over his making an “Irish joke”.

The journalist, Douglas Murray, was scathing in his attack on the Irishman, describing his life as “pitifully mirthless”. Clearly seething, he proceeded to compare the salary of the Irishman with that of British soldiers “who were dying in Afghanistan”. Presumably this was to ‘fire up’ the readers to respond to his parting request “to post any good Irish jokes” in the comment forum below his article.
Rather predictably, the Telegraph readers complied with delight, and drowned the message board with a variety of low-class humour.
This rather vitriolic diatribe got me thinking about people’s bizarre attitude towards Irish jokes. People like Murray and his readers see them as just harmless fun; to them it is an age-old English tradition that is slowly being eroded by what they view as crazy ‘political correctness’.
First they were forbidden from telling ‘black jokes’; then Pakistanis and Indians were added to the out-of-bounds list – if they don’t have the Irish, whom else can they laugh at?
Now that the British Empire is gone, the idea of the ‘thick Paddy’ is a vital morale booster for such insecure people. It makes them feel superior. Its makes them laugh. Unfortunately, us ‘stupid Micks’ don’t seem to see how funny and witty their little quips are!
The rest of us see these Irish jokes in a rather different way. Contrary to what Murray and his brigade of ‘comedians’ would have you believe, Irish jokes are not harmless. They have been used in the past – often with great effect – to undermine the Irish people.
The 19th century, the British satirical magazine Punch was more than a little responsible for this brand of ‘humour’, regularly portraying the Irish not only as mentally challenged, but also physically as ape-like creatures. What better way to discredit a people’s quest for nationhood than to suggest they are uncivilised and incapable of independence!
This stereotype gained momentum throughout the 20th century as thousands of Irish emigrated to Britain looking for work. It created an atmosphere in which signs in shop windows reading “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ were tolerated and even deemed acceptable. I’m sure that when such slogans were consigned to history’s dustbin, people like the Telegraph’s Douglas Murray screamed out against ‘political correctness gone mad!’
Murray’s article suggests that Irish jokes are “just a bit of fun”, and that he feels perfectly qualified to make that judgement. But does he really feel this way? If he really did think Irish jokes were harmless, why did he resort to whipping up the emotions of his readers with his references to British soldiers in Afghanistan? It seems to me he was clearly stirring up resentment towards the Irish people.
And it didn’t stop there. The right-wing jokers began by racially abusing the Irish but soon turned to insulting other ethnic minorities as well. These ‘jokes’ came from a place of anger, not joy, and therefore are not acceptable. The same is true for any racist joke or stereotype. Scratch under the surface and you’ll see the murky foundations of revulsion.

Shane Nolan
Marino, Dublin 3

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