Who is responsible for our nation of drunks?


I want to talk today about the inherent beliefs which exist in the world about the culture of “Irishness” – aka the piss heads of the world. Where did the idea come from that we are all drunkards and great fun on the booze? Where did we get the reputation as being one of the biggest nation of drinkers on this globe of green and blue? Who exactly is to blame for all Irish being born with the idea that an innate part of us is some way biased towards consuming alcohol? Why are there so many pubs associated with Ireland scattered around the world? Are we ourselves to blame? Oh no…. I touched on it last week and I want to blame one nation and one nation only – The English! Now before you take off in a rage with considered ideas which might involve the thoughts that us Irish are responsible for adorable snugs, great atmosphere and delicious porter, hear me out – it is the idea that we are drunks and the like that I’m after, not the actualities which exist right today. Now read on…

The imperious nation of war mongering colonists is to blame for our subconscious alcoholism – make no mistake about it. To explain I need to go back in time a little to examine where and how this idea of us (emphasis on the idea) being drunks, first took hold. Not long ago, only one hundred and sixty years, there was a famine of mass proportions in Ireland. In these times the common catholic Irish folk were peasants. They lived on land which they rented from absent landlords (either English or Anglo Irish) and ate the potatoes which they grew in the fields they lived on. Our parents’ grandparents were kids in this time and they were born into massive families who lived on spuds, spuds and more spuds. The land loved the spud and the spud loved the land. In turn the Irish loved the land and the spud and everyone was getting on just fine. We cooked it in all manner of means, but boiling the spud was the sure favourite.

In 1845, blight struck the crops and wiped them out. For three years the crops failed and coupled with extreme winter conditions, millions of Irish were killed and emigrated. The English continued to export Irish crops overseas at this time and also vetoed a decision to allow cheap corn to be imported to come to the assistance of the peasant paddy. In short, they maintained a steady strangle hold on our nations neck, choking it with grim austerity, much like what the IMF and EU are trying to do in today’s times. After the famine, the broken nations men and women tried to usurp the control which the foreign invaders had on us, but they were too unorganised. It would take some sixty years before the Irish came of age. The English had ruled by force for some six hundred years, gradually exterminating traditions, language and culture. They relegated the Irish from positions of strength and power to subordination and poverty. It was in the years after the famine abated that the Idea that we were problem drinkers emerged.

Now, in the fancy world of social evolution, there is a word to describe ideas which take shape and become realities – they are called memes. Memes are to ideas, what genes are to ancestors. As genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information. When an idea is launched by governments into the press, there is an understanding that this idea will take years to be accepted. Depending on the nature of the idea, there will be shock and uproar at first – but slowly and surely this anger will abate and as experts align themselves to the viewpoints, credibility and belief creep in. Over decades, indeed centuries, these ideas are inherited by children and so on and so forth, becoming a conscious accepted reality in the living, real world. Now in Ireland we have always had a drink. We have always had great pubs. We had 17,000 pubs in Ireland in the 18th century. These pubs served as meeting points, tailors and grocery shops and the like. In some small shivery parts of the country you can still buy your milk and bread over the counter, while supping a nice drop of the black stuff.

As the Gaelic language was being crushed throughout the island, the English were afforded the right to rewrite history as they saw fit. They recorded what they wanted and how they wanted. They initially propounded the myth of the uncultured, boorish and lazy Irish. They printed the stories of how troublesome we were and what a massive affliction we had with the drink. They reported how the poor took to drinking poitín (alcohol made by distilling potatoes) and how it would drive the peasants insane. They conducted studies in the late 19th century to assess the patterns of “problem” drinkers in Dublin city. They muddled this all together with the power of print and slowly but surely what began as idea, began to grow and grow.

Now let me clarify that the tradition to share a drink is well known and part of the culture of Ireland. The pub as the place where all are equal is an important part of any community. As a nation I am aware that we are indeed fond of a pint. But the notion that we are a nation of drunks began with the English reporting on Ireland back in post famine days. They marginalised our forefathers and sank them into a cycle of poverty which was almost impossible to break. Being poor ensured release from reality needed to be satiated through alcohol. This was where the English establishment wanted the common paddy positioned – drunk, penniless and praying in English to a God who no longer cared for them. Millions of my country people died at their hands. Millions brought our traditions to New York, Boston, Liverpool, Glasgow and Botany Bay. Here we were slaves – the lowest of the low. The story was accepted that we were drunks, lazy and trouble. And in a strange way we almost lived up to the English label.

Today we still carry the shackles of our recent oppression with us. The immense power of the “Meme” which the English planted long, long ago is still reverberating. We still adhere to this distant memory which is part of our collective subconscious. The scars of such recent slavery still burn a hole in our psyche and until we step up and re-evaluate what it means to be us, we will maintain this delusion that it’s great to be a drunken paddy. In the thousands of Irish pubs around the globe I would love you all to be asking each other, how do I want my ancestors to remember me? Is it as this? Do we begin our own new glory? Can we recreate the story and banish this myth of who we are to the rest of the English mythology which is weakening throughout the world. Make no doubt about it, this is all about control – and while you maintain the belief that this tradition of getting drunk and wild is Irish, then you are still a slave to an ancient idea – one which the Lords of jolly Olde Englande concocted many blue moons ago. If today you are turning to drink to hide from the prospect of the mortgage being in arrears, you are just doing what you forefather did too. Our nation went through the same story 160 years ago. Have we learnt anything at all?

This has been quite a difficult blog to write. It is very hard to accept that we are not completely responsible for our very own ways of being. They have been fashioned for us in the same way Guinness fashion make believe bars all over the world, to force feed the globe some lithe notion of Irish “craic”. It is tricky to draw the distinction between traditions which are inherently Irish and that which has been created and given to us. We do love the wild nature of being. We do love to be social and share laughs together. We do love to share a pint. But the notion that we are a nation of drunks and blaggards is born of Royal English blood.

17 thoughts on “Who is responsible for our nation of drunks?”

  1. Great blog dude!! really enjoyed this one…I had better not get angry at my little English beau….it’s tough though I have to say!!
    Good on ya!x

  2. Tess,
    Maybe a moment of fog through the clarity of the few

    I know that this is why there is a great kindred spirit between so many tribes who have suffered around the world. Deep down there is a knowledge that our histories are intertwined in a way we can never fully understand, but there is a respect and love there – In an obtuse way we could almost thank the same said perpetrators for this bond which they can never comprehend.

  3. I think you are right John. Hey what comes around goes around though. I someone asked you to describe and English man now, how would you describe him. After working with you in Greece my answer would be. Fat, sunburnt, loutish, nasty drunk and generally pisses off every other nation them come in contact with. For a nation that once ruled a good part of the globe what did they learn from it. On holiday they sit their fat arses down at the pool and demand an English ale, newspaper, English breakfast and everything else English they can think of. Thats a nation of cultured people isn’t it. The national dish is curry and the cost on an Empire is that the country is flooded with every nationality under the sun. Pretty soon the stero typical Saxon will be extinct. I remember my brother (lived in England for twenty years and married to a Swede) said, if you see a good looking woman in England she has to be a foreigner. They also have the highest rate of obesity in the world. as a result of rewriting history they are as thicjk as two short planks and have no idea why the Irish sould hate them so much. they then have the gall to turn up in Temple Bar wearing an English football jersey.
    I remeber a story anout Queen Victoria wanting to sign the Book of Kells upon visting Dublin. It would be like Michael Collins signing Mike was here on her poxy crown. Maybe I’m going too far, I know a lot of nice English people.
    Hey at least we were known as the Island of Saints and Scholars.

  4. Rob…
    I agree with you to a certain degree. My experiences of certain “Pistol Petes” and the like around the world have left a sour taste in me gob, but I suppose I would treat the everyday English as quite similar to the everyday Irish. They are your bog standard meat and two veg types – Most of Mancs, scousers and geordies I’ve met are all bang on. It is the aristocracy and the government and the wealthy banking families who run the show who are to blame for the state of their nation and the resulting mess around the globe.
    I think when “God save the Queen” was sung in Croke Park when we hammered the English, that a lot of Paddies wept a little on the inside, but maintained dignity on the outside. To advance as a nation we have to forgive and move on. But we must never forget.

  5. Hey SP,

    quite a few drops of truth in what you say here. It shouldnt be mistaken for blind nationalism though, it is born in fact not fiction or whimsy.

    After the finger pointing and realising that we are right back where we were. Clawing to get out of a rent debt to absentee landlords (maybe European this time not just English). The Europeans wont let us default as we should and so we are held hostage as we were 160 years ago.

    So my challenge to you Mr. Paddy, maybe I can just call you Sober now, so Sober, my challenge to you is ‘how do we start to redefine ourselves?’. What avenue is open to us to get away from the Friday and Saturday zombie-like march towards the boozer? What can/should we doing instead? How/where would we socialise? How do we go home early and still think we had a good night without any theatrical scene to recall the next day? What’s next for us?

    Jimmy R.

  6. Jimmy R,
    The circuituitous nature of history repeating is indeed fascinating. Where we are now in Ireland, with the government currently stilll buying into toxic endebted banks, while surreptitiously allowing the IMF into the position that they can purchase our national assets at knock down prices is a tragedy, but it is nothing that has not happened before. If you google and read about John Perkins and his book “Confessions of an economic hitman”, you will know that far from these events unfolding randomly in Ireland, that they were part of a master plan which has been playing out for some time around the globe. We are a minute part of a global assimilation of resources, both natural and otherwise.

    To answer your question about what is next, I have only this to say. You can only affect your immediate surrounds. Affect them!! Get involved in politics and get involved with the leading thinkers of our time. Don’t go to the pub to get drunk, go there occasionally to meet friends and talk about how you think things can improve.
    There are cafes, restaurants, parks and a myriad of places to go. Your idea about the Irish diaspora and how to connect everyone should be realised.
    We cannot all redefine ourselves in one big collective swoop. But if enough people start smartening and using our incredibly talented Irish minds, then we can go on and be leaders of a sort, in a future much different to the one we live in today.

    I wish there was an easy answer, but it takes campaigns to raise awareness….and this one starts here!

  7. Stimulating peace my friend..I like Mr Rob Foxs response too!…Ah the frickin brits..ruined everything, and now the queen is comin to visit next month. Id like to be fine about it, as so many people seem to be, but it stirs up a quiet rage within me and I wish that my voice alone, saying no, would stop her from coming..Alas, cant stop the times a changing… If only for the better..

  8. V
    The queen comes and goes….it makes no difference really. Less than one hundred years ago she visited and was given a rapturous reception throughout the country. The real problems are in the attituds of ourselves to ourselves. Fuck the Queen and her crown. She symbolises all that I despise about the world. But it’s like hating garlic and spending all your time trying to get it off the shelves in supermarkets. Forget about the garlic, focus on what you want and get those products on to the shelves instead. And let the people chose.
    Gandhi said it best – be the changes you want to see…

  9. You are right John, a lot of the English I have met are salt of the earth people. Like you said the people from Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle etc are very much like the Irish themselves. It is the the upper class and the thick cockneys I can’t stand. Funnily enough most people in the north of England can’t stand the southerners. Maybe the English were to blame for “labelling” us but if we keep behaving like the drunken paddies that they have portrayed us as, that label is going to stick, and we only have ourselves to blame for that don’t we?

  10. Agree most post colonial countries the world over have addiction problems, though India and Sri Lanka had the displeasure of a Brit invasion and are still pretty sober by any standards. Ireland’s love affair with booze really took off in 1992 along with its new romance with banks and international finance, courtesy of deregulation and money. Bertie Ahern might just be the man you are looking for, and he is pure Dub, via Cork.

  11. Boozewatch,
    You are correct indeed when you align the early nineties with the rapid expansion of all things Celtic. In our innocent ignorance we never realised that being called a Tiger at the time, was laced with a sense of impending explosion, which we never understood. All the Tiger economies of the past had blown up in their own faces, and ours ultimately prved no different.

    I would not blame Bertie for any of this. No matter who was at the healm, the intoxicating lure of money and expansion would have proved very difficult to resist. The EU/ECB/Fed Reserve/BIS are the faceless faces of private families who are reponsible for the current clime. Blaming Bertie is like trying to blame a train driver when the train he is driving crashes during an earthquake. Sure, maybe he could have slowed down, but there was ALWAYS going to be destruction.

    It is the system that needs changing. Dummed drunken drones are all part of their masterplan.

  12. Shouldn’t just blame the English for the stereotype, you should also blame some of the New Yorkers living in the late 1800’s. As the Irish came to NY in droves, they were seen as the last rung on the social ladder. As a result they took whatever job came to them. One of the jobs was helping lay the foundation for the Brooklyn Bridge and when these Irish went down, they didn’t realize, not many people did, that when you come up, if you are not careful, one gets the “bends”. When the Irish left their jobs, they were viewed as being drunk, when in reality they were just succumbing to the effects of the decompression. This title stuck with them as they grew in numbers in an attempt to prevent them from becoming too powerful. But it didn’t work and they eventually took over NY.

  13. Well said Brian,

    The Irish culture have been trod on for years – even today we are doing a lot of the donkey work around the world while our economy at home is being buggered by the politicians and the bankers. The short story you have told shows that no matter what comes in our paths, that we still rise and keep on fighting. We are a nation of fighters for sure…drunk or otherwise!


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