The ‘plastic paddy’ myth and complexity of being Irish

The ‘plastic paddy’ myth and complexity of being Irish

YOU can see the nationalist flags flying over the world now, everywhere from the UK, Italy, the USA, down to Brazil.

You can taste the troublesome flavour of nationalism in the air.

Here in Ireland too a good proportion of Sinn Féin’s recent vote would have been a flag waving nationalist one and with St Patrick’s Day just around the corner I got to thinking about this. This idea of nation, this identity, this Irishness.

So, I’m digging up an old column because if there is one thing all of those right-wing nationalists - and I don’t necessarily include Sinn Féin in that - don’t like its complexity.

They don’t like the idea that belonging to a nation can be a multi-layered, very human affair. But it is.


This, then, is my response to those who seek to patrol the right of belonging and this is the essence of my Irishness because this is what being Irish is. From this Plastic Paddy to you.

James Connolly, signatory to the 1916 Proclamation and one of the main political thinkers behind the uprising, probably didn’t visit Ireland until 14 or 15 years of age.

When he did so it was as a member of the British Army. He was executed by the same British Army while strapped to a chair in the grounds of Kilmainham jail.

Born in Edinburgh. Plastic Paddy.

Tom Clarke, first to sign the 1916 Proclamation. Active in the cause of Irish separatism for over 30 years prior to the Easter Rising, he served 15 years hard labour in England for his part in a bombing campaign. Executed by the British a week or so before Connolly.

Born on the Isle of Wight. Plastic Paddy.

Éamon de Valera, the last commander to surrender in 1916. Hugely influential figure in the War of Independence, the Civil war after the signing of The Treaty, and Irish life up until the 1970s. He was President of the Irish Republic from 1959-73 and had such an impact that the country became known as ‘de Valera’s Ireland.’


Born in New York. Plastic Paddy.

James Larkin, credited with founding the Irish Labour movement. He led the workers in the 1913 lock-out and was a hero to the Dublin masses. He was a Labour TD up until the 1940s. Born in Liverpool. Plastic Paddy.

Peter Monahan, a member of Tom Barry’s flying column in West Cork, was a part of the guerrilla forces credited with bringing Lloyd George to the negotiating table after inflicting heavy losses on British forces. An explosives expert who died at the famous Crossbarry ambush, he is buried in the republican plot in Bandon.

Born in Scotland. Plastic Paddy.

Sean Phelan, Sean and Ernie Nunan, Johnny O’Connor, Desmond Ryan, Margaret Skinnider, Desmond Fitzgerald, Joe Good, Arthur Agnew, Paddy Moran, Peggy Downey, Liam Daley, Piaras Beaslai and Liam Mellows. All were active in the rising of 1916 and had cockney, scouse and Scottish accents.

Every last one of them born in Britain. Plastic Paddies.

St Patrick, credited with founding the Church in Ireland. Patron saint of the country.


Born in Britain. Plastic Paddy.

Liam McCarthy, after whom the All-Ireland hurling trophy is named.

Born in England. Plastic Paddy.

Seán Óg Ó hAilpín, former Cork hurling captain who lifted that very trophy in 2005 and gave his entire acceptance speech in fluent Irish.

Born in Fiji. Plastic Paddy.

Paul McGrath, probably the finest player of the era when the Irish soccer team finally went to a European Championship and two World Cup finals, a sporting success seen by many as helping to kick start the birth of a new, confident Ireland.

Born in England. Plastic Paddy.


David O’Leary, who scored that famous penalty against Romania and Ray Houghton, who scored those goals against England and Italy.

Born in Britain. Plastic Paddies.

Ronan O’Gara, former Munster and Ireland rugby player, all-time highest points player for both.

Born in San Diego. Plastic Paddy.

The Edge and Adam Clayton of U2, the band said by many to be the best in the world. Acclaimed as being the first to put Irish rock music on the world scene as a credible enterprise. Entwined in the whole concept of modern Ireland as something cool and hip. Born in England. Plastic Paddy.

Shane McGowan, sometime lead singer with The Pogues. Generally acclaimed as one of the finest songwriters of our time. His songs encapsulate much of what it is to be Irish and he wrote the greatest Christmas song ever.

Born in Tunbridge Wells. Plastic Paddy.


Ronan Bennett, critically lauded Irish novelist. Imprisoned in Long Kesh and in England on suspicion of republican activities. Born in Oxford. Plastic Paddy.

Pearse Hutchinson, late poet writing primarily in the Irish language.

Born in Glasgow. Plastic Paddy.

Cyril Cusack, actor and father of the famous Irish acting family.

Born in Kenya. Plastic Paddy.

Jack Butler Yeats, renowned in his own right as one of Ireland’s finest painters and brother of the poet.

Born in London. Plastic Paddy.


Thousands of the children and grandchildren brought up in Irish families in Britain. With Irish names and Irish ways. With accents and lives in Britain. With their Irish faces on British streets. Every last one of them born in Britain. Plastic Paddies.

Plastic Paddies everywhere.