;I don’t find it as insulting as my other half does; he is 100% Irish blood but was born here and speaks with a London accent. Growing up, he spent every single school holiday back at the homestead in Donegal amongst his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. But regardless of the farmland being in his family for centuries and most of the headstones in the local cemetery bearing his mum’s maiden name and his dad’s surname, he fought against the title of “Plastic Paddy” when back home.
Whereas I AM a Plastic Paddy, I hold my hand up.
Officially, only a percentage of my DNA is Irish. But the pull of the Irish side of your family is strong: Even distant relatives claim you as Irish kin; An Aunty in Dublin once told everybody from taxi drivers to bar staff, “She’s Irish, really,” whenever I opened my mouth.
This is understandable when you consider Irish history; centuries as a downtrodden and subjugated nation who only finally gained their independence in 1922 after a valiant fight against the colossus of their colonial rulers.
The Irish, for a long time, had been economic refugees. And so being Irish outside of Ireland meant being part of a strong community identity.
And then that becomes its own culture passed down through generations and sticking two fingers up to official DNA.
So when you have an Irish surname (an elderly Irish scientist once made me do an unwarranted 80-mile round sales trip because he "wondered if I was related to Tony Doyle the boxer,") and you have the cliché dark curly hair with pale skin and red cheeks, and teachers at school described you as a “colleen” but you had to go look the word up in a dictionary to understand what they were on about, and from early childhood your dad taught you that you supported the men in green shirts in the rugby, buying you an Ireland Rugby shirt for your 18th birthday, and your distant relatives in Ireland insist you ARE Irish, then I propose that Plastic Paddy is a culture, not an insult.
A 2nd generation immigrant Jamaican friend once said to me, “the only difference between the blacks and the Irish was that you could see a Jamaican immigrant descendant, but the Irish look like the English.” I totally get that.
And then there are the parenting skills that infiltate generations; things like taking the piss out of your kids to bring them down a notch or two if they ever show signs of getting too big for their boots (or as the rest of the English-speaking world would call “developing any self-esteem.”) You quickly sink or swim as a kid, you either pick up the gift of quickfire responses and banter or you sink in self-pity.
I’m not going to broach Catholicism. Suffice to say that whilst all my cousins are Catholic, we’re not. We’re not anything – A bust-up between my dad and his father about the denomination of my dad's future spouse finally sealed my dad's opinion of organised religion.
My dearest friend, coincidentally or not, happens to be from County Clare. We met when she worked over in England and I guess my Plastic Paddyness made her feel more at home when she was first settling in.
When my dad died suddenly 13 years ago she flew over to come to the funeral and seeing my extended family in action she said we were the most Irish English family she’d ever met. For all of our percentage of Irishness.
Her own father died the other morning after a long illness. Though the loss is the same, our two dads deaths couldn’t have been further apart, with him they had weeks of notice to plan it as he wished it. I rang her as I walked home from work that evening. The Irish wake was beginnng. She was bearing up, bless her but I know the pain.
Then she said, “in those last few months I poured my heart out to him, I had nothing more to tell him and I am at peace with myself but I know you didn’t get that.”
In that moment I had to fight tears back in the busy London street. No wonder I went off the rails years back – the author of my Plastic Paddyness had died without me ever getting to tell him anything in my heart.
That’s the stuff of another blog post – but not a weepy one. It changed my life profoundly and I don’t think now there is anyone in my life who doesn’t know what they mean to me, just in case, you know.
As the 6 Nations kick off for another year, I treasure the happy rugby memories shared with my dad: In fact, the last time I ever saw him was on a 6 Nations Saturday afternoon when he had been sent out on an errand by my mum and "just happened" to be passing my house as an Ireland match was kicking off. He made it until half-time when my mum rang to find out if we'd seen him, as he'd been gone an awful long time.
Plastic Paddy and proud.
actor, general alright person and tree-climber extraordinaire.