Faux Pas Fridays: Telling the Irish How Irish You Are

Photo from HJHolidays.com

Photo from HJHolidays.com

Living in Dublin, the top complaint from my Irish coworkers was that apparently, it’s a trend right now to say that you’re Irish, when really, you…well…aren’t. So this Friday, I’m trying to help out my Irish friends by letting everyone know something they wish we all knew.


  • your great-great-great-great grandfather was born in Dublin and emigrated as a boy, or
  • your mom knows someone who owns an Irish wolfhound, or
  • you really, REALLY love Guinness and Irish whiskey, or
  • Hey! It’s St Patrick’s Day!

…then try to resist the urge of telling every local about how Irish you are – you will likely be the tenth person to tell them so that day.

During my (very brief) stint working at a popular hotel in Dún Laoghaire, even I started to brace myself every time a guest started to tell me (assuming that I was Irish) about how their great-great-something Patrick or Clara…when all I needed was their breakfast order. I was amazed at just how many people told me how deeply Irish they were when their most recent connection to the island was 300 years ago.

The Irish Wish We Knew: The Difference Between Heritage & Nationality

Now I’m not saying anyone should deny their heritage, but the Irish do recognize a difference between “heritage” and “nationality”. For example, my great-grandfather was Danish. I don’t say that I am Danish though. I haven’t (yet!) travelled to Denmark, I don’t speak Danish, and only a few tokens of the culture have made it into my family’s traditions. Therefore, although I have Danish heritage, that does not make me “Danish”.

The Irish Wish We Knew: How Many People Actually Emigrated From Ireland

The 1911 Irish census states that the population of Ireland was 4.4 million – the same population recorded in both 1800 and 2000, yet only half of what the island’s peak population once was. From 1800-1911, the cause of the population decrease was largely emigration and the infamous famines; in the last century, emigration was also a key player.

In 1841, 8.2 million people were recorded; in 1851, only 6.6 million. At the rate of normal growth, the population in 1851 should have been just over 9 million. The exact numbers are disputed, but around 1-1.5 million people died of the famine or disease. A rest of the population decrease was actually due to a surge of people leaving the country. Those people often left for Australia, Canada and the United States. Therefore, there are a lot of people today who have a little bit of Irish in them.

The 2016 US census stated that 39.6 million people claimed Irish heritage. That included 20.4% of Bostonians, and 12.9% of the entire state of New York. The population of Ireland is just 6.3 million. That’s a lot of just Americans alone heading to find their ancestral roots on a small island.

The Irish Wish We Knew: To Teach Them About Our Cultures, Not About Their Own

Visitors to Ireland come from far and wide, and the Irish already know a fair bit about what it means to be Irish. Why not talk about your home country, something you know so well, but the Irish locals probably aren’t familiar with? I remember having to explain the Canadian obsession with maple syrup and watched my Irish flatmates cringe as I made fluffy “American pancakes” dozens of times. Talk about your home and the conversation will be much more stimulating, plus you’ll leave prouder than ever of your own nationality, while still giving you the chance to ask questions about your ancestor’s heritage too.

In Summary…

Be proud of your ancestry – after all, it’s makes you, you – but try to remember not to gush your family’s entire genealogy to the barman at the local pub. You’ll receive far more attentive ears by asking questions instead of teaching, and being proud of your culture now while still enjoying the culture of your great-great-great aunt Clara for yourself.


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