The identity of the Irish-American changed drastically over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and continues to shift within the twenty-first. The culture has been by turns condemned and romanticized, the people assumed to be drunkards or charming ignorami…
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In this way, the Irish-American has found a hyphenated identity through response to American perceptions of his (or her) Irishness. The grim nature of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century perceptions of Irish-Americans can be examined through a look at Nast's 1871 cartoon, reproduced below: Two particular signifiers of Irish-American stereotype are present in this picture. The character holds a bottle in one hand and a gun in the other. The bottle signifies Irish drunkenness, and the gun, violence. These stereotypes are so strongly ingrained that even a Korean-born man like myself can look at these signifiers and interpret them in the way intended by the artist. Further, the writing on the bottle - “Gun Powder, Uncle Sam's” - signifies that the Irish-Americans support their less than respectable habits with the resources of their new land. Nast also addressed Irish females in a series of cartoons about a servant named Brigid. The actual cartoons are difficult to locate, but a description can be found of her in Bronwen Walter's Outsiders Inside as a “clownish Irish maid.” (63) These characteristics were among America's first popular perceptions of the Irish-American. The Irish-American had much to contend with in building an identity. ...
The narrator of the song applies for a job and is told, “No Irish need apply,” and the following occurs: I couldn't stand it longer, so a hoult [sic] of him I took, And I gave him such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook. He hollered, Millia murther, and to get away did try, And swore he'd never write again, No Irish need apply. He made a big apology, I bid him thin [sic] good-bye, Saying: Whin [sic] next you want a bating [sic] write, No Irish need apply. (Poole, 1862) In this stanza, the narrator reclaims ownership of the violence stereotype, but turns it into an expression of pride. The final line signifies the narrator's willingness to stand up for his identity. In reclaiming this identity, he also reclaims the stereotype of the Irish-American as violent. He seems to intend an act of physical violence to be read as strength and pride instead of the byproduct of laziness associated with the trait in the Nast cartoons. This reclaiming continued long past the 1860s. Over a century later, Irish author Frank McCourt responded to these cartoons in his 1997 musical The Irish and How They Got That Way. His responses are not verbal but theatrical, as his actors perform “Brigid” jokes: WOMAN 1:Mrs. Van Wick said to Brigid, 'Look at the dust on this sideboard; I can write my name in it!' WOMAN 2: Lord above, Missus, isn't it a great thing to have an education! (McCourt, 1997) In performance, as viewable on the original cast recording, the actress portraying the mistress speaks in a high-class accent. The actress portraying “Brigid,” by contrast, speaks in a high-pitched brogue and rolls her eyes at the punchline. This action serves as a commentary on the ridiculousness of the joke
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