Cinema’s Most Stereotypical Irish Characters, Ranked by Offensiveness


Well, kids, St. Patrick’s Day has arrived, and you know what that means: green clothes, green beer, four-leaf clovers, “luck o’ the Irish,” and drinking, lots and lots and lots of drinking. Frankly, if you’re of the Irish persuasion (as your correspondent is) the fact that the big Irish holiday is synonymous with getting blotto, blackout wrecked is sort of offensive! But then again, that’s just one of the many Irish stereotypes that have worked their way into the culture, and I’m gonna go ahead and blame movies. No, just kidding, movie-blaming is what tone-deaf culture warriors do. But on this day of love for the Irish, let us pause to acknowledge a few of the cinematic caricatures that can disappear any day now.

Billy, P.S. I Love You; Declan, Leap Year

Ah, you know the type — the earthy, handsome Irish fellow who works with his hands (and often with his shirt off), bringing his rugged roguishness to the American lassie worn down by all those soft American-type fellers. Let me take ya for a stroll, love, and show ya the real beauty of God’s country! Anyway, this one’s at the bottom of the list, because it is about making Irish guys seem sexually irresistible, and I’m sorta fine with that.

Dermot O’Brien, The Matchmaker

With a twinkle in his eye and a drink in his hand, Dermot is the classic example of the aged magical Irishman who’ll take you into his confidence, whisper to you with that lilting brogue of his, and make it his mission to find you a lad or a lassie to spend the rest of your days with. Call it the Magical Irishman trope.

Joseph, Far And Away

That old standby, the Irish bare-knuckle boxer, ready at a moment’s notice to go shirtless and go for a few rounds if the price is right — Marquess of Queensberry rules, if ya please. Far from the only example of this, but worth plucking out for particular note thanks to the comical simplicity of Tom Cruise’s performance, to say nothing of his Irish Spring commercial-quality accent.

Michaeleen Oge Flynn, The Quiet Man

Truth be told, Barry Fitzgerald pretty much steals the show in John Ford’s marvelously enjoyable character comedy, set in the Irish village of Innisfree; as perpetual observer and commenter on the tangled courtship between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, he’s something of a one-man Greek chorus. That said, he sure does spend a lot of the movie in varying stages of tipsiness — and he is prone to unfortunate dialogue like, “Is this a courting or a donnybrook? Have the good manners not to hit the man until he’s your husband and entitled to hit you back.” Ah, wife-beatin’ humor. ‘Twas a simpler time!

Darby O’Gill, Darby O’Gill and the Little People

So, yeah, pretty much everything about Flynn also goes for Darby O’Gill, except a) it’s all in a Disney movie, and b) he’s, like, totally obsessed with leprechauns. Thanks, Walt!

Mickey O’Neil, Snatch

Having already given us one of cinema’s most notoriously dodgy Irish accents in the misbegotten 1997 terrorist drama The Devil’s Own, Brad Pitt’s next contribution to Gaelic cinema was this (admittedly inspired!) comic supporting turn in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels follow-up. Not only is Mickey a boozing, dirty, unintelligible Irish brawler, but he’s a “Pikey” (slang for Irish Travellers), meaning you can’t trust the bastard any further’n you can throw him, and true to form, he makes off with a huge payday after welshing on a promise to throw a fight. As Mickey himself would say, “Aye, ya fre da caravan deg.”

Capt. McCluskey, The Godfather

If there’s a New York cop in a movie, chances are he’s Irish — and he’s probably dirty, too. And the king of the dirty Irish New York cops is the corrupt Captain McCluskey in Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. He’s a guy so corrupt he’ll slug a war hero who tries to stop his men from executing a mob hit, so dirty he sits in as a referee at a meeting between two rival gangs, and so Irish they had to get Sterling Hayden to play him.

Jim Malone, The Untouchables

Now hang on, you’re presumably thinking, how does The Untouchables’ honest Irish cop rank as more offensive than The Godfather’s dirty one? And I’ll tell you: because they cast Sean frickin’ Connery as said Irish cop, and he doesn’t even try to do an Irish accent (hadn’t they seen Darby O’Gill?), thus sending the subtle message that the only good Irish cop is an Irish cop who’s actually Scottish.

Ryan Gaerity, Blown Away

Then again, if you’ve heard Tommy Lee Jones (and, for that matter, co-stars Jeff and Lloyd Bridges) mangle the dialect in Stephen Hopkins’ 1994 action thriller, you might understand Connery’s inclination to punt. But that laughable brogue isn’t all there is to loathe about Jones’ characterization; he is (you knew one was coming) an IRA bomber, and one who knows the best place to trap his brethren from the old country: at an Irish bar.

Leprechaun, Leprechaun

We talked at length about this atrocity last week, so let me just leave it at this: while my people will never know the true injustice of onscreen representation suffered by African Americans, if there is a Stepin Fetchit moment in Irish-based cinema, it’s the scene of Warwick Davis’ pot-o’-gold-pursuing title character banging through an abandoned kitchen, coming upon a box of Lucky Charms, and devouring the cereal. It’s a single-tear-down-the-cheek image, is what I’m saying. Enjoy your green beer, everybody, and get home safe.