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‘I’m proud to be a Plastic Paddy’


I AM not offended by the term Plastic Paddy. In fact, I am very proud to be a Plastic Paddy if by “plastic” it is implied that my Irishness is artificial – something that has been manufactured.

When “plastic” is supposed to suggest that someone is without justification in calling himself or herself Irish it is probably worth disputing the authority of the person uttering “Plastic Paddy”.

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Most likely, they are the kind of individual to whose club you would not want to belong if they were in charge of its membership. It is risible, not offensive.

That was my thought anyway when my cousin started referring to me as “his Protestant cousin” just because I was born in England. I am in no doubt as to my Irishness and am not left offended or jarred by a suggestion to the contrary.

But it seems to me that this debate is being made too simple.

I do not think that my Irishness is the very same as that of someone who was born and raised in Ireland. For one thing, I would think it ridiculous if my Irish passport alone qualified me to vote in the Irish general election if “the Irish abroad” ever got a Dáil representative.

It was not the yearly trips to Donegal Town that made me feel particularly Irish and it is not the fact that I lived in Dublin for two years between the age of two and four. It was the fiddle, the football and the sliotar that turned me around.

At St George’s Catholic Primary School in Sudbury I was the keeper for our Gaelic football and hurling teams, both coached with memorable vigour by Johnny Wilson. After training during the week, I would then trek to Hillingdon for Irish music lessons with Brendan Mulkere, which I loved and regret giving up at 15. We played on St Patrick’s Day floats and even in the House of Commons for some MPs.

The point of this is to explain why, when the 2011 Census form arrived, I ticked the ‘Irish’ box with the same unthinking ease as I stated my address. If I had not done the above, I probably would have had little reason to do so. I would not have felt particularly Irish.

I would not dream of arguing that these factors make me “more Irish” than any other member of the second generation (if such a thought even made sense), but it does lead me onto a different point.

Like Rob Brennan, whose piece on the pains and perils of the second generation has sparked a hitherto unseen response from the community – I went to Cardinal Wiseman Catholic High School in Greenford. But the observations I took from the school are different. In particular, I was always struck by the appearance that for many of the people I knew who had an Irish parent and associated strongly with their Irishness, ‘Irish’ was just a place-holder for ‘not-English’. It was the outward manifestation of a contrarian inclination.

If my Irishness was defined negatively in this way and I still wore the green jersey during the six nations, I would probably be offended if someone called me a Plastic Paddy. “I have Irish blood and have every right to support Ireland,” I would probably argue with undue vigour while asking myself internally: “Why do I actually feel Irish?”.

The response to Rob Brennan’s piece indicates that many have a very good reason why they feel Irish. It would be interesting to see the response to a survey held in Ireland asking: “Why do you feel Irish?” My prediction is that most would either be confused by the question or answer: “Because I was born here.”

If that is what it takes to be “Irish” as opposed to “second generation Irish”, I know where I stand. My proposal is simple: We take Plastic Paddy back with pride.


Niall O Sullivan

Niall O’Sullivan is a reporter at The Irish Post. You can follow him on @Niall_IrishPost on Twitter

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9 comments on “‘I’m proud to be a Plastic Paddy’”

  1. Tom Conniffe

    Interesting article Niall, thank you. I used 'Plastic Paddy' as my Internet nick for years - taking the power back in the way you suggest - but, with that experience in mind, I now must respectfully disagree. The term still carries pejorative overtones in a way that 'second-generation Irish' doesn't. I'm all for expressing pride in my Irishness but no longer in a way that allows for expressions of disdain or ridicule in reply.

    • Chris Egan

      I must agree with Tom Conniffe; I have always found the term plastic paddy quite offensive but must admit I don’t think I have heard the term in 20 years. When I did hear it, is would have been on a North London building site and used to put you on the outside of a “click” or as Niall indicates to make sure you were not a member of the club. The term at this time was also used with labels such as “Tan” to reinforce your Englishness rather than highlight any Irishness.

      For me, I suppose I am 2nd generation Irish with my parents coming from Donegal and Tipperary. Being 2nd though seems to suggest a detachment. When I am asked, I would say I am 1st generation English because I was born in Coventry but describe myself as Irish, so Coventry Irish if a label is needed.

      If the question was posed why do I actually feel Irish? I would not find this confusing, I feel Irish because Ireland has given me my history and cultural identity. Being the first from here means all the rest are from there…. and a little geneology has shown I am the 1st generation for as far back as records show to be born away from the Portroe area in North Tipperary.

  2. KhublaMcCann

    Tom's right: It's all about taking back the power; the following link is an article I wrote about 18 months ago on the subject:

  3. eileen devenney


    Irish born people differ from townland to townland, never mind county to county, there is no definitive Irishness.

    Plastic Paddy and even Second Generation are not terms I use.

    Identity and culture is related to how and where you were raised and by whom.

    Those with Irish parents born outside of the Island will have a close relationship with Irishness, they will also have a close relationship with the place where they were raised.

    Just like the Liverpool/New York/Glasgow Irish, there are Irish people from most counties in England, for me that was Cumbria and I identify as Cumbrian Irish.

    As far as anti-English sentiments in Ireland are concerned, there is a deep seated resentment of the English due to the colonial history, the racism many Irish migrants find in England and because of English foreign policy in general.

    What you find here is varying degrees of anti-English racism, just as our families did in the UK as Irish people, you have to just shrug it off.

    Whilst working on a children's helpline in Ireland it was noticeable how many children with English accents were phoning in saying that they were lonely or that they didn't like living here.

    It does happen, comments like 'stupid English bitch', neighbours insisting a letter addressed to Mrs. English was mine, colleagues insisting that their qualifications are of a higher calibre, people denying that you are Irish completely.

    Ethnic difference is always a thorny subject whichever side of the sea you live. A Liverpool Irish colleague once smirked when i said Cumbrian Irish, 'what's that' she quipped, you see many people in England think that Cumbria is in Wales and on it goes....

    I have Irish speaking cousins in the Gaeltacht who were all born in Scotland.

    Don't worry about it, you know who you are and its rare to meet anyone who doesn't have some ethnic mix in their background, racial purists are pathetic.

  4. Rose Gorman

    I agree Eileen; there is no definitive Irishness but many different experiences of being Irish.

    My parents raised my brothers and I as they had been raised, they were determined to pass on the faith, the stories, the music, the history and their outlook on life, which have in turn become an integral part of our lives. There is nothing pretentious or false about the identity of second generation Irish, it is simply a different experience of being Irish.

    Many newcomers to the Irish Diaspora treat second generation Irish as if they are socially inferior, unwilling to associate themselves with us and using the term ‘Plastic Paddy’. My term for such people is 'Nouveau Irish' - the definition being that they are offensive and vulgar with a showy display of ‘authentic’ Irishness that is quite pathetic and not in keeping with the established values of the Irish Diaspora.

    • D,Murray

      Good point and something I touched upon in another article, the Irish born who accept and embrace the people born to Irish parents outside the country tend to be warm, friendly and open minded people, quintessentially 'Irish' in outlook and character, I'd sooner have a pint and a chat with them then the 'Hibernia than thou' bores who think that their birthplace or accent is some big achievement rather than a random accident of fate. If Jonathan or Sorcha of Clapham don't want to know us, we're not missing out on much to be honest.

      • michaelmoriarty

        if you are born in england your birth cert says british we dont want english blabbermouts talking over everbody else in dublin on holiday best keep your mouth shut

      • PJ

        Spot on Murray,
        I will memorise some of those lines for when I next run into Ireland's native pride.


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