St Patrick’s Day

The 17th of March, this is St Patrick’s Day. (My grandfather was Irish.) This is an article from Irish-domiciled Rory Carroll. One day someone will pen similar about an independent Scotland.

The quintessential Irish name is famous often for the wrong reasons. There are Paddy jokes, paddy wagons and “thick Paddies” – the latter a generic insult used against anyone from Ireland. It seldom matters if an individual’s given name is Patrick, Pádraig, Pádraic or Pat – in the eyes of the world and fellow Irish people, that still makes him Paddy and an embodiment of Irishness.

A cultural photography project called Paddy Irishman is now challenging the stereotypes with an exhibition of 50 Paddies of various ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and sexualities. The installation opened at Pershing Square outside Grand Central Station, New York, this week in the run-up to the city’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Friday, giving New Yorkers close-up portraits of Paddies who are artists, activists, architects, athletes and astrophysicists.

There is also a sheep shearer, a composer, a film director, an illustrator, a makeup artist, a schoolboy, an entrepreneur and a jockey. The youngest is Paddy Ischenko, a baby born in Dublin to a Ukrainian mother who named him Patrick to thank her adopted country for providing refuge.

“There has always been a stereotype that followed Irish males around the world,” said Ross O’Callaghan, a cinematographer who photographed the participants. “My intention was to put together all these stories and tell a real-life story of Paddies. It tells a wonderful story of Ireland, where we are now as a country and where we are going.”

The exhibition comes less than a week after a Saturday Night Live skit and the Oscars’ host Jimmy Kimmel revived tropes of the Irish as brawlers and drinkers with impenetrable accents.

“I don’t think we should try to censor the stereotype but we should try to challenge it,” said O’Callaghan, who collaborated with creative directors Roisin Keown and Peter Snodden. The exhibition is the culmination of three years of work and a callout that drew more than 1,000 Paddies across Ireland.

Paddy Bradley, an architect who inspired the exhibition. Photo Ross O’Callaghan

The inspiration for the project was Paddy Bradley, 43, an architect who built a shipping container house on his family’s farm in County Derry, which was named the grandest design of all time by the Channel 4 TV show Grand Designs.

“I was never aware there were so many people named Paddy or Patrick from so many different backgrounds,” Bradley said. “I was blown away by the talents.”

The exhibition subverts enduring cliches of the Irish as raucous drunks, he said. “It is a wee joke but it’s sort of offensive at the same time. When people see this exhibition I think their eyes will open. These Paddies are changing the world.” Some of the men are famous, such as the golfer Pádraig Harrington, the television personality Patrick Kielty, and a member of the Birmingham Six, Paddy Hill, who served 16 years in jail after being wrongly convicted of an IRA bombing. Some are well known in their fields, such as Paddy Barnes, an Olympic boxer.

Most are not well known, such as Paddy O’Connor, who served time in a Jamaican prison for smuggling cocaine and successfully campaigned for better conditions for inmates and guards. Paddy O’Donohoe, 49, was Ireland’s first professional body piercer and launched the Dublin International Tattoo Convention.

Paddy Hazleton, 32, who was born in Uganda and grew up in County Sligo, is a professional bodhrán player who blends jazz, rock, folk and African influences. “I did this for the craic,” he said. “Ireland has changed so much. And this debunks the stereotype of the hooligan in the bar.”

Part of the Irish photography exhibition Pershing Square outside Grand Central Station, NY


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