How to be Irish by David Slattery

by Erin B Taylor on October 9, 2012

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Everybody loves the Irish. So much so that people are migrating to the Emerald Isles in droves. But how can these ‘blow-ins’ ever hope to truly fit in?

David Slattery presents a hilarious and bizarre account of Irish culture to help you become a ‘Plastic Paddy’. From the importance of “talking pure shite” in the pub while downing your fifteenth pint of Guinness, asking strangers to guess random things, and suspicion of foreigners such as Santa Claus, the book explains how to emulate the Irish custom of being simultaneously comedic and pessimistic.

I have to admit that, when I began to read this book, I thought that it couldn’t possibly be an accurate account of how people really live in Ireland. The stories are way too tall to have actually occurred. But then I realised that a serious, academic analysis wouldn’t work at all – not because it would be wrong, but because it would completely fail to depict the spirit of the culture. Slattery’s darkly humorous stories of unlikely events strike at the heart of what it means to be Irish.

In the spirit of this black comedy, the book begins with death. While funereal traditions are changing, they are still governed by rules about how one should die (either peacefully or suddenly), how the body should be prepared, and who one should socialize with at the repose (D-list guests drink in the kitchen). But despite the sombre nature of the event, funeral etiquette is negotiated colourfully. At one particular wake, the deceased’s sisters argue about whether their brother should be buried in a favourite jumper. The day of the funeral is quite warm – so will he be too hot in it? As one guest observed, “I suppose it depends on which way he’s going: up or down.”

How to be Irish provides a succinct account of the basic rules of Irishness and will help you avoid the most common mistakes that foreigners make, such as telling the truth or being optimistic. Learning to hold down fifteen pints of Guinness, however, is up to you.

Book Details

Title How to be Irish: Uncovering the Curiosities of Irish Behaviour
Author David Slattery
Publisher Orpen Press
Year 2011
ISBN 978-1-871305-24-1
Page Count 233
RRP €14.99
* Purchase supports PopAnth\'s running costs

Just as irreverent is an account of a political election. For the purposes of research, Slattery signed up as a volunteer for a local candidate, spending weeks knocking on doors to convince voters how to cast their ballot, in the process getting to see a wide range of Irish lives close-up. At least, if they bothered to open the door. If they did, then it would be likely that the dog metaphors would flow as swiftly as the cups of tea were pored. People told him that the political tail should stop wagging the dog; that politicians were barking up the wrong trees, that the dog on the street was knowledgeable about Irish politics, and that the life of a politician resembles that of a dog. The biggest concern of most constituents seemed to be that whoever got elected should clean the the dog poo off the pavements. Perhaps this was the literal version of the Irish affection for talking shite?

If you’re still not sure that you have what it takes, perhaps you should read the chapter on Christmas to learn how to celebrate in a properly Irish fashion. According to Slattery, Christmas in Ireland distinguishes itself from the festive season elsewhere by the number of heart attacks, domestic incidents, suicides and murders that occur. If you don’t die, you should be sure to properly fight with your family, otherwise it won’t really feel like Christmas. The Irish really know how to do things in a proper fashion. As Slattery wisely observes, “Very few tourists come to Ireland for Christmas day to stay with Irish families, which is surprising and must be because they don’t realise what they are missing.”

Despite these darker sides of Irish life, the thing that visitors most notice is how friendly the Irish are. Indeed, while it is welcomed, some outsiders can’t help but suspect that Irish friendliness must be superficial because it is so intense. Slattery explains that this a misunderstanding of the Irish character: “deep down we are very superficial – which is one of our proudest attributes. When we want to be deep, we talk about someone else’s feelings. We are very friendly on the surface, which means we are actually very friendly through and through.” In a world where appearances increasingly rule the roost, the Irish reign supreme.

How to be Irish provides a succinct account of the basic rules of Irishness and will help you avoid the most common mistakes that foreigners make, such as telling the truth or being optimistic. Learning to hold down fifteen pints of Guinness, however, is up to you.

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Further Reading

  • David Slattery interviewed on Kildare TV about "How to be Irish"
Erin B. Taylor

Erin B. Taylor

Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, University of Lisbon at Research Fellow, Digital Ethnography Research Centre

Erin originally studied fine art, but she defected to anthropology when she realised that she was far better at deploying a pen for writing than for drawing. She is a cultural anthropologist who is currently living in Lisbon, Portugal, where she has a full-time research position at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS).

Erin B. Taylor
Erin B. Taylor

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