Offend Me, I’m Irish

Local Hibernians protesting at Franklin Mills on Sunday.

Local Hibernians protesting at Franklin Mills on Sunday.

They’re almost the first thing you see when you visit Spencer Gifts in the Franklin Mills Mall. Hanging on a rack near the door is a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, “Official St. Patty’s (sic) Day Drinking Team.” Nearby, a green plastic pint glass proclaims: “Green Beer Makes Me Horny.” Elsewhere in the store are shirts with more explicit messages, like one green tee adorned with two small shamrocks, strategically placed, and an invitation to “rub these for good luck.” And another one: “F**k Me, I’m Irish.”

To the folks at Egg Harbor-based Spencer’s, this extensive St. Patrick’s Day product line is all in good fun. To many Irish organizations—including the local Ancient Order of Hibernians—the shirts and other apparel are in bad taste, to say the least, and they perpetuate the notion that all Irish are debauched drunks.

For two hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon, about 20 Philly-area AOH members and supporters took their message directly to Spencer’s with a protest at Franklin Mills Mall, near the entrance closest to Spencer Gifts.

With Philadelphia police officers and mall cops hovering nearby, the protesters quietly stood near the entrance, holding up posters with handwritten messages, like “Boycott Spencer Gifts” and “St. Patrick’s Day Is Not a Drinking Day.” Every once in a while a shopper would stop to take in the scene, and occasionally one would hang around for a few minutes to chat with the picketers. Most passed right on by.

That was just fine with the protesters. They weren’t there to make a scene; they were there to make a point.

It’s a point they’ve made before, and with some success. Unfortunately, they suggested, Spencer’s has a short memory. “Spencer did something like this a couple of years ago, but it was taken care of,” said Tom O’Donnell, vice president of the state AOH board. “This year they popped back on the shelves again.”

No one in the group was suggesting that Spencer Gifts stop selling all St. Patrick’s Day products altogether—just the ones that, in their view, glorify drinking and those that are obscene.

“They portray St. Patrick’s Day as a drunk holiday,” O’Donnell said. “We don’t mind celebration on St. Patrick’s Day. What bothers us is the public display of ridicule. They put down the Irish. They wouldn’t do that with any other ethnic group.” O’Donnell also suggested that such products dishonor the memory of the saint after whom the day is named.

John Ragen, who helped his brother Tim Wilson organize the event, said Spencer’s has heard this message before. Last year, he and his brother visited Spencer Gift shops on their own, asking the managers to remove the offending items. This year, they wanted a better organized protest.

Like O’Donnell, Ragen said he isn’t against some celebratory products—he just objects to the ones, he said, that are “raunchy, sexually explicit and derogatory.”

From Spencer’s point of view, the St. Patrick’s Day products that their stores sell are not all that different from the shirts and novelty items sold in other Irish shops, both brick-and-mortar and online.

“Every one of those retailers sells exactly the same type of shirt,” said Spencer’s general counsel Kevin Mahoney, a self-described “good son of Erin.” He added, “It’s not our intention to demean the Irish people.”

If Spencer Gifts’ St. Patrick’s Day items were truly offensive, he suggested, customers wouldn’t buy them. But in reality, he said, “there is an enormous market in the Irish community who are willing to buy these shirts. Most of them have a good sense of humor and understand it’s all meant as a joke, not to be demeaning or derogatory.”

To the suggestion that Spencer’s is being singled out unfairly, Ragen noted that other stores have sold St. Patrick’s Day products which he and other Irish Americans deemed offensive. AOH members and others have objected in those cases as well, he said. “They (Spencer’s) are not being singled out,” he added. “Acme had them in their stores. We e-mailed them, and they pulled them out. Old Navy had some shirts in their store and (when people objected), they pulled them right off.”

So far, there’s no indication Spencer’s intends to follow the example of other prominent retailers, Ragen said. “We haven’t heard a word,” he said.

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19 Responses to “Offend Me, I’m Irish”

  1. These shirts might have started out all in fun and as a joke, but they have gotten progressively worse and just because they sell doesn’t mean that they should not be taken off of the shelves. If you walk up to a person on the street, ask them what the first thing that comes to mind when they think of an Irish person. Guaranteed they will say something about drinking. Bottom line is IT IS a negative stereotype, and these shirts only keep it alive… Tiocfaidh ar la!

  2. I think its ridiculous that you would display these items in your store. How about if one of your children came home with one of these shirts on. How would that make you feel as a parent? Are these items displayed out in the open to read or look at? Do you have to be over 18 years old to purchase these items? Because it seems like you don’t have to be over that age to display and back these items! Your truely, former Spencer customer.

  3. I think its ridiculous that you would display these items in your store. How about if one of your children came home with one of these shirts on. How would that make you feel as a parent? Are these items displayed out in the open to read or look at? Do you have to be over 18 years old to purchase these items? Because it seems like you don’t have to be over that age to display and back these items! Yours truly, former Spencer customer.

  4. I think its ridiculous that you would display these items in your store. How about if one of your children came home with one of these shirts on. How would that make you feel as a parent? Are these items displayed out in the open to read or look at? Do you have to be over 18 years old to purchase these items? Because it seems like you don’t have to be over that age to display and back these items. I hope you consider pulling these products from your store. p
    Please don’t let the color of green$~ruin the real green of the holiday! Yours truly, a former Spencer’s customer.

  5. What’s with the 4 leaf shamrock? The story goes that St. Patrick held up a 3 leaf shamrock to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity. That sign is almost as offensive to me as the slogans on the t-shirts.

    • Don’t know if the poster related this, but the four leaf clover has different meanings… good luck is the most common but also the four green fields… Ulster, Leinster, Connaught and Mayo have been represented by the four leaf clover. Yea, really.

  6. What one person finds offensive, another person finds to be humorous. I don’t think Spencer’s or any other retailer means harm, it’s about the bottom line. And, really, that’s what this country is founded on – opportunity and freedom of speech. Have any of you been to Dublin lately? Have any of you been to Carroll’s in Dublin or any of the other cheaper knick-knack stores? If you have, you’d know that the Tshirts sold in Ireland are just as bad if not worse than what Spencer’s has to offer. The best way to make a statement is not to buy them. Then the go away if they don’t sell. As for Irish stereotypes, I’d much rather people boycott events like the “Shamrock shuttle” and “Erin Go Braugh” pub crawls. Those activities are really the issue. Remember, stereotypes eminate from some grain of truth. Working in center city on St. Patricks Day is evidence enough of this. It’s a disgrace, and many many people, young and old find binge drinking acceptable and laughable in the name of their Irish roots.

    • I agree that stereotypes emanate from some grain of truth. My issue is that we have certain groups of people that constantly are shoving down our throats their defaming and all the politically correct nonsense that applies to these “certain” groups. Why not bring to these “special groups” that they are not the only ones so shut up already and stop getting extra treatment and elevated to a special protected class for purposes of laws and retribution.

  7. pat rooney wandling Reply 14. May, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Re: Alcohol consumption and disease of alcoholism. Facts do not bode well for the Irish. At one time, the Irish in the U.S. and Britain had the highest rates of alcoholism. And Ireland still ranks high in the world for alcohol consumption. Once, it was number three, behind, Luxembourg and France. We need some updated info,however. Still, belittling the Irish who saved civilization is enough to start a good fight here.

  8. I have been trying to fight this stuff for years to no avail. Notably, right before St. Patrick’s Day, in the final year of the Bush Geo W Bush Administration, his REPUBLICAN Dept of Transportation website has a DEDICATED Irish only ethno-religious profiling sobriety message. I immediately telephoned officers of National AOH who did nothing. We cannot just rest on our pro-life laurels giving passes to the right wing nuts who despise us ! Too little too late. Although I am an AOH member I do NOT speak for the Division or any other in the organization.

  9. I saw a story similar to this on Irish Central, but regarding the clothing chain Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters is located in Philadelphia and the outrage in Ireland and of Irish Americans that have chimed in on IrishCentral.com is directed at the clothier. http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Irish-call-for-apology-following-Drunk-Vomiting-Shamrocks-clothing-line-140128013.html

  10. michaela MCNALLY siedlecki Reply 01. Mar, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Shut up! The stereotype is nothing new and to be COMPLETELY honest, I doubt you’ll come across an irish family that doesn’t have a LOOOONG history of alcoholics/recovering alcoholics! Find something better to do with your time and energy! Don’t fight a fight that you’ll never win, because all evidence is to the contrary!

  11. michaela MCNALLY siedlecki Reply 01. Mar, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Not to mention the fact that there are PLENTY of “Irish Americans” that PROUDLY wear said clothing. Get over it!

  12. Are the Irish and Irish-American groups the only immigrant or native groups that it is ok to stereotype? Just because some Irish-Americans accept these stereotype does not make it ok the characterize all Irish as drunkards or fighters. This is offensive!

  13. Hvae none of you been about town on Paddys day? full of drunken irsh men and women, drunk, loud and causing havoc. True story :)

  14. Prehaps if the only image of Irish people around the world wasnt Irish bars full of drunks then there wouldnt be a prob

  15. Kevin Mahoney is a “good son of erin” the way Quisling was a good Norwegian

  16. The new phony is Frank Daly of Jameson rock band. Pushed St Practice Day for Kildares pubs same old story Wolf in sheeps clothes. Nothin Irish about him.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Irish Anti-Defamation Group Has New Target | irishphiladelphia.com - 24. Feb, 2012

    [...] targeting in the region. Last year, the new organization went head-to-head with Spencer Gifts, picketing its stores which sell gag and risqué gifts the federation deemed offensive. (A check of their website finds [...]