The Concept of a Single Story
It is important to understand the concept of the single story and the detrimental ways in which it can affect the image of a country and its people. Stereotypes act in a similar manner and perpetuate the dominance of a single story. Before studying abroad in Ireland, I am embarrassed to admit, I had many stereotypes about the culture and the people. After only a few short weeks in the country, my eyes were opened to a whole new world and a new side of Ireland that I had never been exposed to. As I learned more about the culture, I began to understand the origins of many of the stereotypes and the historical contexts from which they emerged. Before blindly accepting a stereotype, I think it is very important to understand how the stereotype emerged and why it is important to the culture.
The Myth of Leprechauns
I should address the most obvious and commercialized Irish stereotype, a belief in leprechauns. A leprechaun is a type of traditional fairy that originated from tales in Irish folklore. They are believed to spend their time making shoes and causing mischief in the town. The myth suggests that a leprechaun’s life savings of gold can be found in a pot at the end of a rainbow. I’m sure everyone can image the stereotypical costumes of leprechauns; green suits with big hat, pointy shoes and four-leaf clovers. While leprechauns are important to the study of traditional Irish folklore, it is important to understand that the current country does not hold the same beliefs in leprechauns. Leprechaun costumes can often be seen on St. Patrick’s Day or at popular tourist attractions for photo opportunities.
Stereotypes Associated with Irish Family Life
There are strong religious ties associated with Ireland, especially relating to the Catholic Church. Irish families are often stereotyped as being large and conservative Catholics. The wife is imagined as being constantly pregnant with families including lots of children. Much of family life is believed to take place in the country side, where a large family lives in a small and simplistic cottage. The father and sons are thought to be farmers and are typically pictured with red hair, wearing wool sweaters. There is also a common belief that mass amounts of sheep inhabit the country side. Tourist gift shops are filled with sheep decorated trinkets and souvenirs. The stereotypes of the Irish family and countryside ignore the ways in which the country has become highly urbanized. Large city life is common across the population now that the economy is no longer entirely based on farming and food production.
The Effect of Ireland’s History and Economy on Irish Stereotypes
Ireland is often stereotyped as a poor and poverty stricken country, especially after the recent economic issues the country has faced. The Great Famine in Ireland between 1845 and 1852 is a very significant occurrence in history that has led to this common misconception of the country. The famine was a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration caused by the devastation of potato crops, which one-third of the population was entirely dependent upon. This devastating time period is internationally recognized and was so detrimental to the country that the image of poverty remains. The Irish are imagined as poor and uneducated country folk who struggle to survive and provide for their families. While the country’s economy has had its ups and downs, the majority of the country no longer lives in poverty. The urbanized cities and the prestigious universities show great strides in the development of the country which should be recognized and appreciated.
The Breaking Stereotypes Exhibition
The following link provides a summary of an event that occurred at Trinity College Dublin called the Breaking Stereotypes Exhibition. The event was held in 2009, but the summary and purpose of the exhibition provided on the Trinity College website provide some insight to the development of the education system and the focus of universities in Ireland.
Breaking Stereotypes Exhibit (Trinity College Dublin): http://www.tcd.ie/equality/projects/stereotypes.php
Further Ireland Resources: