Katie has a golden opportunity to be a role model of sobriety and excellence for our young people

  • Post category:News

By Karen Coleman in the Irish Independent

Katie Taylor’s Olympian victory was a spectacular achievement that’s given us all a boost. But her fight for success this week also touched a national raw nerve when Australia’s Fairfax Media called the Irish “punch drunk” as Katie was “swinging for gold”.

Our patriotic hackles were raised at the Aussies’ blatant stereotyping of the Irish as drunken Paddies. But was our indignation justified?

Of course the article was insulting, with its condescending description of the Irish fans as “delirious” and “intoxicated”. Its statement that “for centuries Guinness and whiskey have sent the Irish off their heads” was even more cringe-worthy.

Was it cruel? Yes. Was it racist? Yes. Was it based on a few harsh realities that we might not like? Well. . . actually, yes.

The guy who wrote the piece may be a bit of an ignoramus, with a dodgy political-correct ness antenna, but that doesn’t mean his cruel stereotyping wasn’t founded on a few home truths.

Now I’m not saying that Katie’s fans in the Olympic stadium were anything but enthusiastic and sober supporters who were ecstatic with her performance. But that’s not to say we should be surprised when other countries stereotype us as a nation of drunken fools.

Just walk through some of our main towns and cities on a weekend night and you’ll understand our international reputation for excessive drinking. A stroll down Temple Bar in central Dublin will expose drunken revellers staggering down the footpaths and throwing up on its cobbled streets.

Now, to be fair, they may not all be Irish but one drunk is the same as the other when it comes to alarmed foreigners watching on.

The recent orgy of violence at the Swedish House Mafia concert in Phoenix Park was another example of our propensity to indulge in drink and, on that occasion, drugs. Unfortunately, the few troublemakers at that event ruined the fun for everybody and gave the impression that we can’t be let out without disgracing ourselves.

Last weekend, in Galway, I heard several stories from taxi drivers complaining about young teenagers getting drunk at the Galway races. Many of them tanked up on cheap booze before they left for Ballybrit, and it didn’t take much more drink to send them over the edge once they got there.

Galway city itself is a popular spot for hen parties that can occasionally end in tears. If you’re out late at night there, you will sometimes see women swaying unsteadily on their high heels, with their lopsided hairpieces and pink bunny outfits looking the worse for wear. You will also spot men in a similar condition.

That is what our tourists see when they go out on to our streets at night, so no surprise then if they think we like our liquor. In fact, we actively promote drink at an international level. Just look at the way Guinness is feted as some kind of national treasure.

When Barack Obama visited Moneygall last year we shoved a pint of Guinness into his hands and adoringly guffawed at his intellectual assessment of how best to pour our favourite tipple. The scenes of the president and the first lady elegantly sipping their pints was great for Guinness, but the underlying message was the black stuff is a precious asset to be rolled out when US presidents come to town.

And when it comes to portraying ourselves as the worse for drink, we have shown we can do that at the highest levels of office. Let’s not forget American comic Jay Leno’s blistering comments about the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen after he went on the airwaves following a hard night of rabble- rousing at Fianna Fail’s 2010 Galway ‘think-in’.

Which was more insulting: Jay Leno’s description of Mr Cowen as a “drunken moron”, or the Taoiseach’s disrespect for his people by appearing on ‘Morning Ireland’ sounding decidedly hungover? Mr Cowen’s behaviour did nothing to alleviate stereotypical perceptions of the drunken Irish.

If you were to ask most foreigners what they know about Ireland, they would answer Guinness and the pubs. They may also mention Riverdance, James Joyce, U2 and, maybe, Michael Collins and the IRA if they’re politically inclined. But you can be sure that drink will top the list.

And why should we be surprised? The Irish pub is promoted as a key tourist attraction by our national tourism organisations. Discover Ireland describes the Irish pub as an “institution” that holds a “special place in our hearts”. Its website states that the Irish pub has held many roles over the years from “undertaker to grocery store” and it lists loads of pubs for tourists to visit.

Maybe we should count ourselves lucky that our visitors have plenty of cosy, dry places to shelter in from the miserable summers they’re subjected to here. Our bad weather would propel even the most committed teetotaller to the bar stool. No wonder we’re considered a nation of boozers.

But if we so blatantly promote our pubs as national attractions, should we really be that outraged when some Australian smart aleck exploits our partiality for booze in his article?

And we haven’t even mentioned the intimate relationship between sport and the drinks industry here. Whether it’s rugby or the GAA, many of our premier sporting events rely heavily on sponsorship and support from drink companies. Some of our top sporting champions are strongly associated with alcohol because of that sponsorship. Is it any wonder then that young people who idealise these icons associate alcohol with being cool and successful?

That brings us back to the wonderful Katie Taylor, whose Olympian achievements will no doubt inspire generations of young Irish men and women. Katie has a golden opportunity to become a role model of sobriety and excellence whom young people can emulate.

She will come under enormous pressure to take sponsorship and advertising from a variety of sources, including the drinks industry.

Maybe she can lead the way again as she did in the ring this week and sever the ties between sport and booze, and show that you can be cool and successful without involving alcohol.