This website grew from a University of Cincinnati Honors Program seminar, “The Irish in America,” in coordination with the Archives & Rare Books Library. The focus is on the history and the living heritage of the Irish in Cincinnati and is designed to be a sustainable and informative site that is a collaborative effort between archivists, students, scholars, and the general public.

Category: Culture & Behavior

Balancing of Traditions and the Calendar

By: Lauren Higginbotham

Leap Year is a 2010 film, starring Amy Adams as Anna Brady, and Matthew Goode as Declan O’Callaghan.  Frustrated with her long time boyfriend’s lack of a marriage proposal, Anna decides to travel to Dublin and propose to him on leap day, while he is there at a conference.  She hits a few bumps in the road on her way to Dublin, and ultimately finds a travel partner in a surly Irish innkeeper, named Declan.  By the end of the film, Anna comes to realize Declan is the person she wishes to spend the rest of her life with, as opposed to her long time boyfriend, and the two are married in Cork.

Aside from the cheesy love story and abundance of clichés used throughout the film, the underlying plot centers around an old Irish legend, which allows women to propose to men on leap day.  Supposedly, the tradition began when St. Brigid struck a deal with St. Patrick, in order to balance the traditional roles of men and women, similar to how leap day balances the calendar.  Despite the folklore’s romantic undertone, according to The Huffington Post’s Stephanie Hallet, “The roots of the Irish tradition are dubious…St. Brigid was just 9 or 10 years old when St. Patrick died in 461 A.D…making the pair’s friendship unlikely.”

Regardless of the story’s validity, Americans such as myself, view the film as simply a romantic comedy, capitalizing on the differences between Americans and the Irish.  Throughout the film, Anna continuously comments on Declan’s strong Irish brogue, the relaxed attitudes of those she meets, and the importance placed on a true Catholic marriage.  In turn, Declan is caught off guard by the value Anna places on material objects, her seemingly conceited personality, and low tolerance to alcohol.  On each side of the spectrum, the film focuses on stereotypes typical to each nationality, yet considering the majority of the film occurs in Ireland, it is plausible the Irish may reject the movie for its subpar portrayal of Irish life.  As a whole, the film did not receive rave reviews in the United States, yet Roger Ebert counters this negativity by saying, “When was the last time you saw a boring Irishman in a movie?”


Works Cited

Hallett, Stephanie. “Leap Year Proposal: What’s The Story Behind It?” The Huffington Post., 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

The Prevalence of Mental Illness in Irish Americans: The Three Theories

By: Michelle Casey

Depression. Alcoholism.  Schizophrenia.  Just a few of the mental illnesses that rage through the Irish American and Irish communities, yet the Irish will barely utter the terms themselves.  Why is it that such a stereotypically cheery and happy lot such as the Irish and Irish Americans suffer so disproportionately from mental illness compared to other ethnic groups?  After some research, I have compiled three potential theories as to why mental illness is so commonplace in the Irish Americans today: The Great Hunger, paternal age tendencies, and the Irish culture itself.

The first theory is certainly the most commonly heard: epigenetic changes that arose from The Great Hunger contribute to higher prevalence of mental illness in the Irish.  Oonagh Walsh, an Irish historian, strongly believes this to be the case, as it is known that both the Irish and the Irish diaspora have significantly higher rates of mental illness than any other ethnic group.  She believes that the nutritional deprivation endured by the Irish during the potato famine of 1845-1852 was so extreme that it caused changes in gene expression that led to a higher likelihood of obtaining mental illness at some point in life.  These genetic changes have now persisted for over a century and a half.  Walsh’s evidence comes from the Irish censuses of 1841 and 1900.  Per the 1841 census, of the eight-million population, 1,600 were committed to asylums and 1,500 were in jails.  Per the 1900 census, of the four-million population, 17,000 were committed to asylums and 8,000 were considered “lunatics at large.”  The numbers indicate a staggering increase in mental illness from before the famine to sometime after.  However, a counterargument to this theory is that a series of “Dangerous Lunatics Acts” enacted during this time period permitted the asylum of anyone considered mentally impaired enough to commit a criminal offense.  These laws were horribly abused during their time, landing many more people in asylums than who actually needed to be there.  Despite this counterargument, this theory is still in the running for a potential reason for the amount of mental illness in the Irish. Continue reading

Tapping into Hearts and History

By: Dominique DiFalco

Tap DanceGrowing up, one of my biggest dreams was to be a professional dancer. I attended classes until I was about six-years-old for tap and ballet and my best friend was an Irish dancer as well. It wasn’t until I was 16 when I was re-watching the amazing videos of me dancing my little heart out in front of a handprint-stained mirror that I came to a life altering revelation: I have no rhythm. None. The passion to dance that is present within my heart was never correctly transferred to my feet. Although crushed, I have decided to place this unseen potential into something more productive: discovering the relationship of modern tap dancing to traditional Irish step dancing. Continue reading

The Forgotten Female Voice

By: Rachel Forsythe

Throughout my life, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for poetry.  It amazes me how poets can express complex emotions, themes, and metaphors in just a few stanzas.  As Voltaire once said “Poetry is the music of the soul, and, above all, of great and feeling souls.”   Throughout these last few months, I have been discovering different elements of Irish culture.  I’ve been enchanted by Ireland’s vast grassy plains, beautiful architecture, and bustling cities.  Irish art, music, and dancing have all become interests of mine.  But, above all, I appreciate Irish poetry. Moreover, I appreciate Ireland’s influence on American poetry.

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1944. She moved to London with her family at the age of six but soon returned to Ireland to receive her B.A. at Trinity College in 1966. She immigrated to America and has been living in California since 1996. She is currently a poetry professor at and director of the creativity writing program at Stanford University. Continue reading

Irish Dancing in Cincinnati

By: Onnie Middendorf
Annie and Onnie, Celtic Festival 2011

“Annie and Onnie Celtic Festival 2011” These are close ups of the school dresses and headbands that Erickson Academy of Irish Dance wear. Each school has their own colors and designs that set them apart from other dance schools. These are worn by less experienced dancers and dancers doing traditional ceili dances.

Just like Saint Patrick’s Day is enjoyed by most who consider themselves Irish-American and those who just enjoy the festivities on March 17th, Irish Dancing is enjoyed by people with and without Irish ancestry all around the world.  Here in the United States, names like O’Brien and Sheehan appear on feis lists, but there are also names like Mueller and Kraemer and other non-Irish names.  A feis is an Irish Dance competition, and they typically have a list of all of the dancers competing as well as the dance school they attend.  One of my neighbors told me about a time when she went to see her niece dance and referred to it as a “Shirley Temple” convention because of all of the wigs.  Everyone is welcome to compete, and welcome to learn as well.  Irish Dance instructors are dedicated to preserving the Irish-American cultural tradition of Irish Dance by teaching it to people from all backgrounds, from curly Irish redheads to people like me without any Irish Heritage at all, and everyone in between.  Continue reading

Is Slagging for America?

By: Kelly Schmitz

Cincinnati Irish Website Additional Contribution 1 PhotoSlagging is a term used to describe a kind of harsher form of teasing.  While this may seem like an insult to some, to the Irish, it’s considered a behavior that shows affection or bonding, and, in some cases, is even used as a compliment.  You might consider pointing out how much weight your friend has gained or take a poke at their short stature, for example.  At this point, you, like me, might be thinking, “Gosh, I tease my friends all the time?  What does any of this have to do with being Irish?”  This difference lies in that unlike in America, slagging isn’t just used to playfully make fun of the other person, it’s used as a form of positive reinforcement.  To the Irish, slagging is just a bit of “craic”, a term the Irish use to describe fun, entertainment and enjoyable conversation, and no harm is meant by what is said.  In a workplace setting for example, a boss will tell his employee how great they’re doing.  Not the case in Ireland, where that same boss would be more likely to tell his employee that he finally got off his lazy arse.  It’s the difference between distributing straight up compliments and hiding them in the humorous lingo.  Such harsh words, it seems, but is this behavior particularly unique to the Irish?  To answer this question, I decided to delve deeper and ask a couple of my close friends for input. Continue reading