Irish as Great Talkers (Birmingham, 1911)

1.480. George A. Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life, with Sixteen Illustrations in Colour by Henry W. Kerr, R.S.A., (London and Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1911), pp. 4-5. BL

An extract from George Birmingham, The Lighter Side of Irish Life (1911), on the English conception of the Irish as great talkers.

In the following passage, Birmingham is giving the stereotypical Englishman’s view of the stereotypical Irishman. However much Haines does or does not conform to that first stereotype, he clearly does expect the Irish to “talk sparklingly,” an expectation which Mulligan seems rather more enthusiastic to fulfil than does Stephen:

Sentimentalism seemed to him an amiable kind of weakness, pardonable, indeed very admirable, in wives, daughters, and people of inferior races. He had no use for it himself, so he handed it on to us. In the same way the ordinary Englishman will have it that we are a gay and irresponsible people who take little thought for the future and are ever ready to prance through the mazes of life to merry jig tunes. He is conscious of a certain intellectual stiffness in himself. He has accepted the strong, silent man of the later Victorian novelists as a national ideal. Reckless gaiety is a quality which does not fit in with strong silentness, therefore he makes it over to us. He admires irresponsibility in children and girls who are quite young and very pretty. It gives them a kittenish attractiveness. Having decided that we Irish are irresponsible, he is quite prepared to like us in a patronising way, just as he likes children and pretty girls. In the same spirit he has endowed us with conversational eloquence as a national characteristic. He does not want to be agreeable himself and rather prides himself on a certain severe aloofness of manners. But somebody in the world ought to talk sparklingly, so he decides that the Irish have a capacity for such conversation born in them.