Joking apart

September 1, 2000

Christie Davies needs to conduct more background research about the Irish stereotype in British humour (Cutting Edge, THES, August 25).

At school in Oxford in the early 1980s, I was again and again told all the Irish jokes other students knew. These emphasised Paddy's stupidity, which was why he was "genial, tipsy and good humoured". He just did not know any better.

This, I later came to appreciate, descended from a long tradition in British public discourse that deemed the Irish inferior, as well as threatening, buffoons and thus in need of particularly English civilising. Nineteenth-century cartoons in Punch are enough to verify this, as is the private correspondence of some British political figures in the 20th century.

Professor Davies must know that history and tradition are as important for analysing a society's sensibilities as is comparative research, while it is already widely accepted that there are meanings to any discourse that imply more than the obviously stated.

Kate Flynn



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