Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 2, 2007

In Praise of Irish “Piss & Vinegar”

Getty Image - O'Toole in Lawrence of ...umm... what is that place called again? and how did we get HERE, from there?

Getty Image – O’Toole in Lawrence of …umm… what is that place called again? and how did we get HERE, from there?

…I added the following short O’Toole thing during the week of O’Toole’s death [b. 1932, … died DEC 14, 2013]. He was 81.

Clips below… best I think is on the occasion of the publication of his first memoir, Loitering With Intent, in 1997.

Peter O’Toole with Charlie Rose – 1997

On the occasion of publishing Loitering With Intent, O’Toole talked to Charlie Rose –probably the best interviewer in history, or at least best-informed, with the most probing questions– about being Irish.

The Irish identity question comes at about 2:50 in the video clip, in a fifteen minute edited interview.

Rose: ‘ What does it mean to you to be Irish?’

Peter: ‘It’s almost the center of my being.
I can understand and reflect and indeed everything I think Of is colored by its history by its literature by it’s people by its geography. When the war ended I went to Kerry in 1946 –and I had not been to Ireland since I was a young child.  Hadn’t seen it since before 1939 –and they were strange years, from age 7 to 13, you can imagine. And I was a bit of a misfit , the odd man out. But I went to into county Kerry, with my friend father Leo Walsh. And suddenly it all clicked. I wasn’t different at all. It was the other ones –they were very strange.’

Rest in Peace, me boy. Or… keep working! They’re gonna love you up there.

— —

Original blog post below.

— —

“The Irish are the only people completely impervious to psychoanalysis.” – Sigmund Freud

Colin, the Matt Damon character, quoted this great line to his police psychiatrist girlfriend in 2008’s multiple-Oscar-winning Scorsese breakthrough The Departed. Though skillful screenwriter William Monahan adapted the movie’s basic plotline from a 2002 Hong Kong police/mob picture, he and Scorsese –and presumably the actors– found a hundred insanely great ways to make this a quintessentially Irish-American story: working class heroes, a touch of dark humor (Nicholson’s brilliant contribution), and plenty of excess: booze and broads and violence and melting-pot politics and scared little boys hiding behind macho-man masks.

But that line–that one great, awful, personally resonant quote from Freud — that’s what did it for me . Because it made me look at myself. It made me think of my family (I’m 25% Irish).  It helped me remember and somewhat even forgive my father for some of his own impervious tendencies.

In my more megalomaniacal moments, I picture myself claiming my place somewhere among the all-time-great Irish charmer/brawlers in the arts: guys like James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and all those glorious, moody rabble-rousers of old. Actors like Spencer Tracy and John Wayne. Edgy directors like John Huston, John Ford, Jim Sheridan and Danny Boyle. Current stand-up comedy specialists like King of The Rant Denis Leary and the dangerously confessional Christopher Titus. The back-when Irish roots of Lennon & McCartney. The “dig deep” spirit of Van Morrison, the U2 boys, the Pogues –heck, even that ballsy Irish broad Sinead O’Connor ! From younger generations: some of their Irish-American counterparts like Billy Corgan and Ryan Adams. And, for what it’s worth, I really do identify with whatever is Irish and screwed-up and sometimes beautiful way down in Mel Gibson’s heart of hearts. (I didn’t actually verify Mel’s Celtic roots, but he fits the type in a dozen different ways, from the drinking to the complicated religious identity to the raging, crying, larger-than-life creative force that seems to compel him.)

I recently discovered a Scottish folk singer named Dougie MacLean who exemplifies more of the soft side, the poetic soul, of this Celtic “warrior/poet” type. He wrote a song called Ready for the Storm, covered a number of years ago by one of my favorite Christian Contemporary singers, Rich Mullins. My favorite lines are as follows:

The distance it is no real friend
And time will take its time
And you will find that in the end
It brings you me
This lonely sailor
And when You take me by the hand
You love me, Lord, You love me
And I should have realized
I had no reasons to be frightened

So now I wait for “time to take its time”. I mark time in this paradise/prison of middle-class suburban American life. I laugh, I cry, I drink, I blog, I write, I teach, I rant and pray. And I try not to be frightened. Because, as Denis Leary wisely observed about his own success in a recent Rolling Stone interview,

“It’s hard to look back without thinking that there was some kind of Grand Plan in place.” 

Hey, I’ll drink to that!



  1. cool blog brother. you need to catch the new wave of Irish consciousness. Google; ‘Michael Tsarion’ and ‘Fionn O Lochlainn’. These are some Irish men that are sayin it loud and clear.

  2. Hello!,

  3. Good day!,

  4. mmm, Irish-American and Irish are two completely different things.

    • True. Sorry if I made it seem otherwise. I only aspire to understand the true Celtic spirit. I know I’ll always be something of an outsider, looking in, as an American.

      • You embrace your roots and maybe those roots are only 25% Irish but they are still your roots and you are wholly entitled. Whats more you should be commended for that. I find it a joy to see so many Americans celebrating their Irishness, regardless of how far removed that is. It is people like you, no matter how many generations removed, that proudly carry and continue the Irish story and help keep our traditions alive outside of Ireland. Much like Alex Haley carried his story through generations before creating Roots.

        I have come across a particular brand of what I can only call snobery by certain people towards “Irish Americans” more than once. As an Irish person raised and living in Ireland, I would just like to say that in my opinion people like yourself fill me with a sence of pride. I personally would not view you as an outsider, but embrace you as one of our own… that plus whatever that other 75% is 🙂

  5. i am a daughter of two immigrant parents. they met here under a matter of circumstance. i have embraced and embodied the irish culture – being crowned “beauty titles” in a couple of competitions – and danced in a few competitions (feis’). i have 4 brothers and 2 sisters. i grew up in a very strict way. i consider myself impervious to any kind of psychoanalysis. no one will ever understand the dynamic of loyalty.

  6. You sir, are a moron.

  7. Those who are not Irish or part Irish are impervious to the Irish psyche

    • I’m not sure if Michael’s comment above was a response to Jimjo, or to my own original post.
      If his point is that I am too far from “pure” Irish to understand or be influenced (culturally, genetically, whatever), then I’m not sure I agree. (Though I do agree with Jimjo, that my inner moron is alive and well…)

      Traditional Irish attitudes or characteristics (working class “toughness”, loyalty, rebelliousness, sociableness, melancholy, etc.) may only be indirect inheritances for me (and they may also be as much stereotypes as they are accurate). But as other commenters above confirm for me, they are still relevant. We absorb culture from prior generations, and from kindred spirits in our own generation (whether we officially belong to their group or not, for kindredness of spirit is not the same as actually being “kin”). In whatever ways I am “Irish”, it is as much a happy accident as it is a choice. But I will say this: it is an *easier* choice to act or think or see the world with my 25% Irish eyes than with my 25% **Danish** eyes, for the tropes (or norms, or stereotypes) of what it means to be Danish are not as clear to the rest of the world as the Irish tendencies are.

      If truth be told, I actually believe nobody is completely impervious to the influence (good or bad) of others– be they psychiatrists, fellow countrymen, ancestors, or strangers. As the saying goes: no man is an island (even if he or she comes from one…). It’s up to us to either embrace or react against what various cultures present as “normal”. The Irish indie film “Once” from a few years back tried to make a similar point. And based on the large number of Tony Awards won recently by the musical based on that movie, I’m not alone in celebrating the scrappy, funny, instinctual, creative, never-say-die spirit that we ascribe to the typical Irish persona.

  8. Oh yeah?

  9. YEAH! You wanna make something of it, Jose?! Are you “Mr. White” from Reservoir Dogs? You give me your best shot, Blanco. I may be Irish… but I’m one o’ those “Black Irish” you may have heard about. 😉 I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more…

  10. Reblogged this on Marking Time and commented:

    this is already old news to some, but permanent news for me…

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