This research will examine alcoholism among the Irish from a cultural/ethnic viewpoint, discussing ways in which the subject is treated in the professional literature and popular culture.
The stereotype of hard-drinking Irishmen is something of a commonplace of Anglo-American culture. But stereotypes may derive as much from kernels of truth as attribution, and the association in popular imagination of Irish culture and the culture of alcohol has been located not only in ethnic consciousness but also in history. Included in a popular history of Ireland is an account of the economic stranglehold that England exercised over Ireland in the 17th century, when direct trade between Ireland and the American colonies was restricted to exports of horses, servants, and "victuals" and to imports of all goods from the colonies except:
sugar, tobacco, indigo, cotton, wool, molasses, ginger, pitch, turpentine, tar, rice, and nine or ten other specified items--which, stripped of [the law's] facetious verbiage, just means that [Ireland] was permitted to import West Indian rum--thus aiding the planters and rum makers of the West Indies, at the expense of Irish farmers, distillers, and constitutions.
The foregoing will seem to many readers a good English joke. But from constant reiteration through the centuries these English jokes proved rather wearing on Ireland's health (MacManus 485).
MacManus develops the argument that England's documented and exploitative economic policies are at least partly responsible for shaping an Irish society in which alcohol assumed a significant role, a role that it maintains to the present day. On that view, alcoholism in Irish culture is held to be a consequence of non-Irish behavior, and MacManus appears to be taking umbrage at the jokes about Irish drinking that the English make at Irish expense, when it was the English who caused the problem in the first place. The whole matter is further complicated by the...