The Top 10 Fictional Irish Characters
A Top 10 post by matt, posted on March 16, 2007 at 7:36 pm
Oh man, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. A day dedicated, in theory, to Saint Patrick, one of the more famous Saints, well known for all those good acts he performed in his historical life to varying degrees of success. I would list those acts here, but I do not have the time nor the space! They’re so varied and plentiful, you see.
So, instead, I’ll just focus on the contemporary interpretation of St. Patrick’s Day. An interpretation that can be quickly boiled down to these two elements:
- Everyone self-identifying as somehow Irish
Let’s discuss these more in depth:
In many ways St. Patrick’s Day is the most honest of all the major holidays. Whereas Christmas, Thanksgiving, Independence Day and Arbor Day all like to disguise the fact that they’re about getting drunk with your relatives with pomp, circumstance and decorated foliage, St. Patrick’s Day is very clearly, very plainly and very loudly about getting drunk. Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day is so expected it might as well be required by law.
Everyone self-identifying as Somehow Irish
So the drinking element is simple, sure, but this one is a little more complicated. The thing about both being Irish and having Irish ancestry is that, well, not everyone can be it or have it. It just doesn’t make sense. Ireland is only one small country in Europe and while, yes, they did have quite a large immigrant population in the early days of America — and they fully followed that whole Catholicism edict that babies make Jesus happy –, they also had a lot of famine brought upon, I believe, by potatoes. So you have to imagine that the Irish population in America, while sizable, could not have been so all-encompassing as to give everyone Irish ancestry.
And yet on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish. Doesn’t matter who. From the obvious red-haired guy slamming back Guiness and swearing at the TV in an entirely incomprehensible fashion to the less-obvious foreign exchange student from India who wears thick glasses, slams back curry, and talks incessantly about the flying buttress (because he is an engineering student), everyone can claim some Irish in them.
It’s like some sort of transubstantiation miracle, where blood’s been transformed into Irish blood which is, as I understand it, like regular blood but madder. And no one can really explain why, except to say that it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and if the other holidays can claim magical roots, why not this one? Christmas is all “Look, miracles — there’s snow!” St. Patrick’s Day, on the other hand, is all “Look, miracles — the floor is on a fucking sixty degree angle and my mouth tastes like battery acid; where’s me shillelagh?”
My Secret St. Patrick’s Day Shame
I’m not Irish at all.
I can’t even make some weak claim to the title. I’m British-crossed-with-Canadian-crossed-with-Baptist. A lethal combination if there ever was one, sure, but hardly something relevant to St. Patrick’s Day. Missionary Work, maybe, but not St. Patrick’s Day. So on March 17 every year, I’m one of the posers, singing Irish songs and swaying my Guiness back and forth. I make James Joyce references like I’m a goddamn scholar, but the truth is that I only ever read Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and skipped some of the end bits with the poetry. But still. I try.
So I think it’s important that, this St. Patrick’s Day, I try and bring a bit of authenticism back to the holiday. To make up for all my years of Fake Irish, I’m going to shine the spotlight on REAL Irish. Or at the very least, fictional Real Irish, which is still sort of real, if you think about it the right way. Because what is fiction if not a mirror to reality? And what is a mirror but a window to an alternate dimension where everything is mostly the same, except they read things backward?
Do you understand what I’m saying? Do you understand that what follows is a list of the Top 10 Fictional Irish Characters of All Time?
Because it is.
The Top 10 Fictional Irish Characters of all Time
10. Captain Horatio McCallister, The Simpsons
It wouldn’t be any kind of pop culture list without representation from The Simpsons, that lovable prime time cartoon that refuses to die no matter how hard we try to stop it. The old sea captain character may not appear to have much Irish in him, but that’s only because he disguises his Irish heritage with layer after layer of odd pirate-and-sailor stereotypes. But despite his love of hot pants, real estate and Hallowe’en, the Sea Captain’s innate Irishness is plainly evident, particularly when he talks about his pure hatred for the sea (and everything in it). What better mark of hailing from the Emerald Isle than doing something you despise all day, every day, until it comes to define you? And then going home depressed and enraged, and looking for someone to blame?
Defining Irish Moment:
Man: “I’m telling you the light would work better if it pointed
out to sea.”
McAllister: “Arr, shut up. I know what I’m doin’.”
(a boat crashes in the distance)
McAllister: “Arr, I hate the sea and everything in it.”
9. Leprechaun, Leprechaun
I apologize. I needed to get the leprechaun jokes out of the way before I could continue this (very serious) list, and so it came down to this. Some will argue that this leprechaun, of the horror film quintilogy Leprechaun, is inferior to the happier, more charming leprechaun of the Lucky Charms advertising campaign. To these people I say: fuck you. You are scum of the earth and you deserve nothing but pain.
I feel that strongly about it. This leprechaun is a way better leprechaun. He went to space. And lived in the hood. It was amazing.
Defining Irish moment: In Leprechaun 2, when the leprechaun convinces one of the protagonists to stick his head in a giant metal rotor blade by disguising the rotor blades as a young woman’s breasts. It’s the same level of clever as we once saw from another, real-er, Irishman, Oscar Wilde.
8. Father Jack Hackett, Father Ted
Father Ted was a disgustingly short-lived series that aired on Channel 4 in Britain that I loved watching when I was 14 and dare not watch again, because it’s probably nowhere near as funny as I remember it. But still, from what I DO remember, Father Jack was the by-far stand-out of an all-Irish cast. Though a background character to the antics of Fathers Ted and Dougal, two priests exiled to an island for some reason (who sang a song about a ‘lovely horse’), he often stole the show with his bewildering cries and inability to do anything by himself.
Defining Irish Moment: The times when he was drinking and saying “Feck!”
7. Kenny McCormick, South Park
While the list up until now has been made up purely of people who were actually born in Ireland (or are leprechauns presumably created through magic in Ireland or whatever), by no means did I intend to limit this list to only those who have some claim to Irish citizenship. Being Irish-American is just as big a part of the Irish experience, in my opinion, as the culture persevered even as the population moved across the Atlantic ocean. And nowhere is the Irish experience more embodied than in the life of Kenny McCormick, a young boy raised in poverty who can’t ever seem to catch a break, no matter how hard he tries. Cursed with a difficult accent and a predilection toward dirty jokes & fighting, this Irish American kid from South Park, Colorado, never gives up, no matter how many times he gets crushed by the weight of the world. Or falling rocks.
Defining Irish Moment: Despite being stabbed through the head by a flagpole, Kenny continues to attempt to find success in America.
6. Sam Malone, Cheers
Again, an Irish-American pick, but easily justified when you consider the character’s history. Sam Malone was not only an entrepreneur, a former baseball player, a womanizer and a downright cool guy, he was also an alcoholic. An alcoholic working in a bar. In an obvious analogue to Ireland continuing to exist within Britain, Sam worked each and every day alongside that which would destroy him — beers and spirits and liquors and stuff. It was a constant struggle with no real shot at victory. But he never gave up.
Defining Irish Moment: Except for that one time he did give up, after Diane broke his heart. He drank for a while after that, until Frasier saved him and he found sobriety again. Relapsing is a pretty Irish thing to do, too, though.
5. Marty McFly, Back to the Future
While Mary Seamus McFly wasn’t defined so much by being Irish as he was by traveling through time in a plutonium-fueled Delorean time machine, his ancestry is a matter of record. In fact, in the third part of the trilogy we’re introduced to his distant ancestors, Maggie and Seamus McFly, both of whom have prominent, if slightly fake-sounding, Irish accents. McFly is another character who faced poverty and hardship — his family living in working poverty, indentured to another family, his brother in prison. But unlike most of the other Irishmen on this list, Marty was able to overcome adversity, largely due to his crazy inventor friend and the aforementioned time machine. Proving once and for all that Ireland’s best hope is a flying car. And, to lesser effect, Christopher Lloyd.
Defining Irish Moment: In the Old West, Marty hedges his bets and goes into a gunfight wearing a cast-iron wood stove door around his chest. Somehow he was really sure that he would not be shot in the face. I guess that’s that whole “Luck of the Irish” thing.
4. Tommy Gavin, Rescue Me
Tommy Gavin’s life is the perfect picture of tragedy. He’s the pure embodiment of the type of character who would say “Kiss my white Irish ass.” A lot of characters say it, but only Tommy really means it. He’s a rabid alcoholic, who continues to relapse, a pathological liar, a violent and sadistic fighter and he once, in a fit of brilliance, came up with the word “twunt.” Through it all, though, he’s haunted by his lapsed Catholicism, so much so that he continuously imagines Jesus hanging out with him at all times, looking disappointed at Tommy’s actions. It’s the kind of tortured life that us non-Irish people can’t even begin to imagine living.
Defining Irish Moment: Tommy, after a string of problems involving his ex-wife (or a dumb broad, as he would say), drinks an entire bottle of Vodka, hallucinates Jesus and then goes to Church to try and pray it all away.
3. Proinsias Cassidy, Preacher
Comic Book Writer Garth Ennis is nothing if not devoutly Irish. It doesn’t matter if he’s writing War Stories or Marvel’s The Punisher — there will always be an Irish character, and there will always be a flashback plot about the IRA and Michael Collins.
Of all of the Irish stories he’s told with Irish characters, however, Proinsias Cassidy, born in Ireland in 1900, and co-star/villain of the Preacher series is his best creation. Cassidy, as he’s generally known, is a hard-drinking Irish vampire whose only weaknesses are sunlight and addiction. Not only is he an alcoholic, he’s also a heroin addict with a long history of manipulating people with his easy-going and likable presence in order to score drugs. He’s not a good guy, no matter how hard he tries to fit that role. But it’s in that continuous trying that we find the Irish.
Defining Irish Moment: After his attempt to be good to Jesus Custer ends up with him doing wrong by his friend, Cassidy takes one last shot at redemption — and makes a deal with God that will let Jesse live.
2. Philip J. Fry, Futurama
Never has the Irish need for a working time machine been more clear than in the story of Philip J. Fry, a time-displaced delivery boy from 1999 sent to live in the distant future with his crotchety inventor nephew. Fry is the epitome of a hard-luck Irish-American: he’s not the brightest man in the world, he’s stuck in a world he doesn’t understand and his best friend is an alcoholic. A robot alcoholic. But again, it’s his spirit that defines him, as despite being stranded in a very strange world, unable to get any off the attractive one-eyed woman who lives with him, Fry makes the best of it, and eventually comes to terms with his new world.
Defining Irish Moment: In the episode Luck of the Fry-rish, Fry recalls his lucky seven-leaf clover. After initially determining that his no-good brother stole the clover, along with Fry’s identity, and used it to achieve great success, it’s revealed that Fry’s brother actually gave the good luck charm to his son, in honour of Fry. It’s the kind of unemotional super-emotional brotherly relationship only the Irish are capable of.
1. Matthew Murdock, Daredevil
Matt Murdock, better known as the blind superhero Daredevil, is of the same coin as Tommy Gavin in a lot of ways. Both are plagued by massive guilt over their past and their religion, both can be sadistically violent when provoked, and both are addicted to taking risks to save those in need. Where they differ, however, is in the outward expression of these qualities. Whereas Tommy is loud, abrasive and offensive, Matt Murdock has a quiet (and tortured) dignity. Working by day as a successful lawyer, Murdock’s only outlet is found at night, as Daredevil, as he swings around the city kicking muggers and rapists in the face. This is his sole addiction, and it’s brought him essentially nothing but tragedy over the years. And yet still he continues to fight.
And, oh yeah, he’s BLIND. He’s a blind super hero. He leaps off buildings despite the fact that he cannot see. That’s so fucking Irish.
Defining Irish Moment: Murdock does battle with the Master of Illusion Mystery, who convinces Daredevil that a baby he recently rescued is, in fact, the second coming of Jesus Christ. Murdock, consumed by guilt and the lessons he learned from the church, actually comes to believe that the kid is the messiah, and sacrifices everything — even, in a way, his one true love Karen Page — to save him. Only to find out that it was just Mysterio screwing with his head. That’s so fucking Irish.
I hope you keep these great and not-entirely-real Irish people in mind this St. Patrick’s Day, as you do what everyone else is doing. Sure, drink your green beer, but do so with one of the men from this list in your thoughts and prayers. Fictional Irish Characters are, after all, what this holiday really should be all about.
- Matt Elliott