Comedian Tim McGarry investigates the 'stage Irish' stereotype, and rugby star Paddy Jackson talks about his favourite culture. Plus music from Jealous of the Birds.
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This month on The Arts Show, we're here at the Ulster Museum
for one of the biggest portrait awards in the world -
The BP Portrait Awards.
Coming up, to be or not to begorra.
Local comic hero Tim McGarry asks
if Shakespeare created the drunken Irish Paddy's stereotype.
Irish rugby star Paddy Jackson tells us
about the art that changed his world.
British and Irish Children's Laureates Eoin Colfer
and Chris Riddell on writing for the most merciless of all audiences -
And we've music from the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival's
artist-in-residence, Jealous of the Birds.
I'm on Twitter now @bbcartsshow.
This month is the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.
The BBC is marking it with a special festival.
While he left us an incredible back catalogue of plays,
poems and prose, it can also be argued that he saddled us
with a caricature of Ireland that has endured for centuries -
the drunken Irish Paddy.
Writer and comedian Tim McGarry sticks it to the Bard.
Knock, knock. Who's there?
An Irish burglar.
That's a great gag.
It's pithy, it deconstructs the "knock, knock" format and it
contains a lovely image of a man in a mask rapping your front door.
But it also contains a stereotype.
The stereotype that Irish people are stupid.
Father Dougal McGuire here.
For centuries, on stage and in the media,
the portrayal of Irish people has been...
Well, wee bit dopey.
Play us a tune, you lot.
An Irish tune!
But what's worse than that, we've also been betrayed
as argumentative, cowardly, dishonest, savage,
and above all, drunk.
You know, Ireland has more drunks per capita than people.
Oh, that's a negative stereotype.
I don't think the Irish drink as much as people say they do.
And you know who I blame for this negative image of Irish people?
Do you know who I blame?
Stage Irishness is the exaggerated
and caricatured portrayal of Irish characteristics.
Characteristics that were always negative.
But where did it start?
Well, the first famous example is
the character of Captain Macmorris in Shakespeare's Henry V.
The town is beseeched.
An the trumpet call us to the breach and we talk and, be Chrish,
He's hot tempered. He's uncultured.
He talks about cutting throats.
And he utters the infamous line...
What ish my nation?
Ish it villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal.
What ish my nation?
Who talks of my nation?
The, "ish" seems important to me, because it seems to mock the way
Irish people speak.
And it implies not only difference, but inferiority.
Yeah, he may have been England's greatest ever writer,
but was he also an anti-Irish bigot?
This is the actual house in which Shakespeare was
born in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I asked leading authority on the Bard Professor Stanley Wells
if Irish people are wrong to take offence at Macmorris.
I think they are wrong.
I don't think he's very offensively portrayed.
He is, after all, one of Henry V's supporters.
He's slightly jokily portrayed, of course.
Because he's a national stereotype, as the Scotsman
and the Welshman also are in that scene.
You're saying Shakespeare was drawing on stock stereotypes
-that existed already?
It's a sort of mother-in-law joke, really, I think.
The audience would have smiled sympathetically.
He's an early example of it, I'd rather say,
rather than a setting of the stereotype.
So you're a Shakespeare defender, so you're not going to
say that he was anti-Irish in any shape or form, are you?
Well, I don't think he was anti-Irish, no.
I think he was drawing on ordinary jokes,
common jokes, common attitudes,
which his audience would have recognised about nationality.
Just as nowadays, people have stereotypical attitudes.
Of course, we're a bit more politically conscious nowadays.
We frown a bit more than perhaps they did in Shakespeare's
time on national stereotype jokes.
But I think Shakespeare, yes, he shared in those,
but in a good-humoured way I think.
O, tish ill done, tish ill done; by my hand, tish ill done!
So, whether Shakespeare meant it or not, the damage was done
and the stereotype stuck.
Now, let's be honest, with stereotypes,
there's sometimes a grain of truth.
Irish people drink too much.
Listen, probably best if you don't show any
footage of Jimmy Nesbitt at that boxing match.
Oh, I hope so. He can box.
Or St Patrick's Day in the Holylands.
The police spent more than two hours trying to clear the streets.
I suspect he didn't care enough about the Irish
to be an anti-Irish bigot. Because, you know, let's face it,
you've 37 plays. That's about... Well, what's that?
It's about 150 acts, maybe 800 scenes and there's what, one scene
and one character.
There's a few other minor references to Ireland.
Really, in that same scene, there is a Welsh character, Fluellen,
who's long-winded and boring and says, "look you," all the time.
And there is a Scot in it, Jamy,
who is completely incomprehensible when you read it on the page.
I mean, national stereotyping was just par for the course.
Knock-about, a bit of knock-about humour.
You could more accuse Shakespeare of that general trend of you
stereotype people, you use what the English considered to be
funny accents and strange ways of using the English language.
But there's a stage Irish persona,
there's not a stage Welshman or a stage Scotsman.
I mean, my own feeling is that that came more directly...
I mean, it became a thing in the 19th century.
Whether you can say, "Oh, Shakespeare did it,
"so we'll do too." I think it was much more part
of the 19th century stage. The Punch cartoons of the time.
The imperialist outlook was much greater.
The big accusation you make about Shakespeare is that he really
didn't care about the Irish at all.
The stage Irishman survived right up until recent times.
The bow-tied comedians of the 1970s all had a large
stockpile of thick Paddy jokes.
On radio and TV, the portrayal of the Irishman may not have been as a
knuckle-dragging savage, but he was still very much a figure of fun.
Maybe I'm being too sensitive.
I mean, come on, Mr O'Reilly in Fawlty Towers,
he's very, very funny.
I like a woman with spirit.
Oh, do you? Is that what you like?
-I do, I do!
Now, Sybil, that's enough.
Come on, then, give us a smile!
So what if his portrayal is a little bit anti-Irish?
Look at what Fawlty Towers did for the Spanish.
Si, si, shut up. Yes, I understand. Yes.
-Well, will you please shut up then?
-Si, si, I shut up.
-Now, while we're away...
Things have changed for the better.
It's unacceptable now to be blatantly anti-Irish.
In the same way only black people can use the N word,
the only people who can now take the hand out of the Irish are the Irish.
Thank you, father. Thank...thank...you...I...
-She's all I've got...
I know. I know.
How do you fucking know?
I mean, seriously, imagine if Mrs Brown's Boys was actually
written and performed by English people.
There'd be an outcry.
A few years ago, it wasn't inconceivable.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with pointing out
stereotypes or using stereotypes to get a laugh.
I mean, we've all done that...
Emer is my wife, will you, please, try and make her feel more at home?
-I'll put some coal in the bath.
And I'll get a couple of pigs for the kitchen.
But, like all things, context is everything.
Who is doing the stereotyping and why?
And what are they trying to say?
Which brings me full circle.
It's 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare.
And you know Irish people, we don't like to bear a grudge.
Oh, no, we let bygones be bygones.
So, William Shakespeare, we forgive you.
Yes, he may have started the portrayal of the stage Irishman,
but let's cut the man some slack.
Maybe he was only joking.
Now, if his Instagram posts are anything to go by, the Ulster and
All-Ireland rugby star Paddy Jackson has a pretty wicked sense of humour.
The Arts Show took him off pitch to share with us some of the culture
that first made a big impression on him.
One of my earliest memories was from 10th or 11th birthday,
my dad got me a CD and it was a T Rex album.
And I'd never heard them before.
# Get it on Bang a gong
# Get it on.#
kids at my age weren't listening to stuff like that at the time.
So, I kind of set it down and didn't really pay much attention to it.
I thought it was a bit of a strange gift.
And then, of course, my dad went and picked up straightaway,
took it to his car and put it into the CD player.
From then on, he was playing it when we were driving in the car
and I just really loved them from hearing them straightaway.
I thought kind of the coolest thing was that it was my dad's music.
I just instantly, kind of, fell in love with the music.
The likes of Children Of The Revolution,
Get It On and 20th Century Boy.
# I'm your toy Your 20th century boy. #
My favourite film growing up definitely has to be The Lion King.
I know everyone, it's probably a childhood favourite for many people.
Obviously, it's just a great film. I still love watching it.
# The circle of life. #
I remember going to see the musical written about George Best's life -
Dancing Shoes written by Martin Lynch.
I really loved it and it was obviously really special for Dad.
George Best was a hero of his.
Just what he did as a footballer was amazing.
And then being someone, obviously, in rugby,
it's someone that I've always looked up to.
And, obviously, being so important to my dad,
it was pretty important to me as well.
Favourite book would have to be the Harry Potter books.
I've read all of them countless times.
I'm sure if I have a family when I'm older,
I'll make sure the kids will read them.
I just think it's it such a magical story and it's worldwide,
so everyone loves it.
I'm really looking forward to the new film coming out,
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.
So, I'll have to give that a watch.
I've only ever been to a few concerts,
but the one that stood out for me was Mumford And Sons.
# I will wait I will wait for you. #
They'd definitely be my favourite band.
Ever since I heard their early music,
I just fell in love with them.
I always said I wanted to go and see them live.
I got there about three hours early, my legs were killing me
by the time Mumford even came on.
But as soon as they started playing, I was just enthralled throughout
the whole concert. And it definitely blew my mind.
I'd definitely love to go and see them play live again.
Now, celebrated Belfast poet Medbh McGuckian was recently
shortlisted for the prestigious Irish Times Poetry Now Award
for her collection, Balris Moor.
Here she is reading from it.
The water knows the way down to the Titanic and her two sisters.
She rouges her silver lightness, buttons her gown herself,
so high, so closed, her days malodorous from saturated skies.
Do you think it reflects well on our city to ones who arrived only
a week ago to go outdoors in pyjamas to the turgid bar district?
The Gucci outlets in the city's revamped living room.
To photograph a child on the Kings Highway.
Gone is the edginess of the city, cleansed of conflict,
argument, debate, protest, ructions and ribaldry.
Notwithstanding the spy cameras, the pop-up shops,
the flash mobs of drink-fuelled petrol heads,
the new Purple Flag award.
I still have to find my life through the false prison of
Samson and Goliath,
the ailing road perfuming the heavy curtains of Parliament.
We still show our papers to reveal where we are going.
Well, we're all too used to taking a selfie these days,
but what makes a portrait different?
We are here at what have been dubbed the portraiture Oscars -
The BP Portrait Awards -
on a long overdue return visit to the Ulster Museum.
Kim, what makes a portrait different to a selfie we take on our phone?
I think it's really the magic that happens
between artist and the sitter.
That engagement and interaction between the artist's brush
and the analytical way that they look at that person.
But also, they're talking, engaging with the sitter.
They're learning more about that person, their personality.
And that actually adds another layer to the image that we see
and the painting.
And, really, you can't replicate that in a photograph.
There's so many questions that we want to ask about portraits
that have been painted. You know, who is that sitter?
Why did the artist choose that person?
And why is the composition in that way?
I mean, it is such a magical experience for not
just the artist, but the sitter themselves.
I suppose, also, the artist
is probably going to show your flaws. Whereas, on a selfie,
you're going to either delete or heavily Photoshop yourself.
I've spoken to many of the portrait artists about it, that
some of the sitters actually say that there is a
layer of themselves or an aspect of their personality that comes
out in the paint that they are quite shocked at.
That they weren't expecting that the public then could actually see.
These are the Rolls-Royce, I believe, of portrait awards.
It is. It's internationally important.
92 countries' artists submitted work to this show.
And out of the 2,748 that were digitally submitted,
it was whittled down in a two-stage process.
To seeing the actual paintings, there were 456 of those,
and then it became the 55 selected artists that are in the show.
Five out of those 55 artists are Irish.
The variety that you see on the walls is amazing.
And every artist's interpretation, whether it their own self-portrait
or of another person or a group of people, is just incredible.
It really appeals to a wide audience, this exhibition.
Did you have to really put in a tough pitch
to get it to Northern Ireland?
Cos it's quite hard to get it out of London, isn't it?
We haven't had this exhibition here since 1998.
And it was really important that it came back to Belfast
to allow our public to see it.
I've heard so many people say that they travelled over to London
to see the exhibition.
Well, now they can come and see it here at the Ulster Museum.
-Do you have favourites?
-It's actually very difficult.
A lot of people have asked me that, even
when we were hanging the exhibition.
It actually changes, because such a variety of different styles
and different compositions that the artists have used.
Depending on my mood, that's when I sort of look and go,
"Well, I really like you today."
I change my mind the next time I'm in.
You'll probably miss them as well, whenever they're gone.
Yes, we will miss them.
It allows different audiences to engage with this contemporary art
and, in particular, obviously, portraiture.
Kim, thank you very much.
Now, I have always loved reading, ever
since my mum took me to the local library as a child.
And it's something I handed on to my own children, too.
It's really great to know that children here have
their reading backs covered by not one, but two Children's Laureates.
British Children's Laureate Chris Riddell is
the writer of the Goth Girl series.
And Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame is his Irish counterpart,
the Laureate na nOg.
I met with these two super heroes of storytelling in a recent
flying visit to Belfast.
As Children's Laureates, which one of you do you feel has
-the best bling for your chain of office?
I have a recurring nightmare that I put it on and wear it.
A) I forget I'm wearing it.
I'm on public transport looking ludicrous.
Or I put it down inadvertently and walk away and lose it.
At which point, I'd have to resign in disgrace.
Well, I gave mine to my son.
He's doing rubbings, so he likes to do them, he's like, the little rubbing...
Banksy rubbings, all over Dublin!
-With your bling!
-With the laureate bling.
Is there a difference between the British and the Irish Laureate?
I love the children's book culture in both the UK and in Ireland.
-It's a very close one.
-Is there a difference though?
Well, it's an interesting one...
I think they're going together, as more and more Irish Art graduates and artists kind of go out into
the world, and it's kind of a golden age for us at the moment.
Recent research would say that children are reading more than ever.
-So the demise of children's books would be greatly exaggerated?
The oft-heralded demise! I think every time some new form of
media comes on, the death knell is tolled for children's books.
And, you know, whether it's the theatre or home cinema,
or movies or DVD or the internet, and it never happens.
And in fact, picture books, especially, are stronger than ever,
stronger than ever.
And they never took a hit from e-books, which I think is fantastic.
How do you navigate though the noise that is out there with technology in our digital age?
I think you embrace it.
I think you actually...
People who love books talk about books,
they blog about books, they'll post things on the various social networking sites.
It becomes a community and one's invited in to talk about that
and that's a lovely thing.
Because you're very good on social media,
particularly with your "Doodle a Day".
Yes, I post these up on social media, on my Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr,
so that people can see what I'm doing or what I'm not doing, sometimes.
-Have you embraced the digital age?
-Um, a little bit.
I do like that if there's a book group in Virginia who would
love to have you come over, but you can't,
you can do FaceTime with them, or you can make them a little video.
And I make a lot of little videos for people and send them off.
And that's just a little way to use the technology,
which I totally agree with Chris on.
There is no point in not embracing it.
So I try to embrace as much as possible.
Well, I lived pre-internet, which is the Stone Age for my children.
-What books were you reading?
-Clive King, Stig Of The Dump.
Yes, I remember very clearly thinking, "All right, that's it.
"I want to write a story like this."
But it very definitely changed my outlook on life.
It's quite a sort of obscure book.
It was called Agaton Sax And The Jewel Thieves.
And I thought, "Ooh, looks interesting!"
-I picked it up, far too difficult for me, but it had illustrations.
So I started to read as well as I could, Agaton Sax.
Struggled through it, got to the end and I thought,
"Peter and Jane are dead to me. I want another Agaton Sax."
-And so I went off to the library and found one.
-Like Tony Soprano!
Do you feel the responsibility of children's authors
to reflect children's lives?
Or are you just interested in escape and firing their imaginations?
All that and more.
I think you want to reflect...
I think stories contain truth, you know?
And that's why we love stories.
They can reflect our experiences,
they can be windows into other people's experiences.
I think books are wonderful, empathic things
where you learn about the world around you
and you learn about worlds you're yet to experience.
And they can also take you to amazing places.
I love this phrase the Book Trust use, which says,
"It's not a book, it's a door."
And I love that.
You know, it is a doorway into somewhere else.
So you pick up a book, it's shaped like a door, you can enter another place and another reality.
Why do you think children are still reading?
If you get a child to read, they are reading for life.
They're not going to stop.
It's like I often say to kids,
"Imagine you go to Disneyland and the gates open
"and you say, 'Well, I'm not going to go on any of those rides over there.'
"And you say, 'No, it's great fun! And it's, 'No, I don't want to go on any of those rides!'"
That's what it is like, saying you're not going to read a book.
It's like you're at the gates of Disneyland and you decide, "No, I'm not going on the rides."
So, you know, read the book and be happy forever.
Two tellers of tall tales, Eoin and Chris.
And they are champions of the BBC's new Get Reading campaign,
which launches this month with the Shakespeare Festival.
There'll be numerous events across radio, TV and online
to get the nation reading.
We're back on air, BBC Radio Ulster, Tuesdays to Fridays at 6.30
and online for extra material.
Some music now.
Jealous Of The Birds is the alias of the Armagh singer-songwriter, Naomi Hamilton.
She's currently artist-in-residence of this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
and her debut album, Parma Violets is out on the 6th of May.
Here she is, recorded exclusively for The Arts Show.
# She said, I'm blue
# As a robin's egg
# I've done nothing to make me proud
# I rehearse conversations in
# The shower when I am home alone
# No-one has ever bought me flowers
# Or smoked a joint on my Persian rug
# Go to Mexico
# And lie under a mango tree
# And watch a line of crows
# Grace the southern breeze, but you won't know where they go
# Everything just scatters out like acorns in the snow
# Or dust clouds in a drought
# She said (she said) I care (I care)
# Too much these days
# About (about) my place (My place) in this ball of yarn
# There's not (there's not) a lot (a lot) that I can boast
# I water (I water) plants and make French Toast
# And muse (and muse) like some (like some) old misanthrope
# Afraid (afraid) to sow (to sow)
# All my wild oats
# Read Walt Whitman poems
# Drink a bottle of Champagne
# And sing some Leonard Cohen
# I love it when he speaks so plain
# The way you often do
# When I am crying after midnight
# Just between us two
# It makes me smile to know you're all right. #
Comedian Tim McGarry investigates the 'stage Irish' stereotype, and rugby star Paddy Jackson talks about his favourite culture. Plus, features on both the BP Portrait Awards and British and Irish Children's Laureates, as well as music from Jealous of the Birds.