Why the internet stans Ireland

Why the internet stans Ireland
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Barry Keoghan, Saoirse Ronan, Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, and Ayo Edebiri.

It’s official, Ireland is the first country to get the stan treatment. 

The small island country with a population of only 5 million — roughly the same as Alabama — is adored online. Film Twitter roots for Irish actors like they’re a sports team, and in recent years, an entire language of memes has emerged in devotion to Ireland.

There’s “Sometimes tha side chick ain’t even a chick, it’s the gorgeous and proud nation of Ireland” — used when an Irish person embraces their Irishness or does something the poster agrees with. For example, “cillian said fecking!!” There’s “The Irish people do not deserve this,” a screenshot of Azealia Banks’ 2021 anti-Irish Instagram story — used when something bad happens to an Irish person (for example, when Colin Farrell lost Best Actor at the Oscars last year). Users edit it to “The Irish people do deserve this” when something good happens to an Irish person (for example, Cillian Murphy’s Best Actor win at the Oscars this year). The latest addition to the canon is a video of PinkPantheress posing with an Irish flag on stage, also used in celebration of Murphy’s achievement. 

Ireland aficionados also refashioned the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “London Boy” from “But God, I love the English” to “But God, I love the Irish” to caption images of their favorite Irish “It” boy … and there are plenty to choose from: Murphy, Farrell, Paul Mescal, Barry Keoghan, and Andrew Scott. That’s not to forget the Irish “It” girls: Saoirse Ronan, Ruth Negga, Nicola Coughlan, and Alison Oliver.

There’s been a huge outpouring of talent from Ireland in recent years, whether it be performances from the aforementioned actors to the work of Irish writers like Sally Rooney, Claire Keegan, and Paul Lynch to music from Hozier, Kneecap, and One Direction’s Niall Horan, all ushering in the biggest wave of global interest in Ireland since the 1990s (thanks to the success of “Riverdance” and bands like U2, The Cranberries, and the boy band Boyzone reaching their peak).

Why do Americans identify with Ireland?

“There has always been a warmth towards Irish culture in the United States, which initially came from the Irish-American population, but more widely, Irish are known as entertainers and storytellers,” Ruth Barton, a professor of film studies at Trinity College Dublin and the author of Acting Irish in Hollywood, told Mashable. 

Ireland has longstanding ties to the U.S. due to Irish emigration at different points in history. There were significant waves of immigration to the U.S. in the mid 1800s, the early 20th century, the 1950s, 1980s, and again in the 2000s. There are 14 million people in the United States that claim Irish heritage, 600 times the population of Ireland.

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Eleanor O’Leary, a lecturer in media and communications at South East Technological University in Ireland, pointed to the large diaspora of Irish people as a reason why Irishness is so mobile. The latest iteration of Irish celebrities and popular media builds upon that initial connection Americans have to Ireland. “Ireland’s online virality allows the Irish-American diaspora to reconnect to Ireland in different ways,” she told Mashable. “Irish people have to negotiate what Irishness means inside and outside of Ireland, which is not always as linear as you would assume.”

The fanfare for the country doesn’t end with the large population claiming Irish heritage. 

The honorary Irishwoman Ayo Edebiri

Even if you don’t exist in Hibernophile spaces online, you’ve likely caught wind of the obsession with Ireland. Ayo Edebiri, the star of three of 2023’s screen obsessions — The Bear, Bottoms, and Theater Camp — brought this newfangled fondness to the mainstream. At South by Southwest last year, the actress, who is not Irish, joked that she went method to portray Jenny the donkey in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin. She’s since kept the joke alive, tweeting when Bottoms came out in Ireland, thanking Ireland in her Critics Choice Awards acceptance speech, and wearing a T-shirt with a shamrock on it on Saturday Night Live

Banshees of Inisherin plays with and against Irish stereotypes. The marketing of the film using Jenny the donkey was a masterstroke, because it tied the film to a notion of cute Irishness,” Anthony McIntyre, a lecturer in film and media studies at University College Dublin and author of Contemporary Irish Popular Culture: Transnationalism, Regionality, and Diaspora, told Mashable. “It was brilliant of Ayo Edebiri to piggyback on that. She managed to get in on something that was already becoming a meme, attach herself to it, and reinvigorate it in subsequent moments.” 

Edebiri has been accepted by Ireland — Film in Dublin tweeted, “Congratulations to Ireland’s own Ayo Edebiri for her nomination for the 2024 BAFTA Rising Star Award” and the Irish Independent wrote, “the Irish couldn’t be happier to welcome Edebiri into the fold” — and by Ireland aficionados online. All the aforementioned memes now apply to the actress as well. 

“Within Ireland, we fondly accept these tenuous links to Irishness,” said McIntyre. “There’s a history of playfully accepting African Americans [as our own].” For example, when Barack Obama was elected president, Ireland embraced his Irish ancestry with the Irish band Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys, later known as the Corrigan Brothers, writing the folk song “There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’Bama.”

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This identification with Ireland is also happening at a time when other English-speaking countries, like the United States and England, are going through crises of increased polarization. Onscreen Ireland is often presented as “a safe harbor away from the difficulties of American contemporary life,” said McIntyre, who pointed to films like The Matchmaker and The Quiet Man as examples.

Ireland’s reality appeals to Americans. “[Irishness] is a positive identity. It’s OK to be Irish, because we were colonized. It used to be a repressed Catholic country, but we are a liberal country now. You can get an abortion, you can express your opinion, you can get a divorce, you can do all these things and nobody’s going to put you in prison,” said Barton.

“There’s an openness to Irish identity in the United States that there isn’t to English identity. English people, without generalizing too much, stand for old colonialism, and there’s a sense that the English are very upright and repressed. They do stand for something politically different to the Irish in the United States,” said O’Leary.

Irish internet boyfriends

On an internet that traffics in white boys of the month, it’s unsurprising that Irishness is so widely embraced. But Irish actors weren’t always soft boy sex symbols. In the ’90s, Irish men onscreen were often portrayed as hard-drinking, cursing tough guys. The Troubles in Northern Ireland perpetuated the stereotype of the Irish gunman, but with over 20 years passing since then, conceptions of Irish masculinity onscreen have evolved. “[Irish] actors [today] present with a very particular type of masculinity that’s not so toxic, which stands out in the manosphere with the quite brash forms of masculinity that are circulating.They seem to be very gentlemanly, approachable, and unassuming,” said O’Leary.

She pointed to Mescal’s character in Normal People, the runaway COVID hit adaptation of Rooney’s novel of the same name, as an example of this new masculinity that fits with the ideals of Gen Z and millennial posters.

Rooney’s stories are rooted in Irishness, but rather than following the lead of traditional Irish storytellers and exploring disadvantage, she focuses on generational issues, inviting global identification. “She’s interested in exploring relationships, and the relationship of the young person to an older, patriarchal, consumer-driven society, and in that she’s really touching on a very universal set of anxieties around identity that any young person from any country could relate to,” said Barton.

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The country’s history of oppression is another reason the internet is so endeared to Ireland. Until the 1990s, Ireland was very poor and economically disadvantaged. While it’s not so anymore, it retains the identity of an underdog.

Irish actors like Cillian Murphy often assert their Irish identity in interviews. One popular fancam that features eight Irish actors — including Ayo Edebiri — begins with Keoghan correcting his Saltburn co-star Jacob Elordi for referring to him as a Brit. Keoghan says, “I’m Irish, just saying.” The internet rallies around these moments of Irish confidence. 

“We’re used to Irish actors being appropriated by the UK. [British people] kind of assert that you’re British really, and [Irish actors] often have to stand up and say no,” explained McIntyre. “It’s something in our history where there is a tendency for UK media to forget that Ireland is a different country.”

Irish celebrities’ strong attachment to Ireland makes them stand out in a sea of famous people. “[Irish] actors who operate outside the conventions of celebrity are more attractive to people in this moment. The fact that they really strongly identify as Irish helps [people] see them as a group,” said Barton. For instance, while many actors relocate to London or Los Angeles, Murphy insists on raising his children in Ireland. Any sort of authenticity goes a long way online.

In many ways, the internet simply mimics the Irish pride seen from Irish celebrities and their supporters in their homeland. “The success of anyone from here on a world stage, we get a lot of national pride from. People who identify with Ireland in America also get a certain type of nationalistic pride when an Irish person succeeds on the global stage,” said O’Leary. 

Ireland’s history of being colonized and staunch stance against colonization makes it appeal not just to cinephiles looking to feel a part of something, but to another vocal group online, those advocating for ceasefire in Gaza. “Ireland is known for having a very strong pro-Palestinian stance,” said O’Leary. “A lot of new people are aligning themselves with Ireland around that stance, particularly groups that weren’t previously interested in Irish culture. Ireland’s pro-Palestine stance forges new allegiances around Ireland globally.”

Sometimes tha side chick isn’t even a chick, it’s the gorgeous and proud nation of Ireland.


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