Seamus Boyle, an Academy Gardens resident and national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, described the Irish-themed merchandise sold at Spencer’s as “pure garbage.”
Boyle was among dozens of Irish-Americans who protested on Sunday afternoon outside the Aqua entrance of Franklin Mills mall. Spencer’s is located just inside the entrance.
One of the more tame items that attracted the attention of the local Irish Anti-Defamation Federation was a onesie that read, “Irish Baby Team. My parents can out-drink yours.”
Most of the Irish hats, T-shirts and other items sold at the store contain sayings that can’t be repeated in a family newspaper.
The Irish-born Boyle said people should be embarrassed to wear such items in public. As for Spencer’s, he said it’s all about the “almighty dollar.”
“They figure they can get away with it with the Irish,” he said.
Boyle wants the company to change the way it markets to Irish-American customers.
“We don’t want to put them out of business,” he said. “We’re here to tell them to take the stuff off the shelves.”
That’s not going to happen, according to Kevin Mahoney, the legal representative for the Egg Harbor Township, N.J.-based company.
“Spencer’s has a long history of selling irreverent and edgy humor,” he said.
Mahoney does not consider the items “anti-Irish.” Rather, he sees them as humorous gag gifts. He’s spoken to Irish-Americans who have no problem with the merchandise.
“It’s not considered derogatory or offensive to Irish people,” he said. “We think it’s in keeping with the good humor of Irish people.”
To further his argument, he points to amazon.com. If you type in the words “Irish drinking,” more than 3,300 items pop up.
Mahoney also notes a story on the ultra-liberal Huffington Post Web site about Urban Outfitters selling T-shirts that read, “Irish I Were Drunk” and “Kiss Me I’m Drunk or Irish or Whatever.” Among the almost 500 comments are some from Irish people who have no problem with the merchandise.
Members of the local Irish Anti-Defamation Federation have plenty of problems with Spencer’s, which has more than 600 stores in the United States and Canada. They handed out green- and orange-colored fliers to people entering the mall and held signs that read, “Boycott establishments that attack our Irish history and heritage” and “I–Rish that Spencer’s Gifts stopped degrading us!”
Members of the 8th Police District and the police civil affairs unit were on hand for the peaceful protest. Mall security guards were also on site and told several protesters not to enter the store, reminding them they were on camera.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, happened to be visiting the mall during the protest. He was wearing a green Ireland shirt. After taking a peek in Spencer’s, he planned to put up a motion at the next union meeting to boycott the store.
Tim Wilson, a Mayfair resident and chairman of the IADF, cited several examples of things the group finds derogatory to Irish people. He noted that some bars host “St. Practice Day” on the 17th of every month and sell “Irish Car Bomb” drinks. He favors giving pubs that respect the religious St. Patrick’s Day holiday a “seal of approval” sticker.
IADF members have seen images of Guinness beer as holy water and bar patrons falling off stools with the words “Irish yoga.”
The IADF, which meets on the third Thursday of the month at the Irish Center in Mount Airy, took part in the successful effort to deny 19th-century political cartoonist Thomas Nast a spot in the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s class of 2012. In a public vote, Nast — who portrayed Irish settlers as violent drunks — lost out in the “General” category to a Princeton University professor.
As for Spencer’s, Wilson said his group will continue to try to change the company’s mindset.
“We’re going to keep e-mailing and writing letters,” he said, adding that legal options are possible.
Joe Fox, a Millbrook resident and president of the AOH Philadelphia County board, said the IADF will work year-round and take issues case-by-case and battle-by-battle.
Like the effort to keep Christ in Christmas, his group wants to keep St. Patrick in St. Patrick’s Day.
One target will be vendors who sell derogatory items at the wildly popular annual Irish Fall Festival in North Wildwood, N.J.
“If we see stuff like that sold, we’ll ask them to remove it. If they don’t, we’ll bring it to the attention of the event coordinator,” Fox said.
Marc Crawford, an AOH Division 61 and IADF member from Mayfair, was appalled at the vulgar Irish and other items carried at Spencer’s.
“Any ten-year-old kid can walk in and see this,” he said.
State Rep. Kevin Boyle, whose parents were born in Ireland, said the items sold at Spencer’s are “completely unacceptable to the Irish-American community.”
“Irish-Americans in Northeast Philadelphia shouldn’t have to put up with demeaning depictions of our ancestry,” he said.
Some at the rally wondered why Spencer’s seems to pick on the Irish and not other groups that are generally considered off-limits. The Times asked Mahoney if he can think of a Spencer’s item that has poked fun at, say, blacks or Muslims.
“Not off the top of my head,” he said.
• • •
The 242nd Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade will take place Sunday, starting at noon at 16th Street and JFK Blvd. and traveling west on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The theme is St. Patrick, Bless the American Worker. The grand marshal will be John Dougherty, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98.
The day will start with a 9:30 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick’s Church, at 20th and Locust streets.
The parade will be broadcast live from 1 to 4 p.m. on Channel 57. Kathy Orr, Susan Barnett and Bob Kelly will call the action.
The parade will be rebroadcast on Saturday, March 17 from 9 a.m. to noon, on Channel 3, and on Sunday, March 18, from noon to 3 p.m., on Channel 57. It will be available on Comcast On Demand beginning March 19.EndFragment