Northeast Times

Irish group protests derogatory merchandise

Start­Frag­ment

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

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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