As Irish as Paddy's pig

Hi Everybody,

Could you please tell me what the origin is of the idiom “As Irish as Paddy’s pig”?

Thank you!


Nice one. ‘Paddy’ is a generic term for an Irish person. And since Ireland’s traditional trademark is farming, a pig may serve to epitomise ‘Irishness’.

In the United States, a large truck or van in which the police transport people they’ve just arrested (in a riot, for example) is called a “paddy wagon”. Most people don’t even know why anymore.

Thank you, Ralf. I got everything now I wanted to know of the idiom. Thank you, Jamie. That reminded me that ‘paddy’ could also mean ‘cop’.

from Irish Gaelic Padraig - ‘Patrick’? (I have in my dictionary :))

I am sorry but I am afraid I couldn’t quite catch you. Could you please put it a little more specifically?

I’ve never heard of “paddy” meaning a policeman, and it’s not in my dictionary, so if it had that meaning, then it may have died out. It’s a derogatory word for an Irishman, but I always thought the word “paddy wagon” came from the fact that the back was full of arrested Irishmen, not that an Irishman was driving it. In 19th- and early 20th-century America, there were Irish ghettos that had a lot of serious crime problems. Many businesses didn’t allow Irish people as customers, and in old movies and photographs you can occasionally see signs in the windows of stores and restaurants that said “NO IRISH”. (Today’s equivalent, I guess, would be signs on stores in some neighborhoods that forbid more than two high school students to enter at a time.) It’s a situation that’s hard to imagine now.

In old American books and films the police are also usually Irish, and so are the priests. However, in my town at that time the police were generally Belgian for some unknown reason.

Hi Haihao,

What Jamie said is quite true. If you’re interested in a wryly humoristic view on Irish history in the early 1900s, read Roddy doyle’s A Star called Henry. The second ‘Henry volume’ Oh, play that thing is about his emigration to America and picaresque adventures in New York and Chicago. If you like the first one, you’ll enjoy the second one all the more.

Many thanks to both of you again! Your info is also very helpful to me, Ralf. You know I am “in love with” Irish literature and culture and would like to know more and more about her including the history and Irish emigrants’ life in America in the early 1900s. BTW, my more than most favorite writer is Joyce and Scott Fitzgerald among my most favorite. I go to Irish bars in Tokyo to enjoy my favorite Guinness quite frequently…

Hello Haihao,

I haven’t read a lot of books about Irish emigration, but all of Frank McCourt’s books tackle his own experience of emigrating to America in the first half of the last century.

These are a few books I’d recommend:

Best (IMO) book on Irish migration

I could read the sky by Timothy E. O’Grady

Best depiction of post WWII Irish rural life

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

Best book about Belfast’s religious tension in the late 20th century

Eureka Street by Robert McLiam-Wilson

We had to study Ulysses in a literature course at university, and thanks to our lecturer’s acquiescent disposition we were never asked to analyse the content of anything after chapter 6. That would have taken more than a cup of tea or just a few pints of Guinness. Of course, Joyce has invented new literary techniques, but his deliberate lack of lucidity paired with super sophisticated language that’s voluntarily pushed to the extreme makes his work (particularly Flanagan’s Wake) quite unreadable.

Anyway, ultimate respect for trying to read it :!:

“Finnegan’s Wake”, I think, Ralf.

Somehow or other I got my hands on a book from Ireland of the “true crime” genre that described the forced marriage of an Irish girl under circumstances that I thought would be impossible in modern Western culture. Some father wants an old man’s farm, so he figures that if he marries his daughter off to the guy, the old man will croak and he’ll get control of the farm through his daughter’s inheritance. He just looked around until he found a priest who wouldn’t ask any questions (which took some looking), got the deed done, and the girl lived with the old guy who got her pregnant, brutally beat her with great regularity, and – who would have expected it! – outlived her father. She had to orchestrate a clandestine escape to England to get free. This was a shocking story that reminded me of the things women come back from the Middle East telling about. I think it happened two or three decades ago.

Thank you very much again, Ralf and Jamie, for sharing with me the helpful and abundant information. I’m interested in and respect for Irish people’s virtue of tolerance, dignity, wisdom, etc. which I got to know from Irish Americans. Like the story described in the movie ‘In America’ of new Irish immigrants to the United States, their struggle for making a new life in America in the early 1900s is another impressive one just as ‘tomorrow is another day’, the famous expression now everybody may know well of in the English world, has showed us with its unfading strength in the novel ‘Gone With the Wind’ by the protagonist Scarlett O’Hara.

Haihao, keep in mind that the Irish-Americans like to over-romanticize their ancestors’ virtues.
Certainly, like all groups who came to the US, the Irish have achieved great things. However, they also had a larger problem than normal with doing UNwise and Undignified things. They had a bigger problem than most groups with alcoholism, violent crime, abuse in the family, and similar things.

The Irish took much longer to become fully integrated into American society partly because of these social pathologies, but partly also because more of them chose politics and political patronage as a means of advancement, rather than education and building an economic base. Using ethnic politics to advance in American society is a very emotionally attractive method, but it has been shown to be one of the slowest.

They are often compared to the German-Americans, who arrived at the same time and quietly worked, built businesses, educated their children, and became American in one generation, while many Americans whose ancestors came from Ireland in the 1850s are still waving the Irish flag around, even if they’ve never seen Ireland. They also went through a period of writing a lot of books that exaggerated the Irish role in world history, much as African-Americans do today.

Thank you, Jamie. That’s informative. I like both-sided information, that’s true democracy and the truth, IMO, is always between the two.

Haihao, sometimes you can see these differences demonstrated in individual Americans.

Walk up to an American whose name is O’Brien, for example, and ask him what his ethnic origin is. He’ll probably just say “Irish!” and he’ll probably make a big deal about his Irish ancestors, whether or not he knows anything about them. He may do this even if half his ancestors came from somewhere other than Ireland.

Walk up to the average American with a name like Meyer, or something else very German, and ask him what his ethnic origin is. With him you’re more likely – but not certain – to get a response like, “I’m pretty sure our name is German, so our family must have come from Germany sometime back, but I know I’m a quarter Polish, and there’s some Scottish and American Indian in there somewhere.”

Most Polish-Americans will give a similar response to the one I described for the Irish, and Italian-Americans may respond like the Irish and Polish, or like the Germans.

O that’s very interesting, Jamie. You have soooo many ethnic groups in your country, contrary to Japan. That’s why I like her for her never fading vigorousness which would keep her from aging. Japan is getting old or tired after less than 60 years of the postwar days. Many European countries too, IMO. China would be as well either for her very long or for her very short history. To me, America is not only a country but a small world as well. Succeeding England, she is now ever expanding English through every means with Internet as its starring role to such a language as spoken by more non-native speakers than the native ones, a phenomena neither other languages nor human history has ever experienced. I also suppose, in the near future, US Congress or UN or G8 or whatever summit would propose some non-English language protecting bills like Washington Treaty. :slight_smile:

I think Japan and the European countries are aging because excessive socialism has made people so risk averse, and great prosperity has given people such high expectations for material comfort, that they don’t want to have children. Having children involves risk and material sacrifice, and they apparently don’t want this.

You are so hitting the nail on the head, IMO, Jamie. We have too much socialism…, and we are lack of immigrants to create a society abundant in both diversity and juvenescence, or actually we don’t have the generosity so far to welcome the immigrants at all. One more thing I have found in the European concept of values, on the other hand, is ‘golden mean’ and ‘understatement’, as we could taste it from many literary works such as Cervantes’, which has also become a Japanese esthetics in the process of modernization as well as of historical culture permeation of Confucianism. BTW, it’s odd but I am myself nevertheless comfortable with ‘golden mean’ and enjoy it very much even though I have been aware of its negative function to go-aheadism. (a kind of ‘I am getting on nicely in the dark’ :slight_smile: )