I’m surprised to discover that Irish-Americans have fallen behind in the arms race that is kitsch. I go into novelty stores and discover that a playful, ironic, pop-culture-obsessed sensibility seems to have colonized everything imaginable, from Bigfoot to fezes to hillbillies to Freud. But Irish-American content is in short supply.
How can this be? If ever there was a people who delighted in the ironic, the twee, and the popular, it is the Irish diaspora in America. But you’ll find shushing librarian bobbleheads, but not a single one based on Warwick Davis’ Leprechaun.
Now, I know I am misusing the word kitsch slightly. It properly describes tacky art that jejune sensibilities mistake for sophistication, such as plaster of Paris cupids and big-eyed Keane paintings. But there is no better word for the phenomenon I am referring to, which I suspect is a uniquely American one. It’s a sort of hipster nostalgia for novelties, plastic toys, and tacky collectibles that can be treated as objets d’art. It’s the sort of thing that is easy to dismiss as affected, as can be anything that is approached with an appreciation for irony. But I would argue that loving something ironically is nonetheless loving it. We don’t collect drinking birds and cheap nurse-themed romance paperbacks because we despise them and wish to mock them; we collect them because we love them despite their cheapness, their tackiness, their trashiness. One does not buy a pet rock to hate the pet rock; one buys the pet rock to love having it.
And so let me offer some suggestions for great examples of Irish-American kitsch, knowing it is in short supply, with the goal of encouraging more.
1. Funco Lucky Charms Wacky Wobbler
If there’s no Warwick Davis bobblehead, there is one for Lucky Charms, or, at least, there once was. Vinyl collectable figure manufacturer made one of the Sir Charms mascot a few years back, and they are still easy to locate.
2. Instant Irish Accent Mouth Spray
Novelty mouth sprays are all the rage, and this one promises to give its user a proper brogue. Probably best as a joke, but only attempt if you can do a convincing Irish accent, which few Americans can — I think it has only been managed once by an American actor onscreen, and it was none other than Meryl Streep in “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Unless you have Ms. Streep’s facility with accents, perhaps steer clear of this.
3. Irish knit beard
This one is from Etsy, but there are a lot of these knit beards available online, usually coupled with a green hat.
4. Shamrock party lights
When I was younger, no self-respecting hipster was seen without party lights, and the varieties of them were uncountable: trailer homes, hot dogs, chilies, skeletons, etc. These shamrocks are nice, but the selection of Irish-American party lights is disappointingly small.
5. Finlay inflatable shillelagh
Few things have greater kitsch appeal the professional wrestling, and Northern Ireland’s Dace Finlay embraces this. His tights are emblazoned with a shamrock, he often waves a shillelagh at the audience, and he is sometimes accompanied by a little person dressed as a leprechaun. Among his branded merchandize is this inflatable shillelagh, almost literally deflating he purpose of the Irish fighting stick.
6. Green flamingos
There may be no more iconic a representation of kitsch Americanus than the beloved and reviled pink lawn flamingos. Well, it is possible to get them in green as well, which is just write for the Irish-American lawn.
7. Shamrock sunglasses
Ordinarily, the sort of thing people wear on St. Paddy’s Day. Our suggestion: Wear them everyday!