This post was originally published on Feb.10, 2012. We thought it was worth a reprise. What are your thoughts? are the Irish cupidromantic?

How It’s New York:  You can’t walk into a drugstore without seeing cellophane wrapped heartshaped boxes right now.
How It’s Irish:  The Irish write a lot about love.  But does it make them romantic? did a survey on how much people in Europe spend on romantic breaks and the Irish came in dead last.

This is surely no surprise, and honestly, it explains a lot to me (oh, the battles about Valentine’s cards, forget romantic weekends, with Irish boyfriends).

True, the premise of this survey is  flawed.  Romance and travel, especially last minute travel, are not synonynous (the people who did the survey are travel retailers).   Romance can’t really be measured by money spent.

My father, may he rest in peace, used to write his own little ditties to my mother on Valentine’s Day.  That’s romantic.  She got roses, and I always got a Whitman’s Sampler (you know, with the diagram inside.  Mmmmm).

And some of this is cultural, for sure.  My friend Books Editor Michelle Woods once had to reassure me about a musician who was making fun of my shoes from the stage.  “Aw, he really likes you,” she said.  Irish Man = 8 year old boy. 

My friend Lane (who is a very gifted psychic/ astrologer) writes:

“My dad is full blood Irish; the way he “proposed” to my mom would make most women run for the hills!  They’d been seeing each other and he drove by one day in his truck and said out the window, “I got a job and I’m moving to such and such town, you can come with me if you want.”
She then moved with him and they got a place. sometime after she said one day they were watching tv and he said, “I guess we could get married sometime if you want.” so she set a date!

Lane also writes that an Irish friend of hers is now married to a lovely woman who had a hard time getting his attention:

… his honest reasoning for not being more receptive to her, “I just thought she was playing a trick on me pretending to be interested”

My friend Gabriel Donohue points out that the Irish are very shy people, and that some of this stems from that.  When I mention that they don’t seem shy to me, he says they are also friendly.  So, randomly being proposed to in pubs is a combination of a shy Irishman being friendly who’s had a drink too many, I guess.  Still, there’s something in this.  Shyness may account for  his Uncle Mike’s proposal:  “is the furniture paid for?”  (She understood the joke, married him, and had a wonderful life together).

Other famous Irish proposals:

  • “would you like to be buried with my people?”
  • “would you like to hang your washing next to mine?”
  • “Live in my heart, and pay no rent”

OK, that last one is nice.

There is some help for befuddled non-Irish women, though:  Would You Like to Be Buried with My People?: Irish Wedding Traditions  lays it right out there.

Leap Year proposals from women are an Irish tradition too– we’ll get into that more on the day, but apparently it comes from St. Bridget complaining to St. Patrick about women having to wait too long for a man to propose.  (See!  Unromantic Irishmen are a long tradition!)

Meanwhile, Newstalk is having a search for the “least romantic man in Ireland.”  The “suffering wife or partner” will get a nice prize, email your suggests to   Apparently these polls go on every year.  Do other countries take pride in being unromantic?  Google searches on “unromantic American” and “unromantic Italian” don’t bring up a contest.   I did discover that Lawrenceville, Georgia is one of the least romantic cities, along with Beaverton, Ore., Bethlehem, Penn., Sterling Heights, Mich. and West Chester, Penn..  Still, that, and Travel + Leisure’s list of least romantic places, which includes downtown Dubai, Atami, Japan, Venice’s canals, and Paris’ iconic sites are, like the survey, not contests people enter on purpose.  In that same journal’s list of the 50 most romantic places on earth, Ireland gets a goose egg.

Still, when people say “Romantic Ireland” they usually mean geography. is pushing it when they suggest that the Cliffs of Moher are romantic (beautiful!  Awe-inspiring!  romantic?)  I get a giggle out of Authentic Ireland Travel’s description:

Guinness, music, beautiful landscapes and winter evenings by the fire.  There is nothing as romantic as a holiday in Ireland.  Ours is a country with many places to renew the fuel of love and fire of life.

Only in Ireland would “Guinness” come first (it’s good for you).   But OK, maybe places are inherently not particularly romantic, but beautiful, or old, or fascinating.   Still.

Dara Kelly, in “Bad romance:  10 surprising facts about the Irish and sex”
points out that pre-Christian Irish were a lot more liberal about sex:  the ancient Brehon laws gave women equality with men (they could inherit, divorce, all kinds of good stuff); and that in the early Christian church John Boswell married homosexual couples.

He writes:

3. Bad Romance
The Irish much prefer a dramatic finish to a promising start. Think of Diarmuid and Grainne, think of Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O’Shea. Most of all think of poor Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s affair to remember will still be passionately discussed by people not yet born. Having married a beautiful but unsuspecting woman before his latent homosexuality became blatant, the real love of his life turned out to be Lord Alfred Douglas, a whey-faced flaxen -haired youth who ruined his life and reputation. In response Wilde did what generations of Irishmen have, he wrote a ballad that has outlived
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, “Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Writes Sad Songs After Marrying Lassie with the Land” is the Irish idea of Romantic Love.  Or “Girl Is Single Again, but It’s Too Late for Boy.”  See Conor McPherson’sPort Authority, in which people never get together with the one they really love, but Make Do and are Happy Enough.  Or, come on, Once, which glorifies the  romantic renunciation (really I love you, but I’ll do the Right Thing and So Will You and we’ll never be together, but we’ll think of each other a real lot).


 Boy Loses Love, Boy Writes About It.

Not a lot of fun for the Loved One in all that.

Most of the sweeping romances in Irish folklore end badly.   Diarmuid and Grainne had a Great Love, as did Tristan and Iseult.    Nobody Lives Happily Ever After.

Irish Central, in its ideas for Valentine’s Day,puts at the top of its list, what else?  Flying to Ireland.  In one of its few New York suggestions, they point out that Irish people run most of the horse and carriages in Central Park.They also point out that St. Valentine is buried in Dublin– but this is really an accident of fate, according to  Irish Culture and Customs:

In the year 1836, Pope Gregory XVI sent a gift to the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street, Dublin, in recognition of the work of the church’s former prior, Father John Spratt, who was widely recognized as a very holy man. The gift was a relic of a Christian martyr: a small gold-bound casket containing the earthly remains of St. Valentine. The relic had been exhumed from the cemetery of St. Hyppolytus on the Tiburtine Way in Rome, placed in a golden casket, and brought to Dublin, where it was enshrined in the little church with great ceremony. This year, on February 14th, as it has in every year since, the casket containing the Saint’s mortal remains will be carried in solemn procession to the high altar of the Carmelite Church for a special Mass dedicated to young people and those in love.

But I think it’s fair to say that the Irish tend to romanticize their dreams and not one another.

Irish response to the survey of their unromanticism is either “here, I’ll sell you a getaway” or “I’m rubber, you’re glue.”Check this out from Jacinta at Irish Central:

Surely putting meat and potatoes on the table is more important than some ostentatious Valentine’s get away?…. I would rather drink a 40 in Central Park on my own on Valentine’s night, then try and get a table on one of the busiest, over hyped nights of the year.

Jacinta complains about two idiotic romantic gestures she’s had in her life, and snarks at Americans (because, of course, we’re all alike, as every Irish person who visits for a minute quickly realizes).

She writes:

Maybe the Irish are not the most romantic race going, but we are honest, pragmatic and when we need to be, we can be loving. I think we just value sincerity more than romance and I don’t think that is such a bad thing.

“when we need to be, we can be loving”?


In a pinch?  if it’s really necessary? (did she really mean to write that?).

Of course, “loving” and “romantic” are not synonyms.  The most romantic thing anyone has ever done for me was to leave a birthday card at the check-in desk of British Airways (I had been moping about a milestone birthday).  He was also a Celt, but Scot, not Irish.  

One of the most loving, though: my father drove all night from NJ to Pittsburgh when I was in hysterical pain after foot surgery.   ( to my mother as well). When I had bronchitis, my cats killed mouse after mouse as offerings to  their god of health…

Then again, The Quiet Man and Circle of Friends are both good,
romantic, and happy (we’ll just pretend Leap Year doesn’t exist).

Any others?  What am I forgetting?  (I know, I know, beautiful love poetry by Yeats, Thomas Moore, beautiful songs; see above:  Boy Loses Girl; or, Boy Wants Girl, Boy Writes Song).

What do you think?  Are the Irish unromantic, or getting a bad rap?  Has an Irish man (or woman) ever done something romantic in your life?  Got a favorite proposal?
Weigh in!
Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.


  1. Avatar
    elizabeth / February 12, 2012 at 6:46 am

    well with a proposal like would you like to be buried with my family it’s hard not to think irish men need a romantic training 😉

  2. Avatar
    Anonymous / February 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    My dad – an Italian-American – let his family know that he and mom were married by walking in the house with her one night, saying “We’re married.”, and pulling out the sofa bed in the living room. (Or so the family story goes. They found them a room upstairs…) Also, after years of marriage, he walked over to where she was sitting in our tiny kitchen and said “I guess I’ll keep her.” (I was there that time…) So, I’m thinkin’ that it’s not just an Irish trait. (Unless one takes into account that the Celts marched through southern Italy [like everybody else] and *might* have left a “wee gift” or two behind…some of my aunts and uncles had red hair – not a a Mediterranean trait…)

    Slan! Suze

  3. Avatar
    Anonymous / February 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    While I do get the argument here, there are exceptions, as always. The Irish get a bad rap for lots of things, but they are no different than any other group at the end of the day.

    Myself – I attempted to meet someone who was ready to leave the relationship I had with her because of the extreme distance between. I offer to meet her in France, at the Eiffel Tower, at a time I knew she’d be able to make easily from where she lived. There was I, flowers in hand…she was a no show. At a later date, also at the Eiffel Tower, I slipped a ring on to another woman’s finger, and was told no! While the moral of the story for me might be to stay away from the Eiffel Tower, the point is I am full blooded Irish, and I consider myself pretty damn romantic!

    But, that’s me.

  4. Avatar
    Lane / February 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Not to totally generalize my own race, but IN GENERAL, Irish men wallow in the melancholy, and they come up for air with sarcasm! I think romance is far too “happy” for them! They prefer romance with grief intermixed, and romancing a woman who is fully able and willing to enjoy the romance–well that takes all of the grief out of it, which is no fun for an Irish man. Sad, but true in my opinion.

  5. Avatar
    Anonymous / February 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    And yet, women of all nationalities want very much to marry them.

  6. Avatar
    sagaworld8 / March 14, 2012 at 12:49 am

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Comments are closed.