Is the term paddy wagon offensive? (Yes)

In Tampa, at least one local Irishman is offended by the name of a new bar, The PaddyWagon Irish Pub, and he has written to the mayor with his complaint, the Tampa Bay Times reports:

“Your Honour, I fail to understand why your administration granted a license to The Paddy Wagon since this uniquely American perjorative term was instigated by the Know Nothings in the 19th century to denigrate Irish-Catholics.”
So begins a recent letter to the mayor from Séamus S. ÓhEarcáin of Sun City Center, where he is president of the Hillsborough County division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Known locally as James J. Harkins IV, the letter writer is a historian, lecturer and author who specializes in the history of Irish monks in medieval Europe. He blogs at The Irish Mastryoshka.

The origins of paddy wagon are muddled, though it is generally agreed the term was pejorative when first used in the 19th century. Some say it first appeared during the New York City draft riots of July 1863. Many of the men protesting Union conscription were Irish or Irish-Americans. So were many of the police officers charged with arresting them. The term “paddy” is also said to refer to the initials P.D., or Police Department, on the side of prisoner transport vans.

Still other sources say the term “Paddy” is a shortening of Patrick, which is Padraig in Irish.

Paddy Wagon

Of course, using the term paddy for a drinking establishment just perpetuates the stereotype of “the drunken Irish.” St. Patrick’s Day has become so associated with inebriation, Irish and non-Irish, that a growing number of heritage groups have created Sober St. Patrick’s Day events.

Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckhorn, an Irish-American who has formalized the city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration by ordering the Hillsborough River dyed green each year, said he isn’t offended by the pub name. “I would have chosen another name, but it’s not my restaurant and it’s not my job to pick the names,” he told the Times.

The city’s written response to Harkins said local government can’t regulate business names (although I can easily imagine the city would find a way to block businesses that used more direct ethnic slurs against other groups).

Tampa officials suggested Harkins contact the pub’s owners, Linksters Management Group of Sarasota. For those who want to voice their protest, or support, here’s a link to the company’s online contact page and telephone number.

Buckhorn said “at some point political correctness can be taken too far.” Or is the The Paddy Wagon pub the still-hurtful vestige of once virulent American prejudice against Irish Catholics?

Personally, I’m with Harkins. I say walk past this new place and visit Four Green Fields, Tampa’s authentic thatched-roof Irish pub.

(Image above from Irish Central, which picked up the Times story.)