New York Today

An Irishman Takes on the Word ‘Paddy’

The photographer Ross O’Callaghan, fighting a stereotype, asks his countrymen to carry Paddy proudly. And it’s back to the future for New York Republicans.

Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll find out about an unusual prelude to St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll also find out why the new state Republican Party chairman seems so familiar.

ImageA person holds a large film camera to their face.
Credit...Kevin Cantrell

To counter what he considers pejorative uses of the word “paddy,” like “paddy wagon,” the Irish photographer Ross O’Callaghan is giving a party tonight for more than 50 men who answer to Paddy as a nickname for Patrick. defines “Paddy” as slang that is “often disparaging + offensive.” O’Callaghan agrees, saying he has been called “Paddy” when traveling well beyond Ireland on photo shoots. “It never really sat well with me,” he said. “I wanted to find a way of challenging that.” Even if many people in Ireland have no problem with “Paddy” and refer to March 17 as “St. Paddy’s Day.”

O’Callaghan decided to photograph men who wear the nickname proudly, including Paddy Barnes, who won bronze medals in boxing at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics; Paddy Hill, who was wrongly convicted as one of the Birmingham Six in a 1974 pub bombing; and Paddy Smyth, a gay disability activist.

The result was “Paddy Irishman,” an exhibition that will begin with a one-day installation and the party tonight at Lume Studios, at 393 Broadway in SoHo. More than 20 of O’Callaghan’s images will move outdoors tomorrow, to Pershing Square in Midtown Manhattan, through March 22. Next month they will go up at the New York Irish Center in Long Island City, with the opening scheduled for April 12, two days after the 25th anniversary of the landmark accords known as the Good Friday Agreement, which ended decades of sectarian strife.

O’Callaghan said that “paddy” took on a derogatory meaning as Irish migrants arrived in the United States in the 19th century, and that the paddy wagon “was named after drunk Irish people.” Elyse Graham, a professor at Stony Brook University who writes under the name E.J. White, noted in her book “You Talkin’ to Me? The Unruly History of New York English (2020) that “paddy wagon” was “probably deliberately casual about whether the ethnic slur paddy refers to the police or the prisoners.”

Joshua Riff and Michael Cronin wrote in “New York City Police” (2012) that it was “also possible that ‘paddy’ was indicative of the vehicle’s padded interior walls.”

But the broader context was derogatory. The novelist Peter Behrens noted that “as caricatured by illustrators like Thomas Nast in magazines like Harper’s Weekly, ‘Paddy Irishman,’ low of brow and massive of jaw, was more ape than human, fists trailing on the ground when they weren’t cocked and ready for brawling.”

Nowadays, said Miriam Nyhan Grey, a historian affiliated with Glucksman Ireland House at New York University, “this speaks to the difference between Ireland and the diaspora and particularly the U.S. and the U.K., where Paddy was used in a pejorative context, not bothering to find out someone’s name.” But the sociologist Nancy Foner wrote in 2001 that “most Irish Americans no longer even recognize ‘paddy wagons’ as an ethnic slur against their supposed proclivity for criminal behavior.”

O’Callaghan said people who go by Paddy don’t feel a sting as much as Irish men with other names. “When your name isn’t Paddy,” he said, “strangers hear an accent and they go ‘how are you Paddy?’ There’s not a man who’s traveled around the world from Ireland who hasn’t been called Paddy at some stage. It happens an awful lot.” Including, he said, to him.

One of the Paddys O’Callaghan photographed, Patrick Hazelton, is a drummer who has played the traditional Irish bodhran since he was a child. He heard about O’Callaghan from a friend who had read about the “Paddy Irishman” project and said, “You’re not camera shy.”

Hazelton said he is also not a typical Irishman: he was born in Uganda and was adopted by a woman originally from Dublin when he was 14 months old. By the time he was six or seven, he was banging pots and pans around the house, and she said he needed to learn drumming. “This guy Big Paddy, his name or not his name, basically showed me what to do on a bodhran and said ‘You don’t need any more lessons,’” he said.

He added that the pejorative connotation of Paddy had “changed over the years” as people became “more socially aware of what you can and cannot say toward a group of people that’s seen in a negative light.”

“From Ross’s point of view, it’s very important that we stomp it out — the ‘here’s-another-Paddy’ kind of thing,” he said.

O’Callaghan said he just wanted to start a conversation. “I’m not going to change the world on this,” he said, “but there is an awful lot more to being Irish and male.”


Prepare for a windy, snowy day in the mid-30s. At night, the snow and wind gusts continue, with temps around the low 30s.


In effect until April 6 (Passover).

Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

Credit...Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

On Sunday, most places in the United States turned their clocks ahead for daylight saving time. On Monday, state Republican leaders turned theirs back — to 2019. They elected the party’s former leader, Edward Cox, as its chairman. Cox presided over the state G.O.P. for a decade beginning in 2009 before being dumped in favor of Nick Langworthy, who ousted Cox with the backing of Donald Trump.

My colleague Jesse McKinley writes that Langworthy — who stepped down as chairman because he was elected to Congress in November — lavished praise on Cox on Monday. Langworthy said Cox would make “an amazing leader” for the party, which enjoyed a successful election in November, winning four congressional seats and nearly knocking off Gov. Kathy Hochul, the incumbent Democrat.

Those wins did not come cheap, and the unanimous support for Cox — which coalesced in recent weeks after a wide-open field winnowed itself out — came in no small part because of his reputation as a capable fund-raiser. A son-in-law to Richard Nixon, Cox is considered a more measured, old-school type of New York Republican, in contrast to Trump-loving MAGA aficionados like Representative Elise Stefanik, who represents a huge Adirondack district and is the third-highest-ranking Republican in the House.

Indeed, on Monday, Cox seemingly embraced a dollars-and-common-sense platform, saying he would concentrate on public safety, education and the economy, rather than a more divisive culture-war topics. At the same time, Cox, who is 76, also said he expected “to bring in a lot of that young blood to what we’re doing.”

As for his return to the chairmanship, Cox said he wasn’t planning to let go of his new-old job anytime soon, saying he wanted to break the Democrats — who haven’t lost a statewide race in more than 20 years — and their stranglehold on Albany.

“You cannot do this in just a few months,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more than that.”



Dear Diary:

I had been unable to leave my bed for most of the weekend. I had gotten over a cold, so it wasn’t because I was sick. I just craved solemn shelter from the world.

I had struggled with a sense of displacement or fogginess since moving to New York City for college. Each day had begun to feel insurmountable, and I was spiraling downward.

Desperate for rehabilitation and grounding of some kind, I did what I often did: looked on Google Maps and picked a random cafe that I had never visited.

I walked about a mile to SoHo and timorously entered the colorful little shop. I was the only customer there.

A kind-eyed woman behind the counter greeted me. I gave her my order and admired the pictures on the patterned walls around me.

“I love this place,” I said quietly to myself.

The woman behind the counter heard me.

“Then honey,” she said, “I am so glad you stopped in.”

— Anne Schwanke

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at

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