The Land of Boiled 7Up


The other day I was in Tesco and they had t-shirts prominently on display for St Patrick’s Day. One of them read “You know you’re Irish if boiled 7Up is the cure for every illness”, or something very similar, and the first thing I thought was: am I Irish?

I have never heard of this in my life. Flat coke, yes. but never boiled 7Up. But flat coke is not particularly Irish. There are any number of countries around the world where people will swear by the medicinal properties of flat coke, as well as its reputed use as a drain unblocker by plumbers in the know.

When I remarked on this boiled 7Up phenomenon the other night, someone suggested to me that it may have to do with a time -now?- when getting a doctor to take a look would cost too much money as would proper medicines so self-medicating home remedies would always be to the fore. Hence you know you’re Irish because you’ve got an aversion to using professional health services because they cost too much.

On the way out of Tesco there was a charity effort. People were packing customers’ shopping. It was in aid of a very sick person’s expenses. Large amounts of money were needed to give this person vital treatment. So here were the volunteers, helping Tesco get their Saturday morning cashier lines cleared as quickly as possible, in exchange for customer donations. And I would never actually say this but Tesco were really setting me up to ask: have you tried boiled 7up?

Under what circumstances would you feel the need to know if you’re Irish or not? Do people wake in the morning feeling strangely self-conscious about their naked body and think: am I Irish? Do they find themselves unaccountably sucking up to Americans? Do they get overcome by the strangest feeling that the world -even the non-English speaking world- finds their accent sexy?

And why would you need to know? What would you do with the information that confirmed you were, indeed, Irish? Would you start evading tax? Start thinking about your mother as an especially amusing subspecies of mother? Start nodding sagely at the pronouncements of economists on TV?

What kind of entitlements would being Irish bring? What kind of rights would being a child of the Irish nation entail?

In Tesco, for example, where you are besieged by advertising at near every glance about how this carrot or that lump of meat is Irish, they use JobBridge to employ shelf stackers.

This, by the way, was a scheme brought in by a Labour minister. You may recall that the Labour Party campaigned for the Fiscal Treaty with big billowing tricolours on their posters: you know you’re Irish when paying off bank debt is more important than paying for hospitals and schools. You know you’re Irish if the cause of speculators is the cause of labour.

Another way of putting JobBridge is that Tesco, and firms like it, get some Irish people -the ones in government and their associates in the business world- to force other people -who may or may not be Irish, depending on how they use boiled 7Up- to work for slave wages. This helps keep the wages of the rest of Tesco’s staff down, to drive Tesco’s profits up in the low tax country it calls ‘Treasure Island’. (Every little helps.) You know: for Ireland.

Last week a video produced by Ireland’s tourist board was heavily circulated online. According to the video, one of the inspiring things about Ireland was the way the country had successfully emerged from a Troika bailout.

That is, Ireland’s government had successfully managed to demonstrate it would pay off private banking debt whilst undertaking internal devaluation, driving down wages and unravelling employment protections, privatising public services and cutting benefits.

Inspiring perhaps, but to whom, exactly? Well, speculators and accumulators, mainly, but also, it would appear, a great many one-dimensional enthusiasts for the official word on things. To such people, Ireland is inspiring because the war of all against all is the new normal.

So being Irish, on its own, doesn’t entitle you to much, I’m afraid. Not a decent wage, or a decent health service, or a democratic political system, anyway. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be a guarantee of anything. Maybe you know you’re Irish then, if when someone is robbing you blind, all you can think about is Mr Tayto and boiled 7Up.


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2 responses to “The Land of Boiled 7Up

  1. This is so clever, and so incisive. And I agree most fully.


    Help me understand your view of nostalgia. Nostalgia as *product* is of course both troubling and gross. But nostalgia in and of itself is, it seems to me, an important element in our remembering ourselves and identifying ourselves to and with one another. It is not the *only* element of course, as that would just be sentimentality, which is largely inexcusable (although again, not wholly), but an important one nonetheless. And it’s both sad, or maybe more accurately, filled with longing, while being simultaneously pleasurable (or funny), and thus it’s a strong feature of Irish literature generally. But it’s not an Irish phenomenon.

    But supposing the phrase “You know you’re Irish if boiled 7Up is the cure for every illness” was something that was said to you in the pub as opposed to something printed on a shirt on sale in a multinational. I guess you wouldn’t laugh because you don’t know what this ‘meme’ is referring to. I’d laugh, though, because whenever I was sick as a child (colds and/or tummy upsets, measles, chicken pox), my mother boiled 7up and gave it to me to drink. It was supposed to be an easy to digest source of energy. It was never a replacement for medical care. I think back on this fondly.

    Anyway this isn’t about the specific ‘meme’ itself (that comment has been all over facebook, twitter and retro Irish forums). I have noticed here and in one or two other places what *seems* to be a disgust for nostalgia. There’s a dig back there at the Irish Mammies phenomenon too (now, also, a product). Is the disgust or disdain or whatever directed at the co-opting of shared remembering for exploitative purposes? Or is it how it consciously or unconsciously ‘others’ those who are not ‘Irish’? Or is it that you think it clouds criticism of ‘Irishness’? I’m just interested in your thoughts on this.

    I emigrated last year and my longing for ‘Irish’ things and people is really strong.

  2. It was always flat 7up for an upset stomach or boiled red lemonade for a cold for us. I know that’s not the point but you know you grew up in a specific family in a specific housing estate in a specific town when…

    Not sure what the reasoning is but I always saw it as a treat.

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