The Palisades Mall in West Nyack, New York is the eighth largest shopping mall in the United States.
This week the Irish Voice can reveal it’s at the center of a firestorm for selling t-shirts and baseball caps that local Irish Americans consider deeply anti-Irish.
“There’s a store called Spencer's in the mall that is selling anti-Irish t-shirts and hats, and the mall management has been very derisive and dismissive of our complaints about it,” Professor George Leahy, adjunct professor at St. Thomas Aquinas College, told the Irish Voice.
It’s understood that two free-standing kiosks within the mall were also selling t-shirts with offensive slogans like “F*** Me, I’m Irish” and “Drink All Day, Fight All Night.” Hats included slogans like “I Like An Irish P***y” and “I Heart Drunk Sluts.”
When Katie Anne Basler, a young mother of two small children, approached the staff at one of the kiosks in the mall to express her concern about the items on sale, she received a dismissive response.
In fact, Leahy says, one of staff told her to “get the shamrock out of your ass.”
Leahy adds that after further complains from customers, both kiosks subsequently removed the offensive Irish items from their lineup, but Spencer’s, a national chain store, has continued to sell all of the hats and t-shirts that Leahy and others have taken offense at.
“The Palisades Mall is a destination for tens of thousands of families and children,” Leahy says.
“These items demean the Irish and Irish women. There are many examples of this insensitivity on the shelves.
“Even if you are not Irish, think about your mother, sister, daughter or granddaughter seeing this kind of thing.”
The Palisades Mall quickly addressed the offensive comments made to Basler and apologized for them. Basler feels like that part of the issue has been resolved, but she is disturbed by Spencer’s decision to continue to sell the hats and shirts that she considers offensive.
When contacted by the Irish Voice on Tuesday, the manger at Spencer’s directed an inquiry to the store’s attorney, Kevin Mahoney.
“We have gotten a few complaints about it as we have every year since we’ve carried that merchandise,” Mahoney told the Voice.
“I have been with Spencer’s for seven years and I’ve been hearing about it every year, as long as I’ve been with them. We receive a handful of complaints, probably less than a dozen or so. We carry the merchandise in all of our stores across the country.”
Mahoney, an Irish Voice reader, indicated that he was aware that other stores like Urban Outfitters have carried similar merchandise and have created similar controversy.
“I have done my own research on this and I see these items being sold on Amazon. If you do a search of Irish and drinking you’ll get over 3,000 individual items,” he said.
Mahoney says similar research in Ireland shows that the same merchandise is for sale there, too.
“I find the merchandise to be pretty widespread. Obviously it’s being marketed to the Irish American community and they support it because they don’t see it to be insensitive or defamatory,” he says.
Mahoney, who was born and raised in New York, told the Irish Voice his grandparents emigrated from counties Galway and Kilkenny.
“The reason why I don’t have any trouble with this issue is that Spencer’s markets to an 18 to 24 year old customer. Many of our customers are fans of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphy’s,” he says.
“Those bands present a certain attitude of being young and Irish. I’m a big fan myself, and you could certainly say a lot of their songs are about drinking and fighting.”
Mahoney says he respects the opinion of the people who call expressing concerns.
“But when I see this merchandise is widely sold, even in Irish shops that cater to the Irish American community, I have to walk away from that with the view that most Irish Americans share my opinion that its not defamatory or derogatory. It’s in keeping with Irish humor.”
But Basler isn’t laughing.
“I don’t think it’s funny at all. I don’t think it’s in good taste or good humor. It insults the Irish, it mocks the holiday,” she said.
“It’s a Catholic holiday above all. I hope that in the future we’ll see shirts around this time of year that celebrate the Irish culture and heritage and not mock and insult it.”