When it comes to action defending what he regards as his ancestral home of Ireland, no one is more vociferous than Shaun McCann, President of the Gloucester County, New Jersey, branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), Commodore John Barry Division 1.
Thirty-six-year-old Shaun, a police officer by day, is known by his fellow NJ Hibernians as someone who promotes fairness and justice in his community. He is also known as someone who helps with the charitable foundation ‘Project Ireland’ – responsible for bringing both Catholic and Protestant kids from the north of Ireland to the US for a welcome break.
Proud to be a third generation Irish American and equally proud to wear garments that proclaim that heritage, Shaun was particularly incensed when he discovered that his local Target store was selling what he regarded as ‘offensive Irish t-shirts,’ back in 2015.
However, unlike the stereotypical ‘fightin’ drunken’ Irish t-shirts on sale every St. Patrick’s Day, this one offended on a different level.
Shaun went to the Target Store at the Woodbury-Glassboro Road mall in Mantua, NJ to investigate. What he saw was a t-shirt, on sale for $5, that offended his Irish pride.
The t-shirt’s portrayal of a map of Ireland with the word ‘IRELAND’ emblazoned across it wouldn’t normally offend someone like McCann, but the geography was a little ‘askew’.
The designers of the t-shirt saw fit to adhere to the British viewpoint that the northernmost six counties are not part of the island of Ireland, so they simply left them out.
No, they didn’t just exclude them by way of a border line...they simply left them out.
Anything north of the border was simply excluded. All of a sudden a trip northwards had nothing but sea after Dundalk.
This faux pas is like having a map of the United States with all of New England missing.
Not only was the t-shirt geographically inaccurate, but it also had a four leaf clover in place of the ubiquitous Shamrock.
Shaun did what any proud Irish American would do who saw part of his ancestral homeland missing....he complained to the store manager. After explaining why the shirt offended him and the possible consequences of keeping it on the shelves of a store whose customers were largely Irish American, the Target store manager decided to advise his regional manager of Shaun's complaint.
After snapping a photograph of the t-shirt and posting it on the AOH social network, Shaun was surprised but happy to see it had garnered 10,000 ‘hits’ “within a matter of hours.” His photo was now on its way to going viral.
So why did this t-shirt incense and offend a NJ police officer like Shaun McCann?
“I found the shirt to be offensive due to the removal of Northern Ireland. I felt the shirt disrespected the legacy of those who fought and died for a free and united Ireland. I felt it disrespected those who lived through the Troubles and were harassed, beaten, and unlawfully arrested or accused. I believe a product like this upsets the movement for a peaceful process to the union of Ireland. It suggests people born in Northern Ireland, or Irish-Americans whose ancestors are from the north, are not Irish at all.”
By 9pm that Wednesday evening reports reached Shaun that “Target had already begun pulling the shirts from their racks.”
This is not the first time the AOH has protested at offensive Irish t-shirts. One New York branch held a meeting outside their local Spencer’s Gifts store to protest the sale of t-shirts that “targeted and mocked Irish culture.”
Stores that have sold offensive Irish t-shirts in the past have included Walmart, Old Navy, Spencers’ Gifts, as well as many smaller stores.
So remember, if you see an offensive Irish t-shirt in a store near you, be like Shaun and don’t be afraid to voice your objection to the store manager.
* Originally published in 2015.