The owner of The Dock bar and grill in Montauk, Long Island has sent a message to all those offended by the “No Irish Drunks” sign on the front window of his establishment – don’t be so sensitive.

Outrage over the sign quickly spread after the story broke on IrishCentral Friday morning. It has been shared over 5,000 times and sparked a discussion spanning more than 1,000 comments on the article itself and on IrishCentral’s Facebook page.

Reactions ranged from outright offense and calls for a boycott (a tactic with distinctly Irish origins), to scoffs over people not being able to take a joke and a few remarks on the sign being warranted.

The Dock’s owner of over 40 years, George Watson, gave his own reply, taping a piece of paper with the word “Sensitive” over the portion of the window sign that reads “Irish” and posting a photo on The Dock’s Facebook page.

The full list now reads “No Yapping Mutts,” “No Sensitive Drunks,” “No Screaming Kids,” “No Cell Phones,” “No Strollers,” “No Public Restrooms.”

It would be a vast improvement if it wasn’t a clearly temporary retort.

Judging by online reputation and a brief conversation, Watson sounds like a great eccentric. The kind of down-to-earth, no-holds-barred character people either love or hate but communities treasure overall.

His accomplishments as a cop, a fire fighter, a Marine veteran and bar owner of close to four decades are deserving of respect, as is the fact that the Montauk Irish like him so much they named him Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2003.

But none of this – nor the fact that he’s an equal opportunity insulter*, telling, as his bio boasts, “ethnic, sexist, and racial jokes ” and giving everyone, himself included, “their turn in the barrel” – makes “No Irish Drunks” OK.

According to a commenter named Mike, writing from Montauk, the whole thing is a joke stemming from a specific incident and is understood within the community.

It makes sense that The Dock and its regulars would feel invaded by sudden outrage over what they consider to be an inside joke, and there probably was a time when the joke wouldn’t have made it very far past that circle. But as the “No Loud Americans” sign in Waterville, Co. Kerry proved last weekend, words in a window – especially in an area frequented by tourists and visitors – can travel around the world in a matter of minutes.

And, as another commenter, Jamie Meyers, pointed out, “if you’re serving the public, it DOES matter ‘how’ and ‘what’ you say.”

The Dock is a private business, but the list of things banned inside faces the street so that anyone walking by, adults and children alike, can read it.

Watson is not by any means the first person to stereotype or defame the Irish. In fact, part of what stings so much about “No Irish Drunks” is the way it harkens back to a time when bans on Irish people were a very real thing – the “No Irish Need Apply” signs of the late 1800s and early 1900s America; the “No blacks, No dogs, No Irish” signs of 1960s London. While these were not as common in fact as they are in historic memory, they did exist. And the Irish had to work hard to break past those signs and the larger discrimination they represented.

Nor will Watson be the last person to categorize the Irish as a bunch of drunks – it happens every March, when stores like Spencer’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and Urban Outfitters stock up on t-shirts emblazoned with “I’ll be Irish in a few beers,” or hats that say “Irish Yoga” above a stick-figure vomiting shamrocks.

On a person-to-person level, it’s possible to make a case for each isolated incident – “She’s Irish herself though!” “It’s an inside joke, we all think it’s funny!” But the more it happens unchallenged, the less isolated each instance is, and the easier it becomes for drunkenness to be part of the Irish narrative.

When asked initially about the “No Irish Drunks” sign, Watson said “If you spoke about any other religion or race they would probably take offense to it; the Irish have a sense of humor.”

But as Pauline Turley (the person who alerted IrishCentral to the sign and who, as vice chair of the Irish Arts Center, is a driving force behind one of the most progressive cultural institutions in Irish New York) pointed out, it isn’t necessarily good that the Irish laugh along over things few other ethnicities would tolerate – especially the very serious issues of binge drinking and alcoholism.

So no, it’s not a question of being too sensitive, and no, feeling offended does not mean that we Irish are losing our famous sense of humor.

We are able to laugh at ourselves, and that’s a good thing – an invaluable skill for surviving day-to-day life. We just have to make sure that we’re in on the joke, not the butt of it – especially when the joke is being told by one of our own.


*A look at the section of The Dock’s website called “The Truth,” which contains old issues of a bar newsletter Watson writes himself and photocopies for circulation, quickly reveals that he really is skilled at insulting everyone equally. It also reveals a clip titled “Irish Kevin Opens a Hospitality Center,” captured below.