Kitchen garbage thrown down the stairs, sofas floating in the pool, vomit on the carpets, furniture wrecked, cigarette burns and beer stains everywhere, and numerous arrests for vandalism and being drunk and disorderly … the reports in the Irish papers of the gross behavior of Irish students in California this summer has enraged people here at home.
From what I have been reading on the web, many Irish Americans are really mad at what has been going on. But let me tell you, that is nothing compared with the feeling of people here who want the guilty students named, shamed, deported from the U.S. and thrown out of college in Ireland.
What really alarmed me, however, was the report which said that the worst problems had occurred in San Diego and Santa Barbara, where the drunken parties and wanton vandalism of the Irish kids this summer have caused havoc. Irish students are said to have caused $20,000 in damages at a resort in Santa Barbara.
The Irish Times quoted one Santa Barbara apartment complex manager who said that housing Irish students this summer was “the worst experience ever." He described how some drunken Irish students had caused several thousand dollars worth of damage in a single night. They were throwing microwaves into the swimming pool, among other "games.”
The reason I was alarmed at reading this stuff is because, wouldn't you know, one of my own kids is in San Diego this summer. But after an anxious phone call I was reassured. None of their group (all girls) has been in any trouble, and they are getting on fine with the people in their apartment complex.
They had read about the trouble some of the Irish had caused, but it was a minority of all the Irish over there and they said they did not know those involved. They said they were not aware of any bad feeling towards Irish students in general.
In fact all the Americans they had met had been really nice to them. This began from the moment they arrived when they needed help to find somewhere to stay -- on their first night they had found that the hostel they had booked from Ireland did not exist (an Internet scam). But local people helped them out and directed them to a good, cheap hotel.
So it's not all bad. But the problem with a situation like this is that all the kids who behave reasonably well are tarred with the same brush.
The result is that this summer the reputation of Irish students on the West Coast for drinking and vandalism is so bad that many supermarkets, restaurants and bars won't hire them, and many apartment owners don't want them.
From the reports I have read, it also seems clear that the "minority" of Irish students who cause the problem is anything but a small minority. To have generated this much media comment and adverse reaction from local apartment owners, employers and police departments, it has to be a sizeable minority.
The question is why? What makes so many Irish students behave like pigs when they get to America?
Why do they drink so much? Why are they so destructive? Why have they little or no respect for themselves, the properties where they stay and the people around them?
The answer to this is long and complicated. But it goes to the heart of some things that are very wrong about Irish society.
Firstly, it is worth noting that the kids involved are not poor kids from deprived parts of Dublin or other Irish cities where there is high unemployment and life is miserable, and the only release is booze, drugs and destruction. Anyone who has been in central parts of Irish cities and towns on a Saturday night knows the disgusting and violent behavior that results when kids from these areas let off steam by getting totally out of it.
What is interesting about the Irish kids who have caused the problems in California is that they are not part of this deprived underclass. In fact they are from the middle and upper layers of Irish society.
They have, after all, made it into college. They are mostly the offspring of parents who may not be rich, but are certainly doing okay. These kids are supposedly the country's pride and joy, the ones who will be the successful part of the coming generation.
And in a way that makes it even worse, even more worrying. These kids are already educated. They have been right through the Irish school system, including all the civics classes.
Yet some of them -- a lot of them -- turn into moronic, drunken, violent louts as soon as they are out of Ireland, and particularly when they are in America.
Part of the reason for this is that they seem to have a void inside where their self-esteem should be. Although they hide this behind singing and flag waving when anyone Irish or any Irish team does well, the truth is that in contrast with most American kids, many Irish kids have low self-esteem and take little pride in themselves and their surroundings. So they cover it up with drink and the over-the-top behavior that comes with being drunk.
One psychologist I know here who deals a lot with young people describes it as the emptiness inside many young Irish people. She says that in this regard, Irish kids are like their parents -- it's just that the parents are better at hiding it.
She says that there is a hole in the middle of the Irish psyche. She says it may have something to do with the 800 years of colonialism we suffered and the way generations of our forebears were made to feel worthless as they tipped their caps to the gentry.
We learned as a nation that the hole in the national psyche that made us so miserable could be filled with alcohol. This made us forget all our troubles, made us go wild with release. And even though it's now close to a century since we got our freedom, we're still using excessive drink to dull the pain, to give us a release.
This theory may seem outdated or even ridiculous. But there has to be some explanation for this Irish compulsion to get out of our heads on booze or drugs and then go mad or get maudlin.
The Irish kids who have created such mayhem in California did not invent this kind of excessive drinking; they learned it from previous generations. It's in the genes.
People in other countries in Europe enjoy a drink. But mostly they know when to stop.
There is a difference with the Irish because of the inability of many Irish people to enjoy a social night out without getting out of it themselves. There is a difference in that too many Irish people can't get the sense of release they need unless they drink themselves into a state of total abandon or even a total stupor.
Every summer Dublin plays host to thousands of French, Italian and Spanish teenagers who come here to polish up their English. And every summer they are appalled at the way their Irish counterparts drink themselves into a drunken, often violent state.
The continental kids don't get it. Why would anyone do that?
With the Irish students there are other factors at play as well. Part of it is the pressure they are under in the Irish educational system, and the feeling that even if they make it there may not be any jobs for them. No one else seems to care, so why should they?
There is also the feeling of freedom and escape they get when they are abroad -- and particularly when they are in America. Suddenly they are in the land of the free and the home of all those gonzo, lunatic TV shows like Nitro Circus or movies like Police Academy where everyone does crazy things. So the Irish kids seem to think it's okay or even cool to go crazy as well.
What is different about the Irish kids -- or the minority who do this stuff -- is the mindless destruction they get up to. With little sense of personal worth and even less appreciation of property around them, they just wreck whatever is to hand. It's not unique to Ireland, but it seems to be a particular problem here.
Again, the reason can be seen in a historical context. I was writing here a while back about a holiday we spent on the Jersey Shore, and how at the end of a busy day we were delighted to see that the beaches were litter free, in contrast with beaches around Dublin which are full of cans, bottles and food cartons abandoned by teenagers at the end of a sunny day.
Why do the Irish place so little value on their surroundings and on property? One theory is that we don't have the sense of ownership that Americans have in what's around them.
After 800 years of being the underclass, we don't respect what belongs to others. We don't respect ourselves enough to behave in a civilized fashion when we're having a good time.
Another theory, of course, is that the Celtic Tiger youth got everything so easily that they don't value anything. And on top of that, now that the Irish economy has gone down the toilet they have an extra reason, which is partly revenge, to be destructive.
Take your pick. There has to be a reason why too many of the Irish students are disgracing us in this way. All theories and solutions are welcome.