Whether we like it or not, there's no denying that Irish people - as a collective - have a problem with how we're perceived in the world at large.
If an actor or musician is referred to as British, there's uproar on social media. If someone makes a disparaging comment against Ireland in some public format, it's the same thing. Just this week, for example, a Channel 4 News segment featuring British people on the street caused upset when it was revealed that - surprise, surprise - British people on the street were unable to effectively draw the border at the North, and had some outdated views on us. Not surprisingly, the whole segment left pretty much every Irish person watching it with a bad taste in their mouth.
That's just an example in the past week. You only need to go further afield to, say, Conor McGregor and you recognise that we're exceptionally protective of how we're perceived. Actors, athletes, artists, whatever - we care because they're ambassadors of our nation and represent the ideals of our identity. When it comes to popular culture, however, it's a different story. There's thousands of examples of terrible Irish accents in television and movies, all with atrociously pronounced surnames and usually relying on the worst kind of stereotyping. Generally speaking, Irish people are good-natured about it because we accept that it isn't us.
The best example of this is probably Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part I. There was an Irish coven of vampires that - no joke - included a red-haired woman, a man wearing a tweed jacket and flatcap with fingerless gloves, and a young girl with ringlets. When they came on screen at the Irish premiere of the film, the entire audience burst into spontaneous laughter at them. It was infectious. Any time they opened their mouths for the rest of the film or even appeared in the background, it was as if the film turned into a full-blast comedy. The Simpsons set an entire episode in Dublin and, again, featured all the stereotypes we've come to expect, as did Family Guy which saw the flight from Quahog to Dublin set down in a sea of bottles of alochol. Another scene saw Peter visit an Irish heritage museum which featured the day in the life of an Irishman - drinking and striking women - and an Irishwoman - praying and then popping out a child. Again, nobody really cared and it was all more or less taken in the spirit that it was meant because it's a fictional representation. It has no basis in reality any more than the stereotype that Americans are fat, stupid and racist.
But still, there hasn't been an authentic representation of Irish people or identity in mass-market Western popular culture in quite some time. Only just recently, Overwatch made some headlines when it introduced a new character voiced by Irish actress Geneieve O'Reilly. The character, named Moira, is described as a scientist who's "on the cutting edge of genetic engineering, searching for a way to rewrite the fundamental building blocks of life." Her uniform isn't green, and while she may have a few lines as Gaelige, her being Irish isn't central to it. The only character like this was Chief Miles O'Brien, from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
As described by executive producer Ira Steven Behr, O'Brien was one of the reasons he worked on the show. In our interview with Behr, he said of O'Brien that "he was a human even among a lot of stock characters," and that he was "not the guy who's just going to fly through life and come up with the decision." In a series, and a franchise, where characters were perfect in every conceivable way, and famously had no conflicts, O'Brien was authentic, real and flawed. One particular episode in Deep Space Nine, Hard Time, saw him dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Another episode in The Next Generation, The Wounded, followed a similar path and saw O'Brien recounting a brutal massacre that saw him kill a Cardassian at close range. Later in the episode, O'Brien sings a few bars of The Ministrel Boy with character Bob Gunton, who played a rogue Starfleet captain that was previously O'Brien's superior.
Throughout both series - The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine - O'Brien's Irishness came up here and there, but it was never a focal point of his personality. Almost always, it was done with a certain level of humour and levity. O'Brien often remarked about how replicated food wasn't the same as real food. He tried once or twice to get Dr. Bashir, his British colleague on Deep Space Nine, to try out a holoplay that was based on Irish mythology. What's more, Colm Meaney's performance included his own Dublin accent. It wasn't flattened or heightened for effect; it was simply a part of him and his performance - as much as every other part of Meaney. In fact, his dry, Dublin tones played into O'Brien's slightly exasperated way of dealing with those around him. It was almost idiomatic in a way; you half-expected O'Brien to tell Worf or Sisko to cop on when they were acting the maggot.
O'Brien, and Meaney's performance of him, was so quintessentially Irish that he couldn't try be anything other than what he was - authentic and grounded in a way that no other character in the series was. When we look at other Irish characters and representations in other franchises, there's always something slightly histronic about it. They're invariably seen as crazed, loud, probably with a drink taken, and often as some kind of comic relief. O'Brien could be all of those things, sure, but he was never defined by it and it never determined who he was.
He got on with it, in a way that only he could.