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Activist complains to Mayor Bob Buckhorn about new pub's name

Published Jul. 12, 2013


From wearing a pair of kelly green pants decorated with shamrocks to dyeing the Hillsborough River green for St. Patrick's Day, Mayor Bob Buckhorn loves celebrating his Irish roots.

But that gives Buckhorn no cover with the local leader of an Irish heritage organization when it comes to the name of the new Paddywagon Irish Pub at the corner of Cass and Tampa streets.

"Your Honour, I fail to understand why your administration granted a license to The Paddy Wagon since this uniquely American perjorative term was instigated by the Know Nothings in the 19th century to denigrate Irish-Catholics."

So begins a recent letter to the mayor from Séamus S. ÓhEarcáin of Sun City Center, where he is president of the Hillsborough County division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Around South Hillsborough, ÓhEarcáin is better known as James J. Harkins IV, a community activist and founder of the SouthShore Roundtable.

Over the years, Harkins has lobbied for the development of the SouthShore Regional Library, the local branch campus of Hillsborough Community College and the south county fire station and sheriff's substation. He serves on the county's Public Library Board, where he chairs the planning committee, and a plaza at the SouthShore library is named in his honor.

Harkins, 77, also is a historian, lecturer and author who writes a blog, The Irish Mastryoshka, on the history of Irish monks in medieval Europe.

"Regrettably, such terminology has been carried forward along with denigrations of African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, etc.," Harkins added in his June 10 letter to Buckhorn. The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, organized in New York City in 1836, is "America's oldest civil rights organization," said Harkins, who said he would forward Buckhorn's response to his state and national boards.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines "paddy" as an Irish form of Patrick, a term to describe someone from Ireland and as a "patronizing and formerly offensive derisive term." It says "paddy wagon" is slang meaning patrol wagon.

Buckhorn said he wouldn't have gone with Paddywagon himself, but he's not offended by it.

"I say that as somebody of Irish descent who is married to a woman of Irish descent," he said. "I think at some point political correctness can be taken too far. If that had been my establishment, I would have chosen another name, but it's not my restaurant and it's not my job to pick the names" — a point the city repeated an a letter to Harkins.

"We appreciate your sensitivity to what you feel is a derogatory slur to the Irish American people," city planning and development director Thomas Snelling wrote in a July 5 letter. "Please be aware, however, that the naming rights of businesses are not within the city's regulatory purview, and we have no authorization to request a name change.

"Since this is a franchised business," Snelling added, "you may want to contact their headquarters and ask them to consider your position."

Harkins said he spotted the pub's name while driving through downtown, has not complained to them and did not realize it was a franchised business.

Paddywagon owner Jeff Barnes referred questions to the pub's corporate parent, Linksters Management Group of Sarasota, which did not respond to requests for comment.

"I'm not trying to stick my finger in somebody's eye," Harkins said. "I'm just trying to say, 'Hey, what about this?' "

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.