How a half-man half-crisp in a suit became a symbol of the Irish diaspora—and an important part of the Brexit deliberationsby Róisín Lanigan / April 1, 2020 / Leave a comment
It’s a strange time for members of the Irish diaspora around the world. As a pandemic spreads across the globe, many young people are heading into quarantine or self-isolation without knowing when they will next be able to visit their families back home in Ireland. Stuck in other countries (or perhaps still at home and yet unable to see elderly or vulnerable loved ones), our focus is on self-care and comfort. And what, after all, is more comforting, and more iconically Irish, than the humble crisp? The Tayto crisp, to be exact.
Originally founded in 1954 by Joe Murphy, Tayto crisps have gone from a simple snack to an icon of Irish identity. The humble bag of Tayto—of which the most iconic flavour is undoubtedly Cheese & Onion—is nothing less than cultural phenomenon.
In its home country, 500 bags of Tayto are sold every minute. Inspired by the Irish rural metonym for crisps (po-tayto), the company has its own theme park, Meath’s Tayto Park, which opened in 2010, and a lifesize snazzily dressed mascot, Mr Tayto, who is essentially a giant crisp in a red jacket.
Mr Tayto in particular is central to the myth of Tayto in Ireland. He’s frequently seen in marketing campaigns for the crisps (one notable advert featured noughties pop icons Westlife) and even released his own autobiography, 2009’s The Man Inside The Jacket, of which I own a copy. He features heavily in the marketing at Tayto Park, Ireland’s sixth most popular tourist attraction—and its only theme park—which attracts 750,000 visitors a year. The park contains a number of attractions that read like something out of 90s comedy Father Ted: Ireland’s only wooden rollercoaster, an exotic zoo and a “Native American village.” In the Irish General Election of 2007, Tayto crisps ran Mr Tayto as a fake candidate, resulting in a number of spoiled papers in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency when people actually voted for their mascot.
But why is Tayto such a cultural institution? It is, after all, just a crisp. Partly it’s down to the intense pride Irish people have, both at home and abroad, in championing quintessentially “Irish” goods and products, particularly when we can ship these around the world. The company’s website, for instance, boasts…