Are the fake Irish eyes smiling today?

By Stuart Fuller


St Patrick’s Day is universally celebrated in a way like no other.  The spirit of Ireland’s National Day transcends geographic, political and cultural boundaries, with celebrations spanning the globe.  Here in the Unites States, the 17th March takes on a special importance, with the Irish communities across the country all looking to celebrate in their own special way.  Even the President gets in on the act, dying the fountain at the White House green in honour of St Patrick for the day, whilst in Chicago they dye the whole river green.  Huge parades take place in most major cities, whilst the National Retail Federation report that over $4 billion will be spent on the day itself by millions of Americans celebrating their actual and virtual Irish roots.

With the number of counterfeit items being as high as 1 in 6 items for some industries, the public need to ensure they keep their wits about them when it comes to celebrating St Patrick’s Day as with so much “craic” on display it is no surprise to see the counterfeiters out in force too.  Ranging from the problem of street vendors selling “lucky four leaf Shamrocks” (which are really Marsilea’s or Oxalis leaves as any green-fingered expert will tell you) to poor quality t-shirts with every variation of the most famous Irish brand, Guinness.  At least when you go into a bar and order a pint of the black stuff you are pretty sure it is the genuine article.  The supply chains within the catering business are well regulated, but that hasn’t stopped some miscreants trying their arm in the past.

Back in 2006 a group of Nigerians were found guilty of selling fake Guinness to bars in the country.  Nigerians love Guinness, especially the Export Strength version and it is found in almost every bar and restaurant.  This group saw an opportunity to use a much cheaper stout substitute that to the untrained eye looked identical and then bottle it in old Guinness bottles.  Such practice is not uncommon today around the world and alcohol fraud costs the UK economy alone over £1 billion a year, with up to 14% of all alcohol consumed either counterfeit or coming from an illicit source.

Guinness’s world famous label has been trademarked since 1862, featuring the famous Harp and the signature of founder, Arthur Guinness, but up until the 20th century there was no control on how the bottle labels appeared as Guinness was supplied in bulk to bottling firms and publicans, who transferred it from wooden casks to bottles. Then, during the bottling process, each bottler or publican used their own label on the bottles.  Since the introduction of a common brand identity we have all come to know the famous design, but that hasn’t stopped counterfeiters and brand abusers slapping the logo on anything that they think will help them sell “authentic Irishness”.

So before you get into the Irish spirit too much on St Patrick’s Day, think twice before spending your hard-earned cash on items that could be counterfeit.  Whilst they may look different in the bar with your friends, in the cold light of day, counterfeiting isn’t a victim-less crime and it may lead to more than a hangover the next morning.