Oconee Regional Library

The Irish In America

"So you're going to Dublin, a stor."
"I am Kate. Have you ever been to Dublin?"
"Arrah, I've never been that far, but I've been to America."

from The Irish in America edited by Michael Coffey

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, more than 40 million people living within our borders claim to have ancestral ties to Ireland. Of those 40 million, approximately 638,000 currently reside in Georgia. The Irish in America, first published in 1997 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Irish potato famine, is a collection of original essays by noted Irish-American writers and historians such as Frank McCourt, Peggy Noonan, Pete Hamill, Thomas Flanagan and Mary Higgins Clark. Available now in paperback, it was first produced as a companion to the PBS series entitled Long Journey Home. Its six chapters are designed to enlighten on the central themes of Irish life- The Great Famine; The Parish; The Precinct; The Work; The Players; and The New Irish. This format allows the reader the freedom to pick and choose a topic rather than be forced unnecessarily to endure a lengthy volume.
"Farmers No More: From Rural Ireland to the Teeming City", written by Peter Quinn describes the transitional journey from the Irish's close association with land to their taking residence in America's largest cities. In contrast to the scenes depicted in the movie "Far and Away" where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman went West to settle on free land, the majority of Irish arriving in the United States found themselves living in metropolitan areas that possessed the cornerstones of Irish society- the church and the saloon. These two institutions provided the setting so that Irish traits, customs, and rituals of song, dance and communication could be preserved. Quinn notes that at the end of the twentieth century, some Irish Americans "were still identifying their neighborhoods not by cross streets or avenues but by parishes or even pubs".
In the essay entitled "Birdie, We Hardly Knew Ye: the Irish Domestic", Maureen Murphy writes on the world encountered by over 307,000 Irish females who emigrated to the United States during the twenty-five years between 1883 and 1908. Most of these found employment as domestic servants. Overcoming prejudices against their ancestry and religion were not easy. Equipped with a strong sense of loyalty and cheerfulness, combined with the humility to work at low wages, Irish women found their services valued. They also maintained their ability to laugh at themselves such as the time one female recalled "spending a Saturday making little woolen coats after her employer asked her to prepare potatoes baked in their jackets".
As part of the chapter on "The Precinct", Robert Shrum writes on "The Greening of the Presidency". Franklin Roosevelt, the antithesis of an Irishman, rose to power through great assistance from two prominent Irishmen of the day. James Farley became Roosevelt's chief political organizer who used a massive volume of correspondence handwritten in green ink to communicate FDR's message. Joseph P. Kennedy used his wealth and extensive personal network to secure a deal to successfully nominate Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic Convention. Of course the defining moment of Irish influence in politics came in 1960 with election of John F. Kennedy as President. Kennedy's presidency and the height at which the Kennedy name was esteemed after his death helped bring to an end much of the bigotry shown toward the Irish and Catholicism.

During the month of March as we take time to recognize Dublin's Irish heritage, reading books about Ireland can add some authenticity to our celebration. With its format and variety of subjects, The Irish in America provides an excellent resource to capture some of the Irish spirit.

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