THE

NEW

YORK

IRISH

 

edited by Ronald H. Bayor & Timothy J. Meagher

A joint project of The Irish Institute of New York & The New York Irish History Roundtable

Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996
7" x 10", 744pp., 37 illus.
ISBN 0-8018-5199-8

AVAILABILITY: In hardcover and softcover through major bookstores

The New York Irish is the history of a three hundred year relationship between America's premiere city and one of its oldest ethnic groups.
The volume is edited by Ronald H. Bayor, professor of history at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Timothy J. Meagher, archivist and museum director at the Catholic University of America.

From the Dutch and British colonial periods, through the Revolutionary era and the early days of the Republic, a steadily growing number of Irish immigrants and their descendants formed a distinctive element of the city's population. A flood of new arrivals during the 1840s and 1850s swelled their numbers, and by the close of the Civil War more than a third of all New Yorkers were of Irish origin. During the closing decades of the nineteenth and the first years of the twentieth century, they dominated the politics and shaped the cultural, social, and economic life of the metropolis. At the same time, a distinct ethnic subculture developed that has been sustained by three surges in Irish emigration to New York during the 1920s, 1950s and 1980s. Despite several generations of assimilation and dispersal, the Irish still play an ongoing role in the New York experience, and serve as a model of adaptation in which ethnicity both survives in, and is transformed by, the urban environment.

Five essays provide a concise chronological overview of the interaction between New York and the Irish from the colonial period to the present. Twenty essays fill major gaps in the historiography of the Irish in America, including discussions on religious diversity; entrepreneurship in business; the homefront during the Civil War; the importance of place of origin on ethnic social life; efforts to foster the Irish language; how music was an arbiter of social change and ethnic transmission; the impact of labor and nationalist movements on local politics; and the social implications of geographic mobility. The New York Irish also offers new insights into urban and social history, including relations with African Americans, Chinese and Dominicans; the medicalization of anti-immigrant prejudice; the constitutionality of freedom of religious expression; the appeal of popular Catholicism; the onus of illegality; and ethnicity as liberating doubleness.

The New York Irish contains over thirty illustrations, including eight new maps, and statistical tables. Its large, annotated bibliography has been published separately as The Irish Experience in New York City.

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The New York Irish

Ronald H. Bayor & Timothy J. Meagher, editors
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995)

Contents

Part Two: The Great Migration

Part Three: The Turn of the Century

Part Four: The Early Twentieth Century

Part Five: The Modern Era






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Excerpts from
The New York Irish





 

It is the complicated story of a people who have fought to push out the boundaries of American nationality to encompass their ethnic and religious beliefs and in so doing sometimes helped to reinforce the boundaries of race that kept African and Asian Americans from full participation in the city's or the nation's life. Throughout their history in New York, the Irish have been at the border of the ins and outs, interpreting one to the other, mediating, sometimes including, sometimes excluding. They have been both victim and victimizer, "other" and definer of the "other," and, paradoxically, sometimes played both roles simultaneously.
- from the Introduction

The early American republic's first constitutional victory for free religious exercise did not flow from cold textual analysis but was a gut response to an appalling and skillful United Irish rhetorical portrait of ethnic persecution against the native Irish. In its inception, its argumentation, and its resolution, the first free exercise case turned on the religion, ethnicity, and history of New York City's early Irish immigrants. It offers important clues to the cultural construction of law.
- from Chapter 2

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Irishmen were also portrayed as short and stocky, the very physique that pseudoscientists associated with people who were not very active, but somewhat "slothful" or "lazy." Many Irishmen were depicted as having coarse red hair, precisely the kind thought to indicate an "excitable,""sociable," or "gushing" personal manner. If the Irish were ruddy-complexioned, this was seen as a sign that they were given to raw, unrestrained passions and self-indulgence. Those with dark eyes could be expected to be arduous or excessively sensuous. According to phrenologists in the 1850s, such individuals would not be contented with indoor or sedentary labor but would gravitate toward outdoor occupations because they required "a great amount of air and exercise." That many of the Irish who arrived at mid-century worked on the docks or the railroads seemed to confirm their "scientific" profile.
- from Chapter 6

There had been a number of calls for an Irish-language journal, and with so many students enrolled in classes the time seemed right. In 1881 Michael Logan started to publish An Gaodhal in Brooklyn. This largely Irish-language journal marked an important advance in the Irish language movement in America. Like the Irish-American, it provided a forum for language enthusiasts, fledgling authors, and collectors of Irish folklore. It also seems to have been a catalyst in moving the newly founded Gaelic Union of Dublin to begin publishing its own periodical, the Gaelic Journal.
- from Chapter 10

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If [Mayor John Purroy] Mitchel transformed social welfare reform into a battle with the church and therefore, given the makeup of the hierarchy, into a battle with his fellow Americans, he turned several other anti-Tammany measures, most importantly progressive education, into virtual wars with not just the Irish but also with all the nationality groups in the city.
- from Chapter 15

The sense of seige in the neighborhood was heightened by the cultural conflict between the old-timers and Latino newcomers. The streets became a battleground. The Irish blamed the Dominicans for making them filthy, much as native New Yorkers had blamed the immigrant Irish for fouling the streets in the nineteenth century.
- from Chapter 17

The Irish, one of the first immigrant groups to be analytically studied, and a group that has been in the United States long enough to see the full process of assimilation at work, is also part of the new immigration to America in the 1990s. It is therefore a key group in America's ethnic mosaic, one that encompassses all the elements needed to understand the differences and similarities between earlier immigrant migration, adjustment, and assimilation and the behaviors of today's arrivals. Its history also sheds considerable light on such issues as intergroup relations, stereotyping, the development of an Euro-American identity, the impact of new migration on those of the group already settled, neighborhood succession, mobility, and gender roles. Furthermore, the Irish, as a group that challenged the cultural hegemony of the majority of Americans in the nineteenth century, provide a good comparative example through which to understand the friction evident today as the sources of immigration have shifted to non-European countries.
- from the Conclusion

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