On Inwood—and Being at the War

On Saturday, Oct. 22, the NYIHR will provide a special program on Manhattan’s Inwood, once the largest Irish community in New York. Author Edward Hagan and Roundtable president John Ridge will collaborate to re-capture Inwood, its institutions, values—and its expectations for its inhabitants. This program will take place at 2 p.m. in the McCloskey meeting room in the parish house for the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, 263 Mulberry Street Manhattan. A reception will follow.
By the mid-nineteenth century, metropolitan New York was growing its great Irish enclaves—including Highbridge, Greenwood, Woodside, Chelsea, Vinegar Hill, Hell’s Kitchen, and Knightsbridge. On the very tip of Manhattan Island there was Inwood. The Irish population of Inwood flourished with completion of the IRT subway in 1902, the IND in 1932, and a boom in housing. Over the next half-century the area sustained a strong Irish-American culture evidenced by traits like Catholic parishes and schools, Irish stores and pubs, Irish clubs and associations, and an Irish football field right in Inwood Hill Park.

In the mid-twentieth century, as Edward Hagan describes in To Vietnam in Vain: Memoir of an Irish-American Intelligence Advisor, 1969–70, growing up in Inwood meant becoming enculturated into this vibrant community and meeting its expectations. Over the first decades of his life, Inwood instilled and confirmed for him definite anticipations about how he, as a young Irish-American man, should proceed in the world—and about how the world would respond to him. Then, a year after his graduation from Fordham University and commissioning as a second lieutenant, Hagan became an Army intelligence advisor in Vietnam—and these expectations collided with the grim realities in that Asian country where he encountered failed leadership, corrupt governance, and routinized killing. How these experiences influenced him—and how he now sees Inwood and the war—are questions to be addressed in this uncommon Roundtable program.

Edward A. Hagan, the son of Irish immigrants, served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Vietnam. He is Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor of Writing at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, and is the author of numerous books and articles on war literature and on Irish literature. His recent memoir is To Vietnam in Vain: Memoir of an Irish-American Intelligence Officer, 1969–1970.
John Ridge is president of the New York Irish History Roundtable. He is the author of many articles and several books on the Irish in the New York City area. His last article, “World War II and the New York Irish,” appeared in volume 28 of New York Irish History. His book, Celebrating 250 Years of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, was published in Spring, 2011.

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