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.
On Saturday, Dec. 3 author Eileen Sullivan will present a talk on changes in the culture of American Catholicism emerging from the works of nineteenth-century writers who created a distinctive—and influential—Irish-American literature. Examining characters and themes in novels published in 1830s to the 1870s, Professor Sullivan will shed new light on how, for example, Irish immigration transformed America’s Catholic population and its institutions. This special 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. Suggested donation: $5.
In the 1830s and 1840s, most Catholic fiction was written by American-born converts from Protestant denominations. But after 1850, most was written by Irish immigrants or their children. These new authors created characters and plots that mirrored immigrants’ lives. And these post-1850 novelists portrayed Catholics as a community of people bound by shared ethnicity, ritual, and loyalty to their priests rather than by shared theological or moral beliefs. Their novels focused on poor and working-class characters; reasons why the Irish left their homeland, how they fared in the American job market, and where they stood on issues like slavery, abolition, and women’s rights. In developing plots, these later novelists took positions on capitalism and on race and gender, providing the first alternative to the reigning domestic ideal of women. Far more conscious of American anti-Catholicism than the earlier Catholic novelists, they stressed the dangers of assimilation and the importance of separate institutions supporting a separate Irish-American culture.
Eileen P. Sullivan is lecturer in political science at Rutgers University. She is the daughter of Daniel J. Sullivan and Helena O’Shea O’Sullivan. Her recent book, The Shamrock and the Cross: Irish American Novelists Shape American Catholicism, was published by the University of Notre Dame Press. Her articles and book chapters have appeared in the American Journal of Irish Studies, the Journal of the History of Ideas, Political Theory, and Handbook of Public Policy Analysis.
Greenpoint, in northern Brooklyn, is today one of the dynamic neighborhoods in New York City. Sometimes referred to as “Little Poland,” it once was home to large numbers of Irish and Irish-Americans who took advantage of its location and resources. Who were these Irish, and why did they settle in Greenpoint? To find out the surprising details, join us and historian Geoffrey Cobb on Saturday, February 27 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. Suggested donation: $5.
Given the name “Garden Spot of the Universe,” Greenpoint today is a heavily Polish and gentrified area, but by the late 1800s it was home to a large and growing Irish-American community. Much of this community came as a result of Greenpoint’s waterfront businesses. The McAllister family, for example, emigrated from Cushendall, Co. Antrim, and started a tugboat and lighterage firm that became the largest in New York harbor. Today, it is one of the largest tugboat companies in the world. The McAllisters brought over many friends and relatives from their hometown, so Greenpoint’s population had a much heavier northern Irish component than other areas. Many descendants of these Northern Irish immigrants worked along the waterfront. And two Ulster men would lead the congregations of local churches. Fr. O’Hare, for many years pastor at St. Anthony of Padua was from Newry, Co. Down and led a congregation of ten thousand, while Fr. McGoldrick of St. Cecilia’s was from Donegal and led a congregation of equal size.
Greenpoint’s famous Irish son, Peter J. McGuinness, gave his area the Garden Spot name. McGuinness was one of the most colorful aldermen in New York City history. His Brooklynese speech, wit, and outlandish opinions, attracted not only Greenpoint constituents but also much of Brooklyn. Born in 1888 as one of fourteen children he never finished high school, but he mounted an independent campaign that defeated the Democratic Party’s machine to become alderman and later district leader.
Influenced by the “Boss” of the Bowery, Big Tim Sullivan, McGuinness ran Greenpoint for nearly three decades as the last Tammany-style ward boss, but his reign was not marked by Tammany-style corruption. McGuinness charmed his Greenpoint constituents, journalists, and even political opponents. Mayor Jimmy Walker called him his favorite alderman. Peter J. McGuinness was effective legislator who succeeded in bringing improvements to Greenpoint, and many important civic landmarks in Greenpoint are results of his political ability.
Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn historian who teaches at the High School for Service and Learning on the historic Erasmus Hall Campus. He has recently published Greenpoint: Brooklyn’s Forgotten Past and is currently working on a second book about Peter J. McGuinness titled King of Greenpoint. Mr. Cobb has lived in Greenpoint for more than two decades. He is married to a Polish woman and in addition to speaking Polish, he speaks Russian, German, Spanish and French.
The Garden Spot
Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 2 p.m.
McCloskey Meeting Room
Parish House of the Basilica of
St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
263 Mulberry Street, Manhattan
Reception to Follow
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