Tag Archives: Boston

Irish-Americans who haven’t visited Ireland

The Irish Times has published extended interviews with eight Boston residents of Irish ancestry who have never been to Ireland. Reporter Rosita Boland notes that probably most of the tens of millions of Irish-Americans are not “economically privileged” enough to cross the Atlantic. Or maybe the state of mind is more important than the physical journey.

“I discovered that when Irish-Americans talk about identifying with the Irish they mean the Irish who came to settle in the United States and their descendants, not those of us living in Ireland,” she writes. “Ireland itself, the country, is the abstract, romanticized receptacle of dreams and green fields, and the place that will soothe a lifelong ache.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to make six trips to Ireland and Northern Ireland over the past 16 years. Reading the Times‘ piece sent me back to my first story about Ireland after my initial visit in May 2000. It began:

COBH, Ireland — I traveled here for Nora and William, as much as for myself.

Like millions of Irish, my mother’s parents emigrated from this harborside village near Cork, in southern Ireland, to a new life in America, never returning to the family or country they left behind. Like many Irish-Americans, I arrived here years later with a desire to walk the same waterfront, returning to where I never set out, exploring the first half of my hyphenated heritage.

The North Kerry coast, July 2016.

The North Kerry coast, July 2016.


Irish Brigades at Gettysburg, plus New York draft riots

There was a lot violence in America in July 1863. The Irish were right in the middle of it.

Most attention has focused on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of GettysburgThe Irish Brigades were among the men who fought and died on the famous battlefield and earlier skirmishes of the American Civil War. These post-Famine Irish and Irish-American soldiers joined units from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. They had a reputation as fierce fighters, but their participation was prompted by more than patriotism. History.com says:

Ethnic units were a way for the Union Army to help win Irish support for its cause. This support was not guaranteed: Though most Irish immigrants lived in the North, they were sympathetic to (as they saw it) the Confederacy’s struggle for independence from an overbearing government—it reminded them of their fight to be free of the British. Also, many Irish and Irish Americans were not against slavery. On the contrary, they favored a system that kept blacks out of the paid labor market and away from their jobs. As a result, Union officials had to promise many things in addition to ethnic regiments—enlistment bonuses, extra rations, state subsidies for soldiers’ families, Catholic chaplains—in order to assure that the North’s largest immigrant group would be fighting with them and not against them.

Two weeks after Gettysburg, a predominantly Irish mob erupted in a five day anti-conscription riot in New York City. These urban working-class poor believed they were being forced to fight a “rich man’s war.” Their views were stoked by anti-emancipation newspapers and Democratic politicians:

Irish Catholic rioters targeted Protestant charities, such as the Magdalene Asylum and Five Points Mission. By the late afternoon, protesters had entered the city’s arsenal, which they burned (killing ten of their own) when the police arrived. The rioters also began attacking blacks, shouting racial slurs, and torching homes of poor African Americans on the west side of 30th Street. In one of the most infamous incidents, a mob burned the Colored Orphan Asylum on west 44th Street, although its 237 children escaped to safety.

New York riots






Image from New York Public Library.

Federal troops were needed to finally quell the riot, one of the worst outbreaks of insurrection in U.S. history. At least 120 people were killed and hundreds more were injured. The outburst ended organized Irish participation in the Civil War. Tensions between Irish immigrants, Irish-Americans and the African-American community would continue through Reconstruction and deep into the 20th century, including the Boston busing crisis of the 1970s and 1980s.

Too much hate and killing in the past, and the present

Which quote about Margaret Thatcher is from the Irish republican, which from the Ulster loyalist?

“Oh God, in wrath take vengeance upon this wicked, treacherous, lying woman.”


“It’s a pity we didn’t kill her 30-plus years ago.”

The first quote is from Ian Paisley Sr., or Lord Bannside as he’s known in his dotage. He said it 25 years ago, days after Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Norman Hamill writes in the Derry Journal.

The second quote is from Willie Gallagher, an Irish National Liberation Army prisoner during the Troubles. He said it this week during an unseemly Thatcher funeral “celebration“ in Derry’s Bogside.

The Irish Examiner linked events of the past to what happened this week in London, Derry and Boston:

Margaret Thatcher has not been fondly remembered in this country. She was a very British politician who essentially did not like the Irish, and if we are fair, it is hard to blame her.

Irish people killed her advisor, Airey Neave, with a car bomb within the precincts of the British parliament in 1979. He was a British war hero, as was Louis Mountbatten, who was murdered the same year while boating in Sligo with his grandchildren. That was as savage an affront to humanity as the outrage in Boston.

So enough killing for this week. God knows there was too much in the past. And let the dead, no matter who they are, rest in peace.