Tag Archives: Irish

Irish immigrant way became the American way

February 22, 2012

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Hyphenated-Americans — which includes just about all of us — will grasp a solid understanding of the challenges our ancestors faced in emigrating to the United States by taking in the history of what author James R. Barrett calls America’s first ethnic group, the Irish.

No matter if your family roots are traced back to Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia or anywhere else, the way immigrants from the Emerald Isle became Americanized and moved up the social ladder provided a blueprint for immigrants that came afterward from other countries.

Treated sometimes as less than human, parodied as dumb and dirty, the Irish were the first mass group of arrivals to U.S. shores to face hostility from those who, ironically, had emigrated here themselves, just on earlier boats.

How those Irish immigrants not only survived but came to thrive — and set the standard for immigrants from other lands to do the same — is documented superbly in “The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City.” Penguin Press has set a March 1 release date, do you think with the coming St. Patrick’s Day in mind?

Stories galore

James R. Barrett tells the story well by telling interesting, factual, funny, maddening, humiliating stories in some very readable 300 pages. A professor of history at the University of Illinois, Barrett nails down the facts of the Irish-American experience, with more than 70 pages of footnotes to back up his work.

Catholics will find nearly 50 pages focused on the religious angle of the immigrant experience, and as much as this is a history of the Irish, Barrett shows how that history impacts other, non-Irish immigrants who are Catholic. The section titled “The Parish” details how the Irish came to dominate to the point that, as Barrett writes, “By 1920, two-thirds of all Catholic bishops (three-fourths in New England) were of Irish birth or descent.”

What makes this such worthwhile reading is that “The Irish Way” isn’t depicted as always on the side of the angels, even when it comes to the church. This is history, warts and all whether we like it or not, and the warts — the machine politics, the not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know hiring practices, the racism — are historical facts.

But so too are the struggles for a “living” or “family wage,” as Barrett points out, the six-day work week, old-age pensions,  the right for labor to organize and bargain collectively, all strongly supported by the Catholic Church.

The section on the Irish immigrant in the workplace puts facts in place where many may have simply anecdotal examples passed along from ancestors. There’s real value that, in documenting the history of the Irish and their climb up the social ladder, “The Irish Way” clarifies the struggles of those from later immigrant groups — the Italians, Poles, Jews and blacks — who found the entrenched Irish a barrier to their own economic and social mobility.

The role of the stage Irishman is paid its due, and the role the immigrant Irish played in the political history of the United States is a well. In all, “The Irish Way” is history that reads as well as a novel, perhaps because it’s a history that has had such an impact on what America is today and who we are today as Americans.

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Quotations worth sharing from Irish, Irish-American and Catholic life

May 22, 2011

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Overlook Press paperback bursting with quotations that are keepers.

Words put together with craft, with wisdom, with wit scream “Hey, pay attention here” to me, and I end up highlighting clusters of them where ever I find them printed.

Peter Quinn’s “Looking for Jimmy: A Search for Irish America” (Overlook) is a rich vein of memorable and I thought share-able quotations – some by writers we know, some by people we never knew, and many from Quinn himself, a former speech writer for New York governors Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.

Enjoy.

“Tell us, doctors of philosophy, what are the needs of a man. At least a man needs to be notjailed notafraid nothungry (sic). . . not a worker for a power he has never seen . . . that cares nothing for the uses and needs of a man.”

John Dos Passos, “The Big Money”

“There was no damned romance in our poverty.”

Eugene O’Neill, “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

“There are only three types of men: Bullies, lackeys and them who refuse to be either.”

Patrick Francis Quinn

“He’ll be the last man out of purgatory, if, God willing, he was lucky enough to get in.”

Gertie Quinn

“When I consider how my life is spent,

I hardly ever repent.”

Ogden Nash

“Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude.”

Edward Gibbon

“It is enough to know that children are poor to know that they need help.”

Peter A. Quinn, U.S. Congress, (D-NY)”

“If I thought less of my saliva, I’d expectorate in your face.”

Peter A. Quinn

“No Catholic breaks with Rome easily.”

John O’Hara, “BUtterfield 8”

“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman

“Bishops come and go. The city continually molts its old self and renews its pursuit of the extravagant. But amid the whirlwind of ambition and celebrity, the need will always be great for institutions and congregations whose mission stays the same: to heal souls as well as bodies, comfort the sick and dying, welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, defend the poor and disenfranchised, and insist on the God-given dignity of every person. to the degree that the Church and its members seek their perfection in this work, the future will never be in doubt.”

Peter Quinn

“Crumble, crumble

Voiceless things;

No faith can last

That never sings.”

Lascelles Abercrombie, “The Stream’s Song”

“For Catholics, sin is ubiquitous. But so is forgiveness. Hell exists. But it might be empty. Evil is real but mingles with good, and no human being is either all good or all evil. We are mixtures of both, and who is saved or damned is beyond our knowing.”

Peter Quinn

“In the end it comes down to the old story that we are sinners, but that this is our hope because sinners are the ones who attract to themselves the infinite compassion of God.”

Thomas Merton

“We feel the water and oil used in the sacraments, taste the bread and wine, not just to enjoy them for what they are, but to plumb our belief that they aren’t just what they seem to be but, in ways that defy the limits of language, signs of God’s real presence among us.”

Peter Quinn

“Although agnostic in spirit, the secular left . . . treats the mystery of divine love as a harmless myth; at worst, as a dangerous delusion that can impede human progress, particularly in the medical sphere. Secularism claims toleration as its central tenet. But it’s a qualified toleration. It says, Go ahead and believe what you will, just as long as it has no effect on any significant part of your public life, is never asserted outside of church, and remains a private eccentricity.”

Peter Quinn

“Christians’ belief in the eternal significance of every human life is a bulwark against a Malthusian ethic of reproductive profligacy that robs the individual of any meaning other than in furthering the survival of the species.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Gabriel Marcel

“A man becomes a saint not by conviction that he is better than sinners but by the realization that he is one of them, and that all together they need the mercy of God.”

Thomas Merton, “New Seeds of Contemplation”

“The current huffing and puffing over gays in the priesthood can’t negate the fact that there were, are, and will always be homosexual priest whose piety, probity, and loyalty deserve respect and gratitude rather than slanderous distrust and squalid witch hunts.”

Peter Quinn

“Those descended from the Famine Irish have a special responsibility to look past the current evocation of innumerable, anonymous aliens threatening our borders, or the latter-day recycling of theories of ethnic and racial inferiority, and to see in today’s immigrants a reminder of our ancestors: those hungry ghosts who, though dispossessed and despised, passed on to us their faith and their hope.”

Peter Quinn

“Despite our differences, we Americans are hopelessly (and hopefully) entwined with one another, our histories, ancestries, stories, songs, dreams, and lives wrapped around each other like dual strands of DNA.”

Peter Quinn

“What we need most times is not the courage of our convictions but the courage to question our convictions . . . the willingness to see the world afresh, to throw over old presumptions and consider new possibilities, to abandon routine and renew a sense of wonder.”

Peter Quinn, paraphrasing Nietzsche

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