Textures of Irish America

The experience of the Irish in America, and the formation of a distinct demographic and cultural entity known as Irish Americans, provides a perspective from which the experiences of other ethnic groups may be evaluated. This is not merely because of the number of Irish immigrants who settled in America or because people of Irish origin have been prominent in American public life since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to these considerations, the quality and character of what these immigrants had to confront and the obstacles they had to overcome in order to establish themselves in their new homeland crystallize some key elements of the immigrant experience generally considered.

Among these elements are the urbanization of a predominantly peasant people, the damaging exposure to racial stereotyping, the retention of complex ties with the country of origin, and the struggle for assimilation into the mainstream of American culture. If there is a quietly triumphalist note in TEXTURES OF IRISH AMERICA, it derives from the author’s pride in the distinctive manner in which the Irish overcame the immigrant challenge. In particular, their success at the institutional level of American life, whether in local or national politics or within the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, receives expert scholarly attention from a historian of the old, empirical, school.

Rather than presenting a straightforward history of Irish America, however, this book examines different facets of that history. McCaffrey’s emphasis on institutional achievements is complemented by his attention given also to Irish American’s artistic contributions. An extensive reading list is also included. At a time when ethnicity is to the fore in American public debate, TEXTURES OF IRISH AMERICA acts as a reminder of some of the indelible cultural issues which any such debate must respectfully address.