The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City

The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City

by James R. Barrett
     
 

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A lively, street-level history of turn-of-the-century urban life explores the Americanizing influence of the Irish on successive waves of migrants to the American city.

In the newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, James R. Barrett chronicles how a new urban American identity was forged in the streets, saloons,

Overview

A lively, street-level history of turn-of-the-century urban life explores the Americanizing influence of the Irish on successive waves of migrants to the American city.

In the newest volume in the award-winning Penguin History of American Life series, James R. Barrett chronicles how a new urban American identity was forged in the streets, saloons, churches, and workplaces of the American city. This process of “Americanization from the bottom up” was deeply shaped by the Irish. From Lower Manhattan to the South Side of Chicago to Boston’s North End, newer waves of immigrants and African Americans found it nearly impossible to avoid the Irish. While historians have emphasized the role of settlement houses and other mainstream institutions in Americanizing immigrants, Barrett makes the original case that the culture absorbed by newcomers upon reaching American shores had a distinctly Hibernian cast.

By 1900, there were more people of Irish descent in New York City than in Dublin; more in the United States than in all of Ireland. But in the late nineteenth century, the sources of immigration began to shift, to southern and eastern Europe and beyond. Whether these newcomers wanted to save their souls, get a drink, find a job, or just take a stroll in the neighborhood, they had to deal with entrenched Irish Americans.

Barrett reveals how the Irish vacillated between a progressive and idealistic impulse toward their fellow immigrants and a parochial defensiveness stemming from the hostility earlier generations had faced upon their own arrival in America. They imparted racist attitudes toward African Americans; they established ethnic “deadlines” across city neighborhoods; they drove other immigrants from docks, factories, and labor unions. Yet the social teachings of the Catholic Church, a sense of solidarity with the oppressed, and dark memories of poverty and violence in both Ireland and America ushered in a wave of progressive political activism that eventually embraced other immigrants.

Drawing on contemporary sociological studies and diaries, newspaper accounts, and Irish American literature, The Irish Way illustrates how the interactions between the Irish and later immigrants on the streets, on the vaudeville stage, in Catholic churches, and in workplaces helped forge a multiethnic American identity that has a profound legacy in our cities today.

Editorial Reviews

Peter Behrens
…[an] acute and judicious account of the imprint of the Irish experience on American history…The seventh volume in the Penguin Press History of American Life series, The Irish Way is a penetrating, refreshingly unsentimental look at the role of the Irish in shaping and creating an urban culture.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
“The Irish saloonkeeper, priest, cop, and ward heeler have become caricatures,” writes Barrett, “but each really did interact with the new immigrants every day, as did the Irish nun, public schoolteacher, and street tough.” In this way, the Irish helped shape American identity, according to Barrett (William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism), a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Three million Irish immigrated to the U.S. and by 1900 the Irish-born and Irish-American population had expanded to five million. This scholarly history, with chapters like “The Street,” “The Parish,” and “The Workplace,” details the interactions between the Irish and later immigrants in such public places as vaudeville houses, saloons, congested streets, and unions. In addition to the power and influence of Irish politicians, Barrett covers novels (e.g., James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan) and comic strips (Bringing Up Father) and the Irish influence on Hollywood, including Catholic censorship efforts that led to the Legion of Decency in 1934. Portraying colorful characters like New York reformer politician boss Timothy Sullivan and showing how the blending of African-American and Irish dance resulted in tap dancing, Barrett gives us an authoritative, fact-filled analysis. Photos. (Mar.)
The Wall Street Journal
“Richly detailed, often fascinating . . . a very absorbing work of social history.”
The Boston Globe
"A fast-paced tour."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Irish Way will be of high interest to anyone who cherishes the old industrial cities of America and, of course, the Irish story.”
Booklist
“Barrett has written an excellent, bottom-up survey of the Irish experience over the past two centuries . . . he is most successful in describing the Americanization of policemen, teachers, nuns, and even gang leaders. This is a superior ethnic study that will have value for both scholars and general readers.”
From the Publisher
“Richly detailed, often fascinating . . . a very absorbing work of social history.” — The Wall Street Journal

"A fast-paced tour." — The Boston Globe

The Irish Way will be of high interest to anyone who cherishes the old industrial cities of America and, of course, the Irish story.” — The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Barrett has written an excellent, bottom-up survey of the Irish experience over the past two centuries . . . he is most successful in describing the Americanization of policemen, teachers, nuns, and even gang leaders. This is a superior ethnic study that will have value for both scholars and general readers.” — Booklist

“Portraying colorful characters like New York reformer politician boss Timothy Sullivan and showing how the blending of African-American and Irish dance resulted in tap dancing, Barrett gives us an authoritative, fact-filled analysis.” — Publishers Weekly

Kirkus Reviews
Barrett (History and African-American Studies/Univ. of Illinois; William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism, 2000, etc.) explores the influence of Irish immigrants on nearly every aspect of American society. Irish immigrants have always been a hardy group, particularly during the period of 1890-1930, when many of them led the country in politics, trade unions, the theater and the administration of the Catholic Church. The first wave struggled to make a life, vying with not only racism and discrimination, but also territorialism and infighting. However, they had the advantage of numbers and the ability to read and write English. They didn't settle in small protective neighborhoods but dispersed throughout the cities, which made their presence more conducive to the acculturation of new arrivals than in the ethnic quarters. The author establishes a distinct difference between acculturation and assimilation, the former being a gradual process during which ideas and language are absorbed both from and by the neighborhood. The second generation strove for respect and acceptance by moving into the church and skilled trades. Despite priests and other church workers of different ethnic descent, particularly Italian and Polish, Irish priests and nuns controlled the church, and their native scrappiness made them leaders in the unions. By 1900, more than 95 percent of Irish Americans were literate, and they quickly learned that they could control neighborhoods simply by delivering for their neighbors, whether in jobs or protection, collecting social capital at every turn. Thus the Irish could build political machines, which were blindly followed by "simple-minded" immigrants. Barrett's vast knowledge illuminates "America's first ethnic group."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101560594
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/01/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
File size:
6 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

James R. Barrett is a professor of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism.

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