An Irish Public Opinion wanted

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (5) start of chapter

From the following passage of a letter received from a dignitary of the Catholic Church, himself an Irishman, who anxiously desires to see his countrymen in America devote themselves to a congenial pursuit, it will be seen how lack of mere money-capital is no insuperable bar to advancement, so long as there is land to occupy, and there are men and women with strength and intelligence to cultivate it. The writer goes on to say:—

'Once, in visiting the diocese of Pittsburgh, I heard that there were some Irish Catholics living in the extreme end of —— county, Pennsylvania, which was also the extreme point of the diocese. I resolved to try and see them. I arrived there late in the afternoon, and the arrangements already made did not permit me to stay longer than the afternoon of the next day. The poor people were delighted to have Mass, and an opportunity of approaching the Sacraments. I found about twenty families who had settled there during the previous three or four years. They had all farms of their own; nearly all had paid for them, and had their land enough cleared to be able to support themselves well on it thereafter. They had taken up the land at a low price, and were able to give time enough to work for hire amongst the older settlers, while they had time enough remaining to clear and cultivate each year an additional portion of their own land. It was the realisation of a system which I had often recommended, and which might be carried out almost to any extent, that would enable our countrymen to be proprietors of the soil, instead of remaining drudges in our towns and cities.'

In support of my assertion, that the country is the right place for the Irish peasant, and that in the cultivation of the soil he has the best and surest means of advancement for himself and his family, I cannot do more, in a work of this kind, than prove, by a few cases in point, that the advice I earnestly give to my countrymen on both sides of the Atlantic is for their benefit, and for the honour of their race and country. There is not in America a better man or truer Irishman than the writer of the words I have just quoted; and I may add, that there are not twenty men in the whole of the States who, from long and varied experience, and intimate knowledge of their countrymen, can speak with greater weight of authority than he can.

Turning from Pennsylvania to Minnesota, we have a picture of progress as like as possible to many which have already appeared in these pages. I take it from the valued communication of a zealous and able Irishman (14) in the latter State, who—associated with other Irishmen, including a good priest—is successfully labouring in what I believe to be the most practically patriotic cause that could engage the attention and enlist the active sympathies of my countrymen in America—such Irishmen as, by worth, education, or position, can exercise a salutary influence over those who stand in need of guidance or, if necessary, assistance to secure for themselves a home and an honest independence. Advice, guidance, information, influence—these are even more valuable than pecuniary aid; and these require little sacrifice, even of time. What is required for the uplifting of thousands and thousands—nay hundreds of thousands—of Irish in America, is an active, energetic, out-spoken Irish Public Opinion, that will make its voice and influence heard and felt in every direction, warning those who will take warning, and saving those who can be saved from misery and degradation.

To be potent for good, every organisation should be, like that in Minnesota, free from the taint of speculation or the suspicion of jobbery; and there is not a State in the Union, or a great city, in which there should not be found a few honourable and influential Irish gentlemen, who would join together for a purpose which concerns their own reputation, inasmuch as it concerns the reputation of the race to which they belong, and cannot repudiate. It is considered by Irishmen in America a noble and patriotic object to regenerate, by arms and revolution, the millions at home; but surely to lift up the millions who are in the States—to regenerate them morally, materially, and socially—to give them greater power and influence through rightly directed industry—to elevate the race in the esteem of the enlightened and generous-minded of the American people,—this is an object more practical, in no way hazardous or injurious to any interest or individual whatever, and certainly not less noble or patriotic.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America