The Character of Irish-American Girls

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVII (6) start of chapter

I have frequently marked with interest, how the countenance of the faithful pastor brightened with enthusiasm as the good conduct of the female portion of his flock was the theme of conversation. I remember an excellent Irish priest—one of those men who are justly looked upon as the fathers of their people—describing the character of his congregation. It was in a town of considerable importance, eminent for its manufacturing industry, and in which the Irish element was particularly strong. 'Good, sir! the Irish girls good! Why, sir,' said their pastor, 'the fall of an Irish girl in this town is as rare as—as—as a white blackbird'—and a pleasant laugh imparted additional raciness to an illustration which its author regarded as both neat and happy. 'Our Irish girls are an honour to their country and their race—they are the glory of the Church; to their influence we look for much of what we hope for in the future. They will yet lift the men to their level by the force of their example.' This was the grave testimony borne by a Western Bishop. 'They are the salvation of their race in this country—the salt of the earth,' said an enthusiastic Southern Prelate. The salt of the earth, indeed; and if the salt should lose its savour, wherewith shall the earth be salted? 'My belief is, that the Holy Ghost has them in special charge, for the good they do, and the evil they prevent.' This was the wind-up of a long eulogium pronounced upon Irish girls by an eminent ecclesiastic, who spoke with all the earnestness and gravity of the most profound conviction.

That would be a sad day for the Irish in America when Irish women lost the reputation which, notwithstanding the evil produced by adverse circumstances and special causes, they universally enjoy. The Irish nature is impetuous and impulsive and passionate, and the young are too often liable to confound license with the display of manly independence; hence even the light yoke of the Church is occasionally too burdensome for the high-mettled Irish youth, in an especial degree the American-born sons of Irish parents. In what, then, if not in the beautiful faith and piety, the unblemished purity of Irish women—in the never-failing example of sister, wife, and mother—are those who love the race to look for a counteracting influence to a freedom fraught with danger, and for that strong yet delicate chain of gold with which to bind the wayward and the headstrong to the Church of their fathers? As yet, as possibly for some time to come, congregations are more numerous than churches, flocks than pastors, children than schools or teachers—such schools and teachers as are most required; and in the meantime, until in churches and pastors, schools and teachers, protection is everywhere afforded to endangered youth, in the piety and purity of the sister and the mother is there the best safeguard against the risk of apostacy, and the deadlier blight of infidelity. Long may the virtue of Irish women constitute one of the noblest claims on the respect and sympathy of the generous-minded people of America!

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