How the Irish are regarded in America

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XV (7) start of chapter

And now a word as to the manner in which the Irish are regarded in America. Much necessarily depends upon themselves, but much also depends on the circumstances in which they are placed, or by which they are surrounded. In some places they possibly exercise, or are supposed to exercise, too much influence in elections; and those whose party they happen to oppose, or with whose ambition they interfere, can scarcely be expected to think of them and speak of them in the most friendly or flattering terms. In other places the religious sentiment of a large and powerful class may be so strong as to intensify national prejudice, a jealousy which is common to all countries. Or the majority of the Irish may happen to be humble working people; and even in Republics the rich are like the same class in old-established Monarchies, rather inclined to look down upon those who are not, as themselves, decked in purple and fine linen. I refer in another place to the long and bitter struggle against the Catholic and the foreigner, and I shall only now remark that, whatever prejudice may still exist, it must, to a great extent, be traced to this old feeling, which has manifested itself at various intervals before and since the Revolution; and that, when one may hear or see the Irish spoken of or written of in a harsh or contemptuous spirit, it would be well, before accepting such expressions of opinion as proof of anything more than of a narrow, a malevolent, or an angry mind, to speculate as to the cause, the motive, or the circumstances in which the traducer and the traduced are relatively placed. On the whole, then, and making due allowance for the causes and motives at which I have glanced, the Irish do stand well in the public esteem of America; and in many places in which I have been I know they are not only generally esteemed, but are highly popular.

As to the individual Irishman, he is perhaps more truly popular than any other man in America. His genial qualities and kindly nature, his wit, and humour, and pleasant manners—these render him agreeable as a companion, and sought after in society; and when business ability and rigid conscientiousness are combined with the more social qualities, as they are in numberless instances, then there is no man more admired or respected than the Irishman. I have frequently heard an American say of an Irishman, who would no more think of disguising his nationality than he would of committing a crime, 'Sir, he is a whole-souled Irishman—a high-souled gentleman, sir.'

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