A Kildare Man in the South

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (10) start of chapter

In reference to the Southern States I had the opinion of an eminent Irishman, one who laid down the highest dignity in the Church for an humble position, in which he is honoured and beloved. His knowledge of the country is intimate and extensive, and his experience goes back more than thirty years. I was anxious to have his opinion as to the suitability of the South for the Irish emigrant, as I knew he had recently been in most of its States; and it is thus given:—

'During my late trip to the South I made variousenquiries regarding the prospects there for Irish emigrants.The result of these enquiries was, that a great field was open for them; but I feel convinced that it could scarcely be made useful for them in a temporal or spiritual point of view without more combination and organised efforts than I think it at all likely, at least at present, to be obtained amongst our people, or any parties that could be induced to act for them or to direct them. If such organisation could be effected, I believe the South would offer a better field for emigration than any other part of the country.'

Bishop Lynch insists on 'industry and sobriety' as the grand essentials to the Irishman's success in the South: and when I was in Charleston he afforded me the opportunity of witnessing, in the person of a countryman from the county Kildare, as good an illustration as I could desire to behold of the happy exercise of these noble qualities. Some three or four miles outside the city we arrived at a snug prosperous-looking place, a good house surrounded by a farm of rich land, in which acres of vegetables and green crops of various kinds were then in luxuriant growth, being cultivated in a manner that would satisfy even a London market gardener. Twenty-three years ago the owner of this valuable property—worth more than $20,000—arrived in America, with little money in his pocket, but with some knowledge of farming, and a speciality for the cultivation of vegetables. He remained 'knocking about' the northern cities for six months, living from hand to mouth, taking such day work as he could obtain. 'This won't do,' said the boy from Kildare to himself; 'it's all well for the day, but there's nothing for the morrow or the next day; I must try and get something to make me independent.'

So in pursuit of independence he came down South, where he entered the employment of a gentleman of famous name in America, but whose parents were both 'full-blooded Irish,' and whose approbation the boy from Kildare won by the success with which he cultivated vegetables and green crops. Had there been a priest or a church within convenient distance, the young Irishman would have willingly remained in his good employment, continuing to lay aside the greater portion of his wages; but as many as eight months would pass before he could gratify the pious longing of his Catholic heart; and so, at length, and much against his will, he quitted the great man's service. With his earnings he came to Charleston—not into the city, unless to say his prayers and make necessary purchases or sales—and set to work, like a sensible Irishman, at the business he best knew. But without entering into the details of years of honest and sober industry, it is sufficient to say that his fine farm is his own property, and that he has given to his children a liberal education. Kindly, good-natured, active and full of health, this man, though now of middle age, is as simple in manner—as natural and as Irish—as he was the day he saw the last of 'Kildare's holy shrine.'

Possibly I am somewhat prejudiced in his favour; for a more pleasant cup of tea I never drank in America than that which I received from the hands of his wife—the more pleasant because of a previous and somewhat extended exploration round and thround the famous city of Charleston. A sober man, he was 'not a bit the worse of the climate;' and his looks fully justified his words. This man's capital was industry, intelligence, and good conduct: and in America, perhaps more surely than in any country under the sun, this kind of capital is sure to create the other capital—the dollar and the dollar's worth.

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