Position of Irish Catholics

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER IV (6) start of chapter

That the Irish Catholic has had the hardest battle to fight, not only in New Brunswick, or the other British Provinces, but throughout the States, must be obvious to anyone who considers the circumstances under which he left his own country, and the prejudices, national and religious, which beset his path in the country of his adoption. An Irishman and a Catholic, poor, and perhaps illiterate—the latter the result of vicious laws rather than of any indifference on his part to learning—he had little in his favour, and almost everything against him. Many of the older settlers were the descendants of the Puritans of New England, and the sectarian prejudices of their fathers still survived in the breasts of their children. Indeed, it would be difficult to decide whether the feeling against the Irish Catholics was stronger when they were few in number, and their strength was altogether insignificant, or when they grew into an important section of the population, and their influence became perceptible in the politics as in the trade and commerce of the Province.

The prejudice which they had to encounter was neither latent nor slumbering—it was open and active; it met the Catholic Irishman in every rank of life and in every branch of industry, and nothing short of the indomitable energy which, throughout the American continent, the race have shown themselves to possess, could have raised so large a number of them in New Brunswick above the rudest . employment or the humblest fortune. And yet, while labour, rude or skilled, is the lot of the majority of the Irish in St. John, and throughout the province generally, a considerable proportion are to be found in every department of business, and enjoy, as merchants, traders, and manufacturers, the highest position which character and wealth can secure to their possessor. And not only is it true that the mercantile and trading class among the Irish Catholics are equal in enterprise, and even 'go-aheadishness,' to the most advanced of those who have caught the right spirit from their neighbours of the States, but there is a large amount of property held by the working classes. And this applies with equal accuracy to Frederickton, Woodstock, Chatham, Chediac,—wherever the Irish have established themselves in numbers, or had a fair opening for the exercise of industry, intelligence, and thrift. The Irish Protestant had fewer difficulties to encounter than his Catholic countrymen, and he is generally to be found in flourishing circumstances. Similarity of religion with that of the wealthier portion of the mass of the population was always of great assistance to the Protestant emigrant to 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