Preface to The Irish in America

John Francis Maguire

MORE THAN ONE MOTIVE influenced me in the desire to visit America, and record the results of my impressions in a published form.

I desired to ascertain by personal observation what the Irish—thousands of whom are constantly emigrating, as it were, from my very door—were doing in America; and that desire, to see with my own eyes, and judge with my own mind, was stimulated by the conflicting and contradictory accounts which reached home through various channels and sources of information, some friendly, more hostile.

I was desirous of understanding practically the true value of man's labour and industry, as applied to the cultivation of the soil and the development of a country. It has been so much the fashion of the day, either to palliate or excuse even the most grievous wrong done to the poor and the defenceless on the plea that in consequence of their 'want of capital' nothing could be hoped from them in their own country, and that emigration to another country was their only resource; or to despair of any material improvement in the condition and circumstances of Ireland until 'capital'—meaning bullion or bank-paper—was by some means or other introduced, and applied to her soil; that I determined to test this problem, or fallacy, by visiting settlements actually in their infancy, thus going to the very commencement, and seeing how the first difficulties were overcome, and how progress was gradually effected. I have in more than one instance given the result of my own observation in this respect; and where I had not the opportunity of judging for myself, I have relied on the accounts given to me by persons both intelligent and trustworthy. In whatever prominence I have given to this subject, I had another and distinct purpose in view—to combat, by argument and illustration, a sad error into which, from many causes and motives, the Irish are unhappily betrayed; that of not selecting the right place for their special industry—of the Irish peasant lingering in the city until he becomes merged in its population, and his legitimate prospects of a future of honour and independence are lost to him for ever. And to this portion of the volume I earnestly implore the attention of those by whom advice may be usefully given or influence successfully exerted, so that its lesson may be urged upon such as have still the choice of a future before them.

I desired to learn if, as had been confidently and repeatedly asserted, Irish Catholics lost their faith, or became indifferent to religion, the moment they landed in America; or whether, as it had been asserted in their defence, they were at once the pioneers and the pillars of their faith. In this enquiry I was mainly influenced by the conviction that loss of faith or indifference to religion would be the most terrible of all calamities to Irish Catholics; that the necessary result of that loss of faith, or that indifference to religion, would be fatal to their material progress, would disastrously interfere with the proper performance of their duties as citizens, and would be certain to turn the public opinion of America against them. I have devoted a considerable portion of the following pages to this vital subject, and given rather an elaborate sketch of the history and progress of the Catholic Church of America—of that institution by which, humanly speaking, the education, the character, the conduct, the material welfare and social position of the Irish and their descendants are and must be profoundly influenced. And, indeed, in giving a history of the growth and progress of the Catholic Church I was representing the struggles and the difficulties of the Irish emigrant or settler of the present century.

I was also anxious to ascertain the real nature, that is the strength or the intensity, of the sentiment which I had reason to believe was entertained by the Irish in the United States towards the British Government; as I considered, and I hold rightly, that the existence of a strong sentiment or feeling of hostility is a far more serious cause of danger, in case of future misunderstanding or complication, than any organisation, however apparently extensive or formidable. I have given the results of my impressions and information freely and without disguise. What I have stated will necessarily be judged of from different points of view; but of this I feel certain, that did I not write what I know to be the truth, I should not be acting with honesty; and that disguise and concealment would be far more prejudicial than 'open and advised speaking.'

I shall now only express, in one comprehensive acknowledgment, my deep sense of gratitude for the many courtesies, and kindnesses, and acts of friendship, which I received on all sides during a protracted and varied tour.

The book—The Irish in America—is now delivered up to the judgment of the reader, with all its imperfections on its head.

LONDON: November 27, 1867.

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