Testimony of a Belfast Independent

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER IV (5) start of chapter

I shall allow the Belfast Independent to speak in his own words, his testimony in favour of his countrymen being too valuable to be omitted. He is—or was in October 1866—a member of the Government, though without a portfolio, his important private affairs requiring his principal attention.

'I had to work my way up, with no one to help me but myself. I literally had nothing when I began—nothing in the shape of money or friends; but I got on from one thing to another, and I am now, thank God, all right and getting along. I think it does a man good to be obliged to work his own way in life; I know it did me good, and I am happier than if my father or grandfather had done everything for me, and I nothing for myself but to eat and drink what they left me. My dear sir, some of our best men hadn't a cent when they started; and what are they now? Faith, sir, they are better off than if they'd been left fortunes—for in that case they might be only anxious to spend them. Why, when I was first elected to our Parliament, there were seven of us who began as poor boys—yes, sir, poor boys; and three of them were Irish, like myself.'

'Irish!' I repeated.

'Yes, sir, Irish; and I tell you what, sir, it's not because I am an Irishman myself that I say it, but still I do say it—that our people get along in every way as well as any others. They are as smart, and as industrious—yes, and as saving; and they get property too as well as the rest—English, Scotch, or "Bluenoses." All they want is just to keep away from the liquor—not, sir, that others don't drink as much, and perhaps more, if the entire truth was told, than they do; but when the Englishman will be stupid, or the Scotchman will hide himself in a corner, the Irishman will go out in the street, and make a noise, and call attention to himself—that's just the difference. But, sir, when the Irishman is steady and sober, he has no superior; and I don't say this because I happen to be an Irishman, but because I see it every day of my life. Why, look at them when they get on the land; see how comfortable they are, and what stock they have! I wish you'd come to the Irish settlement near me, in St. Stephen's, Charlotte County; there is not a poor man among them all—yet they all came out poor—as poor as mice—without a cent in the world. Yes, sir, and though they are not of my Church, I say there isn't a more moral or virtuous people in the world,—that I say without fear of contradiction.'

'You must know your countrymen well,' I suggested.

'That I ought. I am in this country nearly forty years, and I saw the first of their coming here. They have gone on wonderfully, surely—all must admit that. And there isn't anything like the drink there was among them. I have experience of that in my own business. I am perhaps as largely in the lumber business as any man in the Province, and I employ a great many men. Some of it is very nice work, I assure you; and for skill and judgment, when once he gets to know his business, I say I prefer the Irishman. And, sir, there isn't that danger that ever was that will frighten him; I've seen him as steady as a rock in the midst of the rapids. As to the drink, when a party went into the woods formerly, they could do nothing without the whiskey, and the keg of spirits was as necessary to the lumberman as the barrel of flour or meat, or the store of groceries; but lately it is not thought of—and so much the better; people get along as well and better without it, and they save their money into the bargain. And let the sober Irishman alone for saving!—faith he scarcely has his equal for that in this Province.'

I remarked that it was pleasant to hear so good an account of one's countrymen, especially as there were too many in the world not inclined to think favourably of them.

'Well, that is true; there are too many who bother themselves about people's religion, and who won't give Catholics a good word; but, for my part, I live in the midst of them, and I find they are in every way equal to any others that you can mention. Then as for the priest, why, I always see him going among his flock, settling differences when they happen, and taking the greatest care of the children. I haven't a better or a faster friend than Father ———, though I am not of his Church. But for the Irish, I know them well, and what I say of them is before my eyes every day.'

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