The Universal Testimony regarding Irish Girls in America

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVII (3) start of chapter

In the hotels of America the Irish girl is admittedly indispensable. Through the ordeal of these fiery furnaces of temptation she passes unscathed. There, where honesty and good conduct are most essential, she is found equal to the test, while in cheerful willing industry none can surpass her. Such is the testimony which is readily borne to the Irish girl in every State of the Union.

I remember asking one of the best-known hotel proprietors of America, why it was that all the young women in the establishment were Irish, and his replying—'The thing is very simple: the Irish girls are industrious, willing, cheerful, and honest—they work hard, and they are strictly moral. I should say that is quite reason enough.' I agreed with him.

There are testimonies, also, borne to her in a very different spirit, but equally honouring—those extorted from the baffled tempter, who finds all his arts of seduction fail before the seven-fold shield of an austerity as unexpected as unwished-for. Nothing is more common than for one who has failed in his attempts against the honour of an Irish girl to warn his companions from a similar folly—'Oh, hang her!—don't lose your time with her; she is one of those d——d Irish girls—the priest has a hold of her—she goes to confession, and all that kind of nonsense —don't lose your time, for it's no use.' Quite true: temptations assail her in vain; in her faith and piety she is invincible.

The Irish woman is naturally religious; the fervent character of her mind is adapted to devotional enthusiasm; and in the practices of her faith she finds occupation for her leisure time, as well as strength for her soul and consolation for her heart. If she happen to be in a new mission, where everything—church, school, asylum, hospital—is to be erected, she enters into the holy task with congenial ardour. To build up, finish, or decorate a church—to her, the House of God and Temple of her Ancient Faith—she contributes with generous hand. It is the same in a long-established parish, whose spiritual necessities keep pace with its growing population; there, also, the Irish girl is unfailing in her liberality. To her there is no idea of making a sacrifice of her means; she gives as well from pleasure as from a feeling of duty. Appeal to her in the name of her religion or country, for the sick or the suffering, and seldom indeed is it that there is no response from her purse and her heart. The Irish girl —whether in store, factory, hotel, or domestic employment—takes pride in renting a seat in her church, which she has so materially helped to erect; and in nearly every city in the Union she may be seen occupying her place in her pew, neat in person, modest in deportment, and collected in manner—as true an honour to her race and country as though the blood of princes flowed in her veins. Thus is maintained over her that religious control which is her own best preservative against danger, and which, while forming and strengthening her character, enables her to bring a salutary influence to bear upon her male relatives, and in case of her marriage—a contingency most probable—upon her husband and children. And this is how the purity and piety of the Irish women are of priceless value to the Irish in America.

To assert that there are no dark shadows to this picture, no murky tints to throw out in stronger relief its prevailing brightness of colour, would be to assert an untruth at once foolish and mischievous. There are dark shadows, there are murky tints—there are exceptions to a rule which is almost universal. Under ordinary circumstances the rule is absolutely in favour of the high moral character of Irish women in America; but there are in some of the great cities circumstances not favourable to female virtue; and these are attended with occasional injury to the reputation of Irish girls.

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