Becoming Irish American
The Making and Remaking of a People from Roanoke to JFK
by Timothy J. Meagher
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Pub Date 07 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 05 Oct 2023
The origins and evolution of Irish American identity, from colonial times through the twentieth century
As millions of Irish immigrants and their descendants created community in the United States over the centuries, they neither remained Irish nor simply became American. Instead, they created a culture and defined an identity that was unique to their circumstances, a new people that they would continually reinvent: Irish Americans.
Historian Timothy J. Meagher traces the Irish American experience from the first Irishman to step ashore at Roanoke in 1585 to John F. Kennedy’s election as president in 1960. As he chronicles how Irish American culture evolved, Meagher looks at how various groups adapted and thrived—Protestants and Catholics, immigrants and American born, those located in different geographic corners of the country. He describes how Irish Americans made a living, where they worshipped, and when they married, and how Irish American politicians found particular success, from ward bosses on the streets of New York, Boston, and Chicago to the presidency.
In this sweeping history, Meagher reveals how the Irish American identity was forged, how it has transformed, and how it has held lasting influence on American culture.
Timothy J. Meagher was associate professor of history at Catholic University of America and the curator of American Catholic History Collections. He is the author of The Columbia Guide to Irish American History. He lives in Washington, DC.
“A sweeping work of American history that tells the story of the transformative encounter between America and the Irish, and how that encounter altered them both. Meagher shows that the America that elected John F. Kennedy can be seen as the culmination of a process which began in the seventeenth century, marked by the influx of women and men from Ireland who staked out their place in a society that did not always want them.”—Hasia Diner, coauthor of Immigration: An American History
“Americans with Irish roots have played essential roles in the long drama of American history. Timothy Meagher fills his vivid narrative with rich insights about their religion, politics, work, and culture—and keeps one eye fixed on what was happening in the Ould Sod. This is the best book on the Irish-American past that has ever been written.”—Michael Kazin, author of What It Took to Win: A History of the Democratic Party
“In this sweeping historical narrative, Tim Meagher shows that Irish immigrants in America neither replicated old world traits nor conformed to a pattern of inevitable assimilation but, instead, created something distinctively and dynamically new.”—Kevin Kenny, New York University