–Adelaide Hogarty Butler

Some of the people who emigrated from Ireland to America who appear in Suite Harmonic settled in small towns like New Harmony, Indiana. Some went to Chicago. Do you think the kinds of places Irish immigrants lived in America made a difference in how Irish their children and descendants felt?

—Adelaide Hogarty Butler, Dixon, Illinois

I can speculate on this. I know, for instance, that while there are many people in the mid-19th century New Harmony censuses who indicated they were from Ireland or had parents who had come from Ireland, they were still a small portion of the town population. I also know there wasn’t a Catholic church in New Harmony for the immigrants to attend, and not enough Catholics to start their own church. The closest Catholic Church was St. Wendel’s, which was established by Germans and was about ten miles away at a time when travel involved horses not cars. There was also the fact there was considerable prejudice against many of the Irish who came to America. My sense is that, while the immigrants themselves felt thoroughly Irish and often kept strong ties to home, including sending money back to family they’d left, there were many local pressures that meant their children with their American accents were eager to assimilate entirely into American society. Being Irish for the children and their descendants was maybe more in the romantic and theoretical realm.

On the other hand, Irish immigrants who went to cities like Chicago generally congregated in Irish communities and established Catholic churches that were often at the center of their lives. Most of the factors in their new living conditions tended to re-inforce their sense of Irishness and to maintain it for their children. There were also the turf battles that often occur in large immigrant communities with the attendant creation of gangs. And the Irish in cities made their clout felt as they became firemen and policemen, teachers and priests. There were economic reasons for the Irish to maintain their solidarity well into the twentieth century.

So the simplest answer to your question is yes, where the Irish lived probably had a strong effect on maintaining their descendants’ sense of Irishness, though of course everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.


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