What’s the Relationship Between the Irish and America?

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The abundance of historical evidence that has come to light in recent years suggests that the metaphor that best describes this relationship is that of an American Football game. One may view the field as representing Ireland and players as the political and cultural nationalist who fought to achieve Irish independence and to rebuild Irish culture and society. On the sidelines, which may be taken to represent the United States, were the strategists, the coaches, the managers, medical staff, fundraisers and all the other support staff. All these may be taken to represent the Irish of America, the ones who raised the resources, generated the plans, and submitted the plays.

I know your reaction: Whoa, that’s a fairly bold and outlandish claim! My answer is that I’m only sharing what those of the time said. The British Government believed that the Irish of America were trying to export the American Revolution to Ireland; The London Times, by the early 1880s, was openly acknowledging that the “Irish Question was now an Irish American Question;” Irish nationalists, cultural and political, realized that the fate of Ireland would be decided in America. Even Oscar Wilde, a man not known for having strong nationalist views, acknowledged that the Irish of America were changing the course of Irish history.

So how did they do this?

Well, they were Irish Americans: Irish in their culture; American in their politics. They loved their Irish heritage and were loyal to the constitution and republican principles of the United States in equal measure. It was the Irish of America that launched the cultural revolution that swept through Ireland in the 1890s. The first organizations to preserve Irish music, dance, language and games were started in America.

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It was the militant Irish American Fenian movement that first announced to the world that a new and powerful voice in America spoke on behalf of Ireland. This voice could not be silenced; it could not be ignored. It was in America that the largest and most powerful Irish nationalist organization in history, Clan na Gael, was established. Its memberships spanned every aspect of American life: it had members in Congress and the Senate; at the highest levels of the military; and among leading industrialists of the time. This was the group that opened the doors of America to Irish leaders and pressurized the American government to compel England to change their policies in Ireland.

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Most of us have been raised with the story of ‘How the Irish Built America,’ what we have not been told is the story of ‘How the Irish in America Helped to Rebuild Ireland.’ These documentaries are designed to play a small part in telling this story. Their focus will be on the Irish of the West, and of Montana in particular. Montana is home to Butte and Anaconda, which were numbered among the five most important strongholds of Irish American nationalism in the time. The story will be told through the lives of four extraordinary Irishmen. The first documentary examines Irish American political nationalism as told through the life of Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish nationalist and Territorial Governor of Montana.

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The second film focuses on Irish economic nationalism and the life of Marcus Daly.

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The third and final documentary concentrates on Irish cultural nationalism as experienced in the lives of James Moriarty and Seán Ó Suillivan, both of whom contributed so much to the movement to restore Irish Gaelic culture. Neither of whom however was ever photographed.

For those with interests in the cultures that swept across America in arguably its most formative years, the relationship between the Irish and America is not something to ignore.