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  • Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States
  • James Silas Rogers
Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. Edited by J. J. Lee and Marion R. Casey (New York: New York University Press, 2006. xvii plus 733 pp. $50).

Many of the scholars represented in Making the Irish American, including co-editor Marion Casey, have already published definitive contributions to Irish-American Studies. Co-editor J. J. Lee's contribution here is a long, readable and comprehensive introduction that surveys the historiography of Irish America from earliest times until this book. Casey's always reliable insights are evident in the introduction, and duly acknowledged. Lee's closing paragraphs, which speculate on the meanings of a clear Irish presence in corporate America, offer one of the most promising overtures toward a new line of research that I've seen in years.

Following the introduction, Eileen Reilly-like the editors, on the faculty at New York University-offers a superb short history of modern Ireland. Reilly's essay deserves a future on the mandatory reading lists of many a survey course; but when one thinks of what its eighty-eight pages of deep background must have displaced, it's hard to explain why it was needed in a volume that sought to chart the Irish-American experience. [End Page 237]

The editors take pains not to present the Irish as synonymous with Irish Catholic; it is good to see David Noel Doyle's longish piece "Scots Irish or Scotch Irish" reappear. It originally appeared in the 1999 Encyclopedia of the Irish in America from the University of Notre Dame Press, an uneven but ambitious volume that went out of print much too quickly. Thomas Shelley's substantial survey, "Twentieth-Century American Catholicism and Irish Americans" is a useful if not particularly analytical account of the broad narrative of American Catholic history. The contributions by Kerby Miller, Irene Whelan, and to some extent Marion Casey's chapter on New York's Emigrant Savings Bank, also keep Catholic triumphalism at bay. Personally, I found the inclusion of Henry Noble McCracken's 1939 "Address to the Ulster-Irish Society of New York" as a freestanding and uninterpreted chapter a bit, well, too eager to prove the point; but after 150 years or so of unanswered St. Patrick's Day oratory, one can hardly begrudge the gesture.

I don't suppose anyone at NYU or its press actually jumped up and said, "I know! Let's do an anthology!" in the way that Mickey Rooney used to gather together the neighborhood kids and blurt out, "I know! Let's put on a circus!"-but sometimes there is a whiff of pastiche in the table of contents. The section titled "Popular Expressions of Identity" comprises seven comparatively short chapters on music, vaudeville, and sports; though generally solid, these tend to read like encyclopedia entries and offer little interpretation. One suspects these chapters will provide fodder for lots of future high-school term papers. The absence of an entry on the Irish in American films is conspicuous, and the two entries on sport disappoint. It is a letdown to find material that would be at home in a St. Patrick's Day souvenir program, such as, "The fact that Irish Americans dominated the professional rowing scene throughout the last three decades of the nineteenth century cannot be challenged. Among the leading scullers of the 1870s were . . . ," followed by a long list of Irish names. (446)

The jewels in Making the Irish American appear among the nine entries gathered under the heading "Reflections." In these thoughtful chapters, essays by creative writers like Pete Hamill, a famous chronicler of Manhattan, and The New Yorker's Calvin Trillin, appear alongside important scholarly articles with illuminating results.

It is a joy to meet Daniel Patrick Moynihan's "The Irish" from the Beyond the Melting Pot (1963) once more. Moynihan is so right, on so many matters-for instance, in his assessment of McCarthyism: "McCarthy let the Irish down. . . . [he] left the Irish to defend a reputation that had become, in practical terms, indefensible . . . it encouraged their tendency...


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