- Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845–1910
Once in a great while an historian, in reviewing a book, realizes that he or she is evaluating a tome most assuredly destined to become a classic in the field. This is the experience your scholar here enjoyed in carefully reading and analyzing Professor Emeritus David M. Emmons’s brilliant work Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845–1910. In his deeply researched introduction to the book, Emmons identifies three arguments that form the foundational substance of the focus of his volume. First, he states that culture counts. Second, Emmons makes the point, “religion is a key component of a people’s culture” (10), and third, he indicates that clear differences existed between Catholics and Protestants. Each of these historical realities oftentimes has been ignored by historians. But with the compelling study, such ignorance will become more difficult to justify in the future.
Emmons clearly explains what is meant by “pale.” It is not merely a circle or boundary line separating one people from another. It is, rather, an area centered at a location—in Ireland, the city of Dublin—where a clearly identifiable culture has matured and spread outward. In the case of Dublin, the pale consisted of a culture of Britons who had occupied that Irish city and established their British Protestant identity. Those people beyond the pale, according to Emmons, were Catholic Irish vastly different in their identity from the people within the pale. Thus the two cultures did not intermix well. As Emmons’s effort makes clear, the pale in America is that region in the West beyond which suppression by the Protestant-dominated societies along the eastern seaboard was not able to take hold. There were to be no ”No Irish Need Apply” signs beyond the American Pale.
Finally, Emmons, emphasizes the deep-seated Catholic heritage of the Irish immigrant coming to America, showing consistently how that religious legacy inspired the Irish individually and in families, to live their existences to the highest levels expected of such a religious background. With this cultural, religious, and historical ethnic foundation, Emmons has shown readers a much more accurate picture of the Irish beyond the pale than the typical narrative of the American West has usually offered.
Altogether, this is an exhaustive and thorough study that anyone desiring to really understand the story of the Irish in America must read.