Friday, April 6, 2012

Family History Friday with Irish Books

My maternal grandparents, circa 1960 (Mom is that right?). Mom made Gram's dress as well as the shirt her Dad is wearing. She is proud of her ability to match plaid on the seams, a skill she learned from her Aunt Helen. 

I assume this second photo was taken the same day; in it you can see how fair Gram was, a trait I inherited from her. It's a true sign of Irish heritage. 

As best as we know, all four of Gram's grandparents emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the 1840s during the potato famine. I learned recently that it was less expensive to sail to Canada than to the US which may explain why they chose that destination. Her family eventually made their way to the States and if asked, she would tell you she was Canadian before she'd tell you she was Irish. 

On St. Patrick's Day, I heard an interview on Weekend Edition on NPR (listen here) with author Peter Behrens who has written two books of fiction that are loosely based on his family's story as Irish immigrants to Canada. When I heard him say
Ireland was, you know, in the dim past and forgotten largely, and the memories connected to it were those of, you know, shame and poverty. They were very determined to be Canadian...
it really resonated with the stories I had been told about our family. I'm looking forward to reading The Law of Dreams and The O'Briens.

That same day, the Kindle Daily Deal (every day one book is on sale for $.99-2.99) was The Irish Americans: A History by Jay P. Dolan, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame.
Acclaimed scholar Jay Dolan’s panoramic account of the Irish experience in the United States follows immigrants from arrival to empowerment, from the dark days of the Great Famine to John F. Kennedy’s election to the presidency. Drawing on original research and recent scholarship, The Irish Americans is the first general history of Irish-Americans since the 1960s. Rich in detail, balanced in judgment, and the most comprehensive work of its kind yet published, this is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the Irish-American tradition.
I am about 80% of the way through this book and have found it really interesting. It doesn't whitewash the facts - there is plenty of corruption, class-ism and racism - but all of it is presented in the context of life and times of this large immigrant population. It covers the era before the potato famine as well - when the majority of the Irish immigrants were Protestant (one or two of my maternal grandfather's ancestors may fall into this category, having arrived in this country prior to 1800). Overall, it is an excellent and engaging read and very educational. 

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