Parish boundaries: the Catholic encounter with race in the
twentieth-century urban north. By John
T. McGreevy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Pp. vi+362.
ISBN 0-226-55873-8. $27.50.
What parish are you from? A Chicago Irish community and race relations. By Eileen
M. McMahon. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995. Pp. xii+226. ISBN
The Boston Irish: a political history. By Thomas H.
O'Connor. London: Northeastern
University Press, 1995. Pp. xixx+363. ISBN 1-55553-220-9. £23.50.
The New York Irish. Edited by Ronald H. Bayor and Timothy J. Meagher. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Pp. xxii+743. ISBN 0-8018-5199-8. $45.00.
The public city: the political construction of urban life in San Francisco,
1850–1900. By Philip
J. Ethington. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xvi+464. ISBN
Civic wars: democracy and public life in the American city
during the nineteenth century. By Mary
P. Ryan. London: University of California Press, 1997. Pp. xii+376.
ISBN 0-520-20441-7. £16.15.
Few events have had a greater impact on urban America than the Irish Catholic
exodus, which eventually brought one third of the Irish to the United States. Irish
Catholics were the first ethnic group to immigrate in large numbers to America's cities
and to experience overt discrimination. Overcoming that discrimination, they emerged
as the consummate political force in urban America. In the late nineteenth century,
Irish politicians and their political machines controlled a majority of America's large
cities, long before the election of John F. Kennedy as president brought the Irish
political presence to the national stage. At once integrated into American culture and
proud of their ethnic culture and identity, the Irish in America continue to have a clear
cultural presence in both positive and negative ways, in many American cities. The
Irish hold the best parades, but sometimes refuse to allow Irish homosexuals the right
to parade in them. The Irish are proud of their neighbourhoods, sometimes to the point
of physical violence.
For the first time in over two centuries, however, Irish immigration patterns have
reversed. Over the last two years, 13,000 more Irish moved back to Ireland from
America than went the other way. This watershed change provides a good opportunity
to reconsider the history of the Irish in America's cities, as the authors of some recent
publications demonstrate. This review will examine six current studies that illuminate
the Irish urban experience in America. The authors of these histories document the role
of the Irish and the Catholic church in urban racial disturbances in the twentieth
century; they reconsider the importance of the Irish to urban political culture; and they
explore the contested meanings of being Irish in urban America.