The Irish in New Jersey: Four Centuries of American Life

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The Irish in New Jersey: Four Centuries of American Life. By Dermot Quinn. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2004. Pp. x, 226. $26.95.)

When I first opened The Irish in New Jersey I was a little put off by the first illustration. Depicting New Jersey's first royal governor, Lord Cornbury, in the transvestite costume which he is reported to have favored, that illustration carries the caption, "a perfect personification of New Jersey's in-betweenness." Where I come from, those are fighting words. Fortunately, the worth of a book is no better judged by its first illustration than by its cover. And Professor Quinn's book is more than worth reading to the end.

This book, telling the story of one of New Jersey's largest ethnic groups, is a gem because with insight and a delightful style, the author, without neglecting either Ireland or New Jersey, transcends the standard regional history genre, and gives the reader a broader and deeper appreciation of the Irish immigrant experience. Quinn dismisses the notion that there is a fixed Irish racial type, or even a common Irish immigrant. Rather, using the stories of Irish immigrants to New Jersey, he provides some marvelous and helpful descriptions of the complexity of "Irishness" on both sides of the Atlantic. Without dismissing other religious traditions, Quinn also treats extensively of the unique bond between Irishness and Catholicism as that consciousness developed in Ireland and as it was experienced in New Jersey. Finally, Quinn describes the symbiotic exchange between Ireland and New Jersey. "Ireland intruded into New Jersey's history, and New Jersey into Ireland's" (p. 7). This thesis, while unique, could also be applied to other parts of America. The author deftly supports his contention that it was the very sense of Irishness in the immigrants that provided them with a deeper and more expansive awareness of being Americans. …