The Irish in the South, 1815-1877

The Irish in the South, 1815-1877

The Irish in the South, 1815-1877

The Irish in the South, 1815-1877


The only comprehensive study of Irish immigrants in the nineteenth-century South, this book makes a valuable contribution to the story of the Irish in America and to our understanding of southern culture.

The Irish who migrated to the Old South struggled to make a new home in a land where they were viewed as foreigners and were set apart by language, high rates of illiteracy, and their own self-identification as temporary exiles from famine and British misrule. They countered this isolation by creating vibrant, tightly knit ethnic communities in the cities and towns across the South where they found work, usually menial jobs. Finding strength in their communities, Irish immigrants developed the confidence to raise their voices in the public arena, forcing native southerners to recognize and accept them--first politically, then socially.

The Irish integrated into southern society without abandoning their ethnic identity. They displayed their loyalty by fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War,and in particular by opposing the Radical Reconstruction that followed. By 1877, they were a unique part of the "Solid South." Unlike the Irish in other parts of the United States, the Irish in the South had to fit into a regional culture as well as American culture in general. By following their attempts to become southerners, we learn much about the unique experience of ethnicity in the American South.


Like the Jews, to whom the term "diaspora" was first applied, the Irish also scattered to many countries throughout the world. the concept of flight, however, distinguishes a diaspora from general immigration. "Diaspora" implies that the migration was in some way involuntary. This perception of forced migration is a strong element in the folklore of Irish immigration. Even Irish people who made rational economic decisions to leave Ireland often felt that they had no choice at all. This fact was particularly true in the greatest period of Irish emigration—the nineteenth century. Most of the millions who left the island in this period were economic migrants. Most believed, however, that they were political exiles, driven out by Britain's misrule of their homeland. Thus, the Irish migrants who arrived in the United States were highly politicized. Upon arrival, they were already cognizant of not just the economic contrasts between America and Ireland but also the political differences. the Irish who came to the American South saw not only the variances between the two countries but also those between their new region and Ireland. Despite the harsh realities of immigrant life in the South, Irish immigrants' awareness of the contrast did not dissipate. Whatever calamity befell them, at least they were no longer under the heel of Irish landlords and the British legal and military regime that had enforced their misrule. Understanding why they left and what they perceived they had left behind is vital to comprehending the Irish immigrant experience in the nineteenth-century South.

"The Flight of the Earls" in 1607, when the leaders of Ireland's great sixteenth-century native rebellion abandoned their lands for friendlier Spain, began the tradition of England's interference in Ireland equaling Irish exile. Their flight provided an example for other unsuccessful rebels to follow. the soldiers defeated in trying to restore the Catholic King James II to his throne in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution became famous as the "Wild Geese" when they left Ireland to join various European armies. Their defeat affirmed William of Orange as the new king of England, Scotland, and Ireland. in Ireland his victory ushered in . . .

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