Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Nationalism, Sentiment, and Economics: Relations between Ireland and Irish America in the Postwar Years

Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Nationalism, Sentiment, and Economics: Relations between Ireland and Irish America in the Postwar Years

Article excerpt

Ireland is a country whose sons and daughters hold her dearly above all, and it is evident in your great country as in others, that their love does not wither because the soil beneath their feet is foreign soil. St Patrick planted more than the shamrock when he came to Ireland--he planted in the hearts and minds of her people a spiritual fire that nothing can extinguish--a fire which still burns brightly in the hearts and minds of Irish men and women and those of Irish descent the world over.

St. Patrick's Day greetings from the Taoiseach, John A. Costello, to the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Hawaii, March 1957 (1)

DESPITE many assertions to the contrary, Mary Robinson was not the first Irish leader to reach out to the Irish diaspora. (2) W.T. Cosgrave, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1932, broadcast a St. Patrick's Day message to the United States in March 1926, several years before King George V began his annual Christmas broadcasts to the British Empire. (3) Cosgrave's first live broadcast in March 1931 seems to have attracted a large audience, judging by the many letters and postcards that he received from listeners throughout the United States and Canada. (4) de Valera continued the tradition of sending St. Patrick's Day greetings to the United States until 1938, when he relinquished the honor to Ireland's first President, Douglas Hyde. This is not the only evidence that independent Ireland kept in touch with the American Irish. During the late 1930s de Valera and Eoin MacNeill explored the possibility of establishing Irish cultural centers throughout the United States, so that Irish Americans and other Americans might learn "something about our past and present," but the plan was abandoned at the outbreak of World War II. (5) In February 1946 de Valera entertained four Irish-American prelates--Spellman of New York, Mooney of Detroit, Stritch of Chicago, and Glennon of St. Louis--in Killarney, when they visited Ireland en route to Rome, where they were consecrated as cardinals. The party included James Farley, who had served as Post-Master General in Franklin Roosevelt's cabinet, and Fr. Robert Gannon, the President of Fordham University. (6)

Visits to the United States by leading Irish politicians became more common in the 1950, with the introduction of regular trans-Atlantic flights; in 1956 John A. Costello became the first Irish head of government to spend St. Patrick's Day in the United States, inaugurating a pattern that many later Taoisigh have followed. In the morning he presented shamrocks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House, before flying to New York to preside at the St. Patrick's Day parade; that evening he was guest of honor at the annual dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia. (7) Yet, despite evidence of regular contact between the Dublin government and Irish America, there is some validity in the belief that independent Ireland failed to keep in contact with the wider Irish community. This distancing seems to have happened during the 1950s and the 1960s because of changes in the Irish community in the United States, and in political and economic policies in Ireland. This essay concentrates on the perspective of the Irish government. (8)

Mass emigration from Ireland to the United States came to a halt in 1929, following the Wall Street crash. By the late 1930 Britain had become the dominant destination for Irish emigrants, and by 1950 there were more people of Irish birth living in Britain than in the United States. Between 1951 and 1961 more than 400,000 men and women are believed to have emigrated from Ireland, but only 62,400 went to the United States. During this period, Irish immigrants filled less than 50 percent of the annual quota of 17,853 U.S. visas earmarked for Ireland in every year except 1957 and 1958, when a recession in Britain created greater interest in other destinations and the numbers emigrating to the United States increased to 9,124 and 10,383, respectively. …

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