Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Invisible Irish: Finding Protestants in the Nineteenth Century Migrations to America

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Invisible Irish: Finding Protestants in the Nineteenth Century Migrations to America

Article excerpt

The Invisible Irish: Finding Protestants in the Nineteenth Century Migrations to America. By Rankin Sherling. (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2016, Pp. xv, 350. $110, cloth; $34.95, paper.)

As Rankin Sherling notes at the outset of The Invisible Irish, the history and demography of Irish catholic migration into the United States in the nineteenth century has been far more studied and documented than has been the migration of Irish Protestants. In part, this is because of the determination of Irish catholic migrants to maintain their religion in a society where they were met with obstacles from which protestant migrants were generally exempt. Additionally, the majority of protestant migration from Ireland to the colonies that would become the United States and then to the United States itself occurred in the eighteenth century, a movement well documented by recent historians of Irish history of that period. But there is a more important reason that nineteenth-century protestant immigration from Ireland to the United States has been relatively little studied: There was not that much of it, as Sherling's numbers help show. Indeed, most protestant migration from Ireland to North America went not to the United States but to Canada, where by 1870 there were more than nine-hundred Orange Lodges in Ontario alone, while the best guess for have for Orange Lodges in the United States at that period, mainly in New York and Pennsylvania, is for not much more than forty.

The title of Sherling's book hints at a compromise between his original intentions and the facts as he discovered them, but the title misleads. First, as he quickly acknowledges, he's not in search of protestant migrants from Ireland in general but of Irish Presbyterians in particular. Second, he's not looking at "America," an imprecise word when used without a preceding geographic indicator (North, Central, or South) and in the singular without the qualification that we are considering the United States. Yet if Sherling had meant to consider more than the United States the book does not do so, adding perhaps to the irony of its publication by a Canadian press. Additionally, many Presbyterians from Ireland had, of course, never considered themselves "Irish" but as British from the part of the United Kingdom that happened to be Irish, so finding them now and identifying them as "Irish" is not particularly helpful to understanding their experiences after migration. …

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