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Erin's Heirs

Erin's Heirs: Irish Bonds of Community

Copyright Date: 1991
Edition: 1
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    Erin's Heirs
    Book Description:

    "They will melt like snowflakes in the sun," said one observer of nineteenth-century Irish emigrants to America. Not only did they not melt, they formed one of the most extensive and persistent ethnic subcultures in American history. Dennis Clark now offers an insightful analysis of the social means this group has used to perpetuate its distinctiveness amid the complexity of American urban life. Basing his study on family stories, oral interviews, organizational records, census data, radio scripts, and the recollections of revolutionaries and intellectuals, Clark offers an absorbing panorama that shows how identity, organization, communication, and leadership have combined to create the Irish-American tradition. In his pages we see gifted storytellers, tough dockworkers, scribbling editors, and colorful actresses playing their roles in the Irish-American saga. As Clark shows, the Irish have defended and extended their self-image by cultivating their ethnic identity through transmission of family memories and by correcting community portrayals of themselves in the press and theatre. They have strengthened their ethnic ties by mutual association in the labor force and professions and in response to social problems. And they have created a network of communications ranging from 150 years of Irish newspapers to America's longest-running ethnic radio show and a circuit of university teaching about Irish literature and history. From this framework of subcultural activity has arisen a fascinating gallery of leadership that has expressed and symbolized the vitality of the Irish-American experience. Although Clark draws his primary material from Philadelphia, he relates it to other cities to show that even though Irish communities have differed they have shared common fundamentals of social development. His study constitutes a pathbreaking theoretical explanation of the dynamics of Irish-American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5051-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This study tells how the Irish tradition thrived in a setting three thousand miles from Ireland. It is about how an ethnic group maintained its identity through periods of repeated community change. The preservation of that identity was achieved by sustaining family memory and by fostering communication, association, and leadership. The process fashioned and enhanced the bonds of community and helped the Irish continually adapt to the conditions of a complex urban center. This book traces this development in Philadelphia but relates it to Irish communities in other cities.

    The Irish are a people whose troubled history has provided them...

  5. 1 Identity: Mind Yourself
    (pp. 7-49)

    How people think of themselves is at the root of ethnic differences. In Irish families, the cautionary instruction to “mind yourself and you’ll mind others” is often heard from childhood. “Mind yourself” is an admonition to be conscious of who you are and what your responsibility is. The corollary, “and you’ll mind others,” is advice aimed at social obligations. These phrases signify the way in which all of us, whether of Irish or other groups, contract early in our lives into a consciousness of our identity.

    How has a sense of Irishness been maintained by people immersed in the diversity...

  6. 2 Association: Show Me Your Friends
    (pp. 50-97)

    The organizational life of the Irish in the United States is one of the keys to their longevity as an element in our pluralist mosaic. Although early nineteenth-century political experience in the campaigns of the oracular Daniel O’Connell contributed somewhat to Irish organizational activities in America, the promotion of group associations on the scale that followed increased immigration in that century could hardly have been imagined by those who considered the Irish a hapless and disorganized people. Michael Funchion, editor of the broad-ranging surveyIrish-American Voluntary Organizations, has classified the kinds of associations the Irish have formed over the past...

  7. 3 Communication: Passing the Word
    (pp. 98-141)

    Communication is the essence of group life. It embodies the consciousness, common values, and social memory with which the group is invested. A whole world of assumptions, attitudes, and references is contained in this stream of discourse in which members of the group participate. There are deeply important symbolic and emotional implications involved with certain names, expressions, and rhetorical images. For the Irish, a people with a rich linguistic heritage, the process of communication in America presented peculiar problems. Although they shared the English language with the host society, they usually spoke it with a dialect and pronunciation difference deriving...

  8. 4 Leadership: More Power To Them
    (pp. 142-186)

    Those with an interest in Irish-American history are by now aware of the three well-documented types of leadership that have come to be popularly recognized as part of this group’s tradition. Political leaders, ethnic nationalist leaders, and church leaders figure notably in the record.¹ Indeed, the Irish urban political boss has become one of the archetypal figures of American life. There are, however, differences and distinctions among such leaders, and more intent study shows that the reality cannot be fully understood by reliance on simple and popularized portraits.

    Leaders are men or women of many aspects, and their gifts and...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 187-195)

    Consideration of the experience of the Irish-Americans presented in this book can lead to a broader understanding of the influences that have shaped our subcultural communities. Historically, much of the process of forming minority social networks in the American setting arose from the original predicament caused by emigration and dislocation, although the sources of ethnicity in other societies may have been different. Peter Marin has described the emigration situation well:

    Immigrants find themselves dislocated not only in terms of space but also in terms of meaning, time and value, caught between a past no longer fully accessible and a future...

  10. Research Note
    (pp. 196-201)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 202-220)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-238)