Friday, November 15, 2013

Celtic Corner - November 2013

Irish in America

          Many Americans who mark their national independence on July 4 are not aware of a third stanza of the American National Anthem which was diplomatically removed during World War II. This stanza, paying tribute to those who valiantly fought for freedom from the British, included the words:

                                      “…foul footsteps’ pollution of the British

                                      O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”

          The American Revolution of 1775 to 1783 involved many patriots of Celtic heritage. The historic figures who signed the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 included three men who were born in Ireland, two who were born in Scotland, and two born in Wales. Ten other signers were of Irish, Scottish or Welsh descent, including John Hancock, whose family came from Ireland. Thomas Jefferson, of Welsh ancestry, drafted the document itself. Irish born Charles Thomson made the first finished copy of the document, and John Dunlap, also born in Ireland, first printed it. An Irishman, architect James Hoban, born in Kilkenny Ireland, designed and built the White House-and rebuilt it after it was burned by the British in 1814. Eventually thirteen United States Presidents could claim Irish ancestry, including William McKinley and Ronald Reagan. Three presidents were born from parents who came directly from Ireland, including James Buchanan, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant.

          During the American Revolution, the ill-fated commander-in-chief of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton said that the best soldiers among the American rebels were the Irish (and hopefully proposed augmenting his own demoralized army with some of them). In 1784, after the successful Revolution, a speaker in the “Irish” parliament of then British-occupied Ireland lamented that “America was lost by Irish Emigrants.” A hundred years later, with so many Irishmen in America, a British home secretary petulantly complained that the rebellious Irish were now out of reach of the British government.

          During the Revolution, Irish-American John Sullivan was a lawyer who served as one of George Washington’s most able generals. Promoted to major general for his military successes against the British, he was later elected as New Hampshire’s first governor and was influential in getting the Constitution ratified. As many as fifteen of Washington’s top officers were born in Ireland. Not all the Celts who fought against the British in America were Irish. Scottish born Alexander McDougall, a fiery opponent to British trade restrictions in America, was a founder of the Sons of Liberty organization in New York. He served in the army against the British throughout the Revolution and was later in charge of West Point.

          An Irish American won honors for the Revolution at sea. John Barry was born in Wexford, Ireland. In 1776, while commanding the American brig, Lexington, he captured the British tender Edward, the first British ship taken by a commissioned American ship. In 1782 he took two other British vessels after a fight. Barry has been called the father of the American Navy.

          The “modern” Celtic migration was not confined to America. By 1851 in Australia, for example, 30% or more of the Europeans who settled that land were from Ireland, albeit involuntarily for some of them. (The 1990’s Prime Minister Keating was of Irish descent.) Yet


even allowing for the thousands of Celts who went to Australia and New Zealand, the journeying to North America from Europe was to be the last great Celtic migration in the world. While Scotland and Wales contributed significantly to the European settlement of America, the largest number of Celts who emigrated to America, however, was from Ireland--about 5 million in 150 years (more than the average annual population of Ireland itself).

          The early immigrant vessels to America were called “coffin ships” because four passengers, men and women together, slept in a space six by eight feet. The ships could also have been given this name for their ever-recurring outbreaks of cholera and typhoid. A further danger lay in the unseaworthiness of the ships themselves. Some of them sailed in the stormy Atlantic with their desperate but hopeful passengers and were never seen again. The approximate location of at least one doomed ship, the Ocean Monarch, is known. It burned and sank with a loss of 186 lives when still within sight of Liverpool, its port of embarkation.

          Once at sea, exploitive captains and crews sold spoiled food to the passengers at extortion prices. Fresh drinking water sometimes ran out before reaching New York. A thousand steerage passengers were crowded onto the bigger ships, but only the privileged few in cabin class were allowed to enjoy the fresh air on the open decks.

Gaelic Saying
Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Nee nyart guh cur le ch(k)aye-leh .
There's strength in unity



Your Correspondence Secretary                                                President

Frank Darcy                                                                               Ken Egan