Immigration from an Irish Perspective

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The Irish are at least as fond as anyone else of being told how great they are, but as an Irish person, I find this more than a little disconcerting. It is like having your chastity praised by a brothel keeper, or your temperance and thrift eulogized by a drunken sailor. The whole thing would be funny if it did not raise the most uncomfortable question: Is it right to applaud the legacy of mass immigration from Ireland because the Irish are white and Christian?

They were nobody’s ideal of the desirable immigrant. The typical Irish Catholic arrival in New York or Boston was a peasant with little formal education and few material resources. Worse, these people were religious aliens — the papist hordes who threatened to swamp Protestant civilization and, in their ignorance and superstition, destroy enlightened democratic American values.

The Irish belong, not because they are better or worse than any other group of migrants, now or in the past. They belong because they are exactly the same: hopeful people doing their best to build dignified lives.

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