How the Irish Became White

Noel Ignatiev, Author, Ignatiev Noel, Author Routledge $55 (248p) ISBN 978-0-415-91384-3
In the first half of the 19th century, some three million Irish emigrated to America, trading a ruling elite of Anglo-Irish Anglicans for one of WASPs. The Irish immigrants were (self-evidently) not Anglo-Saxon; most were not Protestant; and, as far as many of the nativists were concerned, they weren't white, either. Just how, in the years surrounding the Civil War, the Irish evolved from an oppressed, unwelcome social class to become part of a white racial class is the focus of Harvard lecturer Ignatiev's well-researched, intriguing although haphazardly structured book. By mid-century, Irish voting solidarity gave them political power, a power augmented by the brute force of groups descended from the Molly Maguires. With help, the Irish pushed blacks out of the lower-class jobs and neighborhoods they had originally shared. And though many Irish had been oppressed by the Penal Laws, they opposed abolition--even when Daniel O'Connell, ``the Liberator,'' threatened that Irish-Americans who countenanced slavery would be recognized ``as Irishmen no longer.'' The book's structure lacks cohesion: chapters zigzag chronologically and geographically, and Ignatiev's writing is thick with redundancies and overlong digressions. But for the careful reader, he offers much to think about and an important perspective on the American history of race and class. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/1995
Release date: 09/01/1995
Paperback - 248 pages - 978-0-415-91825-1
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