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Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910.

BEYOND THE AMERICAN PALE: THE IRISH IN THE WEST, 1845-1910

By David M. Emmons (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, 480 pp., $34.95 cloth)

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IN HIS EXHAUSTIVE STUDY, David M. Emmons captures a key aspect of the Irish immigrant's place in westward expansion with this telling sentence: "They [Irish immigrants] had left Ireland without ever leaving it behind or displacing it in their affections."

Irish Catholic immigrants made a significant impact on the development of the American West, Emmons notes in this thoughtful and meticulously researched book. But in many ways, they were accidental adventurers in America's ambitious and largely Protestant industrial enterprise: development of a vast area beyond the settled enclaves of the eastern United States.

Emmons's title includes the familiar expression "beyond the pale," used in Ireland among Anglo residents of Dublin's environs in late medieval times. People in this largely Protestant imperial class saw themselves as a civilized, virtuous society, as opposed to the "other," the presumably wild, backward, Irish Catholic peasants who lived beyond the pale, into Ireland's western reaches.

The Pale in America during Emmons's time frame (1845-1910) comprised parts of the country usually viewed as the Midwest. But it was a cultural, rather than geographic, border. Protestant white males of the eastern establishment claimed the role of pragmatic, forward-looking Americans and saw their push beyond the Pale and into the West as a grand destiny. The dynamic West of this sweeping, heroic myth had no room for what Protestant Americans perceived as superstitious, past-bound, Rome-ruled, Irish Catholic immigrants who poured into America after the Irish famine.

But there was one problem with this dismissive view of the Irish: their muscle and cheap labor were needed to build the railroads, dig in the copper mines, and perform all the grubby tasks that many Protestant Americans eschewed. Still, according to the Protestant code, the Irish were never quite American and never quite "white" enough. Emmons notes striking connections among the Irish, African Americans, and Native Americans--all seen as the "other" at various times. While the image of the striving, westward-bound American always focused on the future and on leaving the past behind, Emmons stresses that most Irish immigrants held a different worldview: "Worlds in perpetual motion, constantly in the process of becoming, were not a congenial idea to a people who received their traditions from dead generations."

Essentially, these "most unlikely Westerners" transplanted their native townlands into wherever they lived in the American West, creating their own communities, unions, fraternities, Catholic churches, and schools. Most Irish saw themselves as exiles looking to Ireland for identity. Many sent hard-earned money back to Ireland to support the struggle for independence from the British, as Emmons effectively illustrates in a six-page appendix listing communities who donated to the cause of Irish nationalism.

It is not surprising that Irish involvement in the development of the American West was a largely male enterprise. Still, in Emmons's discussion of prominent Irish in the union movement, the name of Kate Kennedy, a San Francisco immigrant, teacher, and champion of workers' rights, would have been an appropriate inclusion.

REVIEWED BY ROSE MURPHY, LECTURER AND WRITER IN IRISH STUDIES, SANTA ROSA JUNIOR COLLEGE AND SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY, AND AUTHOR OF ELLA YOUNG: IRISH MYSTIC AND REBEL
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Author:Murphy, Rose
Publication:California History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2011
Words:544
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