The Irish must stand up against persecution of immigrants

Becky O'Malley
Friday March 17, 2017 - 03:18:00 PM

The Irish half of my byline was acquired by marriage, but I’ve always thought it was more interesting than my own thoroughly WASP birth name. Many of the nuns who taught me at the convent schools I attended were from Irish backgrounds. My firm grip on grammar, as well as the names of the capitals of all the states, and the ability to do arithmetic in my head without calculators are all thanks to Mother Katherine Walsh, R.S.C.J., my fifth grade teacher in St. Louis. On St. Patrick’s Day, I remember envying all the Irish-American girls in my classes at school who added some touch of green to their uniforms every year. You could almost say I’m Irish by adoption.

That’s why I’m so disgusted to see the coterie of rogue Irish that have popped up around the current federal czar. Take Bannon the Bully, for example. 

He’s been swanning about with the nefarious right-wing cardinals who are attempting to undermine the fine liberal pope. It’s not clear to me, if the old rules still apply, how a man now on his third marriage can dare claim to be More Catholic Than The Pope, but since lying and cheating appear to be the trademark traits of the gang he now hangs with, I shouldn’t be surprised. 

Then there’s Kellyanne Conway. She went to the same Catholic women’s college as my cousin Elsa, who’s descended on the other side from a famous Irish political family. Elsa was so annoyed when her college claimed Kellyanne as a famous alumna that she made a special trip to the Women’s March to protest. 

And while we are talking about crooks, how about that sleazy Michael Flynn, busy lining his pockets with rubles? A disgrace to the Irish, though I do know there are bad eggs in every basket. 

How soon we forget! I have somewhere on my bookshelves a cheaply printed volume on crumbling paper which I bought at an estate sale in Michigan, a mid-nineteenth-century publication of the Know-Nothings. For those of you who missed this chapter in your American history class, they were American-born European-descended Protestants who banded together to keep out immigrants of other faiths, including especially the Irish, who came here in the 1840s as refugees escaping the potato famine at home. The book’s packed with lurid fantasies about scandalous goings-on by Catholics, especially between priests and nuns behind convent walls. 

You’d think that some of the highly placed Trumparooneys now trying to ban immigrants might have heard of the days when help-wanted signs said “No Irish Need Apply”. Some of the workers discriminated against might have been their great-grandparents. 

This kind of prejudice continued well past the turn of the 20th century, when a Quaker ancestor living in Iowa was the only person in town willing to sell land to those who wanted to build a Catholic church. He got a whole lot of flack for it, from just the same kind of people who’ve lately been trying to stop a mosque from being built in Sterling, Michigan. 

When I lived in Ann Arbor, Judge Francis O’Brien, an elderly man who grew up there, told me that in his youth at the turn of the century Irish boys were not able to cross State Street without getting beaten up by the German boys who lived on the west side of town. (The reverse might also have been true.) 

Judge O’Brien also told me the story of the St. Patrick’s Battalion, Batallón de San Patricio, a bunch of Irish immigrants who crossed over to join the Mexican army when the United States invaded Mexico in 1848. They became legendary heros in Mexican history. You can read the whole story in, of course, Wikipedia. Or even easier, you can hear the short version, as sung by The Fenians, here: 


It’s particularly ironic, given this historic alliance, that any of today’s Irish-descended Americans have allied themselves with those who are trying to exclude Mexican migrants. 

But all the Irish, American and otherwise, aren’t taken in by Trump. Here’s Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of Ireland laying it all out: 


He points out that there are 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens in the United States today, but of course as White people they are not likely to face deportation. 

Today in New York City the senator is starring in an event which will highlight Irish opposition to Trump, his cronies, and what they all stand for. Proceeds will go to the ACLU. For details, go to IrishStand.org

Japanese Americans in California have been organizing protests against the threats which face Moslems and others, reminding us that their parents and grandparents were subjected to the same kind of oppression during the 1940s. Irish Americans, even those who like me are Irish in name only, must follow their example and stand up for today’s refugees and migrants.