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The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools


The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools

Bill Bigelow

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.


According to conservative mantra these days, those Irish peasants starved and died because they should have worked harder- which exemplifies the degree of willful ignorance which conservatives maintain towards the social, political and economic conditions of modern society that deprives people of access to resources such as forests for hunting and gathering, waterways for fishing, open land for farming.

We have no commons ever since the enclosures denied us free access to that which nature freely provides us- because y’know that forces people to have to seek low-wage jobs. So, what happens to us when grandfather white man patriarch doesn’t provide a job for us fast enough? Oh, we starve and die. Either we have commons or we have welfare (I’d prefer a mix of the two). Any thing else would be inhumane and the Irish famine is an example of that inhumanity.

We know the ancient Celts at least chose to have commons. However, that practice was disrupted by Roman domination and subsequently forgotten about. Many Native American societies chose to have commons as well and we know what happened to that. The wealthy and powerful white men in America couldn’t tolerate settlers “going Indian” because people couldn’t be taxed or forced to work low-wage jobs if they “went Indian.” The decimation of the Native people had more to do with establishing a social structure that benefited the privileged than it did with “the security of the settlers.” However, the propaganda would have us believe the latter and not realize the former.


“We hang the man
And flog the woman
Who steals the goose
From off the common;
But let the greater villain loose
Who steals the common
From the goose.”
–author unknown


I agree completely and have long said the same. But in addition to hardly mentioning the famine, American textbooks completely ignore the Easter Rising of 1916. The military commander of the doomed rebels, James Connolly, was a committed Marxist and thought that the rebellion might launch a worldwide socialist revolution, just as Lenin thought a year later. Although Connolly is commemorated in Ireland as a martyr along with the other 1916 leaders, his internationalist outlook is almost never mentioned.

Prior to returning to his homeland, Connolly spent several years in the US where he was associated with the IWW and was one of the leaders of a strike at the GE factory in upstate New York. There is a bust of him in a small park in Troy, NY, possibly the only site in this country where he is so honored.


The Irish famine of course was not the only one that occurred under the Capitalist system wherein even as peoples starved to death , food from the region they were in was being exported abroad. The Bengal famine saw the deaths of millions in India even as the British were exporting food from India to Europe.

There was also literally millions of First Nations peoples who died in the Americas due to hunger and malnutrition due to the deliberate policy of destroying the food supply of the same so that the lands these people roamed on could be converted from being held by the Commons to the individual.

These, like the Irish famine , are always glossed over as Natural events that had nothing to do with the Economic system called Capitalism.

When Collectivisation happened in the Ukraine , those peope suffered the Holodor where millions starved. People that claim “Socialism never works” use that as an example all the time of its failings and those deaths are always blamed on Stalin “One of the greatest mass murderers in History”. When the same Famines due to Policy happened in the West due to Government Policy, it never the systems fault. It just “Natural” or the fault of the peoples that died. These deaths are never the faults of the Churchills or the Jackson’s or the system called “Capitalism” because under the system called “Capitalism” one must never question the Divine Right of the 1 percent to rule.


There are movies - and then there are Movies ~

Far and Away, the movie featuring Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman, illustrates the heart of this article, but goes much further, as the immigrants clamor for land and property of their own, a universal human trait, the passion to survive.

The Quiet Man, featuring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald also draws links between Ireland and the United States, and looks deeply into Ireland itself.

My Irish mother and my own self, we visited Ireland and the Hill of Tara in the last year of her life.

Life itself delivers hard blows, to all of us.

To get up off your knees after one of these blows and to continue to fight, as suggested by Sylvester Stallone’s movie “Rocky Balboa” - well - that’s courage.


All famines have been the result of rich people seeking more wealth and their governments doing precisely what was done in Ireland; starving people to death for cash. Amartya Sen covers this idea well. see, “The idea of justice.”

Somoza, US puppet dictator of Nicaragua did a similar thing; he held back the 50¢ per child cost of polio vaccine. First he was defeated in battle by angry parents. Next, he was hunted down and killed like an animal after he fled the country.


Thank you Mr. Bigelow for this necessary reminder in an age of Anglo Saxon/ Zionist amnesia. England’s first Jewish Pime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli, while an MP, attempted to starve more Irish by opposing the repeal of the Corn Laws. Of course his aim was to protect landed gentry’s profit, not specifically genocide, but hey, why not kill two birds with one stone.
My great-grandparents were devastated by the Great Famine. My grandmother was raised by her bitter angry aunt, and had at least the Catholic Church to turn to for support and education, although the nuns were just as bitter and angry and vented their impotent rage upon the children.
The Famine came on the heels of 1300 years of more or less genocide against the Celtic indigenous people of what we now call the British Isles.
All of this found its American apex in the Kennedy Administration, the high water mark of Irish American culture. I have often wondered if Joe Kennedy’s anti-Semitism and the apparent antipathy many Jews feel for prominent Irish, wasn’t at least partially founded in something much deeper and darker from that evil past.


Thank you for the film recommendations. It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Quiet Man. I’ve resisted Far and Away because of the Cruise Factor and because I think Ron Howard is a shallow filmmaker, but perhaps I should take a chance.


A famine of expository facts


‘More than a century and a half after the “Great Famine,” we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System: “Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry. The hunger of 800 million happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one billion people on this planet who are overweight.”’

Usually the “invisible hand” gives the poor the finger. (The hungry are definitely poor, many of the overweight are also. I can even think of one very public man who is very poor of spirit who seems to be overweight–at least many people are saying…)


I think you should take that chance DDTfromOC !

Both Cruise and Kidman are brilliant - the look at the Ireland of the 1890’s and the Oklahoma Territory ‘run on the land’ are awesome as well.

The Boston Irish are of course where the Kennedy’s and Fitzgerald’s got their start, so there is that aspect too.

On a personal note, half of my ancestry is from Ireland’s west coast (Gallway/Sligo), and on our visit there in 1998, a score of emotions washed over me that I had never experienced before.

So many Irish names on the storefronts etc (shouldn’t have been surprising - but was), so fertile the land, but so constrained. I remember walking a road by myself near the sea, and wanting to get closer I asked an Irish gentleman if I couldn’t hop the wall and take a look? He said I could indeed hop the wall, but I ‘might get shot’! Never did figure out if he was kidding or no.

But being a true blue explorer and outdoorsman by nature and experience and profession (field geologist), and having spent two-thirds of my life ‘out West’, I was for the first time in my life homesick for the wide open spaces and mountains of western Canada, where I can pick a direction and walk for days without ever encountering a fence or a wall.

I am glad my ancestors left - to be blunt, and would never even think of returning to Ireland for anything but a visit.

If you do watch “Far and Away”, I would welcome your impressions ~


Don’t know about the first film, never seen it, but the the second one, ‘The Quiet Man’ is just a Hollywood cliched pastiche of Irishness that many Irish people find deeply irritating or even embarrassing. It’s no more Irish than a plastic leprachaun, about as Irish as 'Brigadoon’ is Scottish. It’s an entertaining film though, in a rollicking and fun way, as Hollywood is good at, no doubt about that, but still just a Hollywod/US fantasy.

If you want less sentiment and stardust try Ken Loach’s award winning, The Wind Shakes the Barely or 'The Magdalene Sisters’ or for the recent troubles ‘71’ All guaranteed to be free of sentimentalised Hollywood bullshittery.


Deja vu tells me I already read this article a few months back or was it a year ago already?


“If you remove the English army to-morrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs. England would still rule you to your ruin, even while your lips offered hypocritical homage at the shrine of that Freedom whose cause you had betrayed. Nationalism without Socialism – without a reorganisation of society on the basis of a broader and more developed form of that common property which underlay the social structure of Ancient Erin – is only national recreancy.[a disloyality to a belief]”

“Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me; and the man who is bubbling over with love and enthusiasm for ‘Ireland’ and yet can pass unmoved through our streets and witness all the wrong and suffering and the shame and the degradation wrought upon the people of Ireland: aye, wrought by Irishmen upon Irishmen and women without burning to end it, is a fraud and a liar in his heart, no matter how he loves that combination of chemical elements he is pleased to call ‘Ireland’”.

James Connolly


Madhusree Mukerjee has uncovered evidence that Churchill was directly responsible for the appalling suffering. Her book, “Churchill’s Secret War”, quotes previously unused papers that disprove his claim that no ships could be spared from the war and that show him brushing aside increasingly desperate requests from British officials in India:

“It wasn’t a question of Churchill being inept: sending relief to Bengal was raised repeatedly and he and his close associates thwarted every effort. The United States and Australia offered to send help but couldn’t because the war cabinet was not willing to release ships. And when the US offered to send grain on its own ships, that offer was not followed up by the British.”


Actually, being half Irish, I am rather fond of “Hollywood bullshittery”, as you so fondly put it.

As for ‘the troubles’ - we here in North America, and indeed the wide world, have enough to drive a man to drink.

Top of the morning to you !


I am an Asian-Indian born, raised and still living in the USA. I knew Churchill treated Indians and other people in his colonies badly but I did not know about this until now.


The longer I am around the more I learn about evil people who have power and the despicable, brutal acts they inflict on the powerless. The facts that the present day governments are allowing genocide in war zones and within Palestine and Myanmar it proof that power in the hands of governments is only one example that power corrupts and continues to behave without pity toward those without wealth and therefore are powerless. And then there is the wanton destruction of our planet for greed.


And yet…most are unaware of Somoza’s crimes. All they hear is the vilification of the Sandanistas.