The Lack Of The Irish

Former Boston Globe reporter Gerard O’Neill has a new book out – Rogues and Redeemers – that the Wall Street Journal reviewer didn’t much like.

There is something faintly ridiculous about [the St. Patrick’s Day] Boston celebrations of Irishness, the wistful talk of a country that most have never visited. Southie, once the center of Boston’s Irish community—and now a semi-gentrified neighborhood of both housing projects and luxury condos—was in the 1970s the only place outside of Northern Ireland where one could find murals celebrating the IRA.

Boston is obsessive about its Irish tribalism. And while bookstore shelves heave with studies of the Irish diaspora in America, there are few books—discounting the countless paeans to the Kennedy clan—that specifically cover the Irish influence on Massachusetts politics. In “Rogues and Redeemers: When Politics Was King in Irish Boston,” Gerard O’Neill, a former reporter for the Boston Globe and co-author of a biography of the mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, attempts to fill that gap. According to the publisher, the book offers a “hidden history” of the city’s Irish-American political machine.

Unfortunately, Mr. O’Neill has produced a rather straightforward recapitulation of Irish politics in the Hub, sticking to the well-established narrative of mustache-twisting Brahmins (or “Yankee overlords,” in Mr. O’Neill’s phrasing) doing battle against spirited, rascally Irish politicians. Indeed, “Rogues and Redeemers” doesn’t so much upend myths as reinforce them.

Exhibit A: The “No Irish need apply” warning that O’Neill says was “commonly found in newspapers [and became] so commonplace that it soon had an acronym: NINA.”

Not so fast, the Journal review says:

[A]ccording to historian Richard Jensen, there is almost no proof to support the claim that NINA was a common hiring policy in America. Mr. Jensen reported in the Journal of Social History in 2002 that “the overwhelming evidence is that such signs never existed” and “evidence from the job market shows no significant discrimination against the Irish.” The tale has been so thoroughly discredited that, in 2010, the humor magazine Cracked ranked it No. 2 on a list of “6 Ridiculous History Myths (You Probably Think Are True).” Mr. O’Neill doesn’t inspire confidence by faithfully accepting NINA as fact.

Another quibble in the WSJ review:

“Rogues and Redeemers” wisely avoids retelling, for the umpteenth time, the story of the Kennedy machine. But curiously absent are figures like Albert “Dapper” O’Neil, the thunderbolt-throwing conservative Democrat who was a fixture of local Massachusetts politics, and former state-senate president and political kingmaker Billy Bulger, who, like O’Neil, modeled his political career on the “rascal king” James Michael Curley.

We eagerly await Gerard O’Neill’s rebuttal.

Meanwhile, let it be noted that the hardworking staff is a proud Irish citizen (since 2006) who hates the U.S. celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

Just for the record.

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2 Responses to The Lack Of The Irish

  1. Jan Dumas says:

    I must agree with you, any one who reads even a bit to Irish history or knows about the truth behind the Irish diaspora, would know that celebrating St Patrick’s day is something equal to Native American’s celebrating Columbus Day.

  2. It’s good to see that the WSJ has finally aligned itself with Cracked Magazine.

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