Out of all the disgusting things published by Salon, this could be the worst (I know, that is a bold statement).
When the Provisional Irish Republican Army agreed to end its paramilitary insurgency (and/or terrorist campaign) against British rule in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday accords of 1998, it was unambiguously a good thing for the people of Ireland and their British next-door neighbors. It’s not like everything suddenly became hunky-dory in the long and troubled historical relationship between those islands, but the peace has largely held – splinter groups and isolated sectarian violence aside – and an era of relative normalcy and increasing prosperity has followed. Given the global context of the 21st century, an intractable religious-cum-nationalist dispute between two tiny groups of white people in the northwest corner of Europe looks pretty close to irrelevant.
But the end of the IRA’s guerrilla war had a less salubrious effect on the Irish-American population, and I say that in full awareness that on the surface that’s an offensive statement. What I mean is that the last connection between Irish-American identity and genuine history was severed, and all we’re left with now is a fading and largely bogus afterlife. On one hand, Irishness is a nonspecific global brand of pseudo-old pubs, watered-down Guinness, “Celtic” tattoos and vague New Age spirituality, designed to make white people feel faintly cool without doing any of the hard work of actually learning anything. On the other, it’s Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan and Rep. Peter King, Long Island’s longtime Republican congressman (and IRA supporter), consistently representing the most stereotypical grade of racist, xenophobic, small-minded, right-wing Irish-American intolerance. When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a red-faced Irish dude on Fox News. […]
But Irish-Americans rapidly absorbed the lesson that the way to succeed in their new country was to reject the politics of class and shared economic interests and embrace the politics of race. One disgraceful result was the New York draft riots of 1863, the low point of Irish-black relations in American history, when Irish immigrants by the thousands turned on their black neighbors in a thinly disguised race riot. Irish-Americans were under no delusions that the ruling class of Anglo Protestants liked or trusted them, and anti-Irish and/or anti-Catholic bigotry endured in diluted form well into the 20th century. But by allying themselves with a system of white supremacy, the Irish in America were granted a share of power and privilege — most notably in urban machine politics, and the police and fire departments of every major city.
It’s no secret that much of the IRA’s moral and financial support during the 30-year conflict came from the American descendants of Irish immigrants, many of whom were several generations removed from the ancestral homeland, understood the contemporary Irish context poorly, and were motivated by a sentimental and mythological version of nationalism. Supporting the ‘RA’s campaign of anti-British violence, either openly or (this was even more common) in private after a few drinks, was a uniting aspect of 20th-century Irish-American identity. It went along with Clancy Brothers records, covering up for abusive Catholic priests, a certain domestic style of monogrammed lace curtains and china knickknacks, and long St. Patrick’s Day pilgrimages to the kinds of decrepit, wood-paneled big-city bars that today exist largely as upscale simulacra of themselves. (I’m aware there are some real Irish bars left, but if you don’t know I’m not telling.) […]
As Joan’s book and many other sources have discussed, over the course of the last century the bulk of the Irish-American population drifted rightward through the Democratic Party and then out the other side into Archie Bunker-land. A key constituency of the New Deal coalition became, 40 years later, a key constituency of the Reagan revolution. But throughout that period there was always a countervailing social-justice tendency in Irish-American life, the tendency of the antiwar activist brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan (quite likely the only Jesuit priests ever to make the FBI’s most-wanted list), or of 1952 left-wing presidential candidate Vincent Hallinan and his firebrand San Francisco family. This was the tradition of the radical Vatican II priests, nuns and theologians, who kept many of us from abandoning the Church altogether, and of the 1968 reawakening of Robert F. Kennedy and the subsequent career of his brother Teddy.