No Irish Need Apply

First, the only folks with a genuine beef about immigration are the Native peoples of this hemisphere.

Second, this one goes out to anyone of Irish heritage who gets fired up about the negative impact on our social economic stability of unskilled, poverty-stricken, immigrants, many of them unable to speak English.   Look in the mirror, my tens of millions of friends.

When it comes to the job of bashing immigrants, No Irish Need Apply.

Let’s use Boston as the example.  When our people started coming over, the natives did not demand special police actions to contain our impact. They created the police department. In 1843, Boston fielded a police service made up of untrained men they paid and untrained volunteers. By 1853, the city had pushed for home rule authority from the state legislature to create a paid full-time, around the clock police service. What changed in the interim? Let Thomas H. O’Connor  tell it.

“…the unprecedented flood of immigration from Ireland during the late 1840’s and early 1850’s shocked local residents into even greater expressions of fear and apprehension.” (The Boston Irish)

Oscar Handlin, who founded immigrant studies, wrote that Irish immigrants became in Boston,

“…a massive lump in the community, undigested and undigestible.” (Boston’s Immigrants)

We blew the place up.

Nobody wanted this mass of desperate Irish Catholic humanity who came off the docks in East Boston and who were disgorged from the holds of empty English lumber ships in the Canadian Maritimes, from there to find their ways south to Boston.  I cannot think of a city less disposed to receive an immigrant group than was Boston to the Irish Catholics.  The natives’ theology, politics and economy had zero capacity to absorb the immigrants.  Until 1790  authorities had outlawed priests within the town limits. If found the priest could be hung.   (Lovely irony 1: the first priest was a Thayer who converted while on his Grand Tour of Europe).  The Pope and the Devil competed for most feared.

Even the enlightened intellectuals who first defined women’s rights, Transcendentalism and abolition could not find it within themselves to light a light for Irish papists.  Theodore Parker and Margaret Fuller for examples, in almost all other respects intellectual liberators, did not hide their prejudices against the Irish.  (Lovely irony 2:  the Archdiocese of Boston dropped two of its most active and largest parish churches, Holy Name and St. Theresa of Avila in West Roxbury, on Rev. Parker’s former church and home, respectively).  Boston’s small but flourishing African-American community, led by families we still know today such as Grimes and Hayden, also abhorred the Irish as threats to the foothold African-Americans had gained in manufacturing, unskilled labor and seaport employment.

Oscar Handlin once wrote something to the effect that he started out to study the impact of immigration on US history only to discover that immigration is the history of the United States.  And look what we get when we get immigrants.  We get the most industrious, courageous and ingenious of other societies to come to us.  It takes all that and more to uproot a life and start again in a strange and foreign place.

Too often we criminalize what we can’t figure out.  We have done that with the complex challenge of immigration. In Alabama and Arizona we transform local, county and state law enforcement into political police.    We’ll do more damage until we adopt President Kennedy’s advice.

“Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” ― John F. KennedyA Nation of Immigrants


About stephenomeara

My name is Jim Jordan. I have had the privilege of working with the Boston Police Department and hundreds more departments over my nearly 30-year career in police administration and city government. I am now teaching and consulting independently at I have learned the best of what I know from the thousands of smart, dedicated and ethical police personnel and scholars who have guided me along the way. My address is named for the great Reform commissioner of the Boston Police at the turn of the 20th century. Commissioner O'Meara died just a short while before the Strike in 1919. He was replaced by a vicious puppet (of Gov. Coolidge) named Edwin U. Curtis. Had O'Meara lived events may have turned out quite differently.
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