Like many American cities, Worcester, Massachusetts, is an enclave of cultural tradition and ethnic pride. Through the intensive analysis of this Irish American community at the turn of the twentieth century, Timothy Meagher reveals how an ethnic group can endure and yet change when its first American-born generation takes control of its destiny. Meagher traces the chaotic and complicated passage of Irish Americans from their status as isolated immigrants, through accommodation in the 1880s and ethnocentric belligerence in the 1890s, to leadership of a pan-ethnic American Catholic people in the early twentieth century. He shows how these shifts resulted from both the initiatives of a new generation and changing relations with Yankee and ethnic neighbors, examining along the way such topics as women's prominence in the local nationalist movement, marriage patterns among the second generation, and cross-party coalitions that Irish Democrats forged with Yankee Republicans. A fourth-generation Worcester native, Meagher examines nearly every aspect of Irish American life in his city to discover how his family and others like them attempted to resolve the dilemma of identity. He analyzes the changing definitions of identities and boundaries over a crucial forty-year period and shows how the rise of a new generation to community leadership brought about a quiet but powerful revolution in people's everyday lives. Inventing Irish America focuses on the cultural transition of Irish Americans from one generation to the next and offers readers new insight into the creation of their identity. By studying one community in generational transition, it sheds new light on all places where ethnic and racial groups struggle to maintain their identities by reinventing themselves through time.
Timothy J. Meagher is associate professor of history and university archivist at Catholic University of America. He is the author of A Guide to Irish American History, and co-editor, with Ronald H. Bayor, of The New York Irish, winner of the James Donnelly Sr. Prize from the American Conference for Irish Studies.
“Timothy Meagher’s Inventing Irish America places the construction of ethnic identity in a specific historical context. It does so superbly, weaving a sophisticated treatment of the evolution of Irish American life into a rich account of Worcester, Massachusetts, from 1880 to 1928. The result is a major contribution to American ethnic history and an excellent example of the importance of carefully grounded historical analysis for understanding social group formation.” —The Journal of American History
“This well-written and researched book is best suited to academic libraries but would be appropriate for public libraries with strong Irish constituents.” —Library Journal
“When Timothy J. Meagher visits St. John’s Cemetery in south Worcester, he said he feels like he’s ‘walking among friends,’ such as Monsignor Thomas Griffin and former Worcester Mayor Peter Sullivan. Mr. Meagher never met Monsignor Griffin or Mr. Sullivan, but you’d never know that flipping through the Worcester native’s new book.” —Worcester Telegram & Gazette
“[A]n appealing text.” —Choice
“Arguably one of the most important case studies since Oscar Handlin’s Boston’s Immigrants, 1790-1865...[T]his book is notable for masterfully bringing to bear generational and sociological models of immigrant assimilation and ethnic group formation to illuminate the concrete historical experience of the Irish in a middling but representative Massachusetts city. Meagher breaks new ground by charting the complex interaction between this generational transition and the intergroup struggles for power, resources, and status that shaped and reshaped Irish-American identity.” —American Historical Review
“Timothy J. Meagher, director of Catholic University’s Center for Irish Studies, describes his native Worcester through a rich blend of scholarship and personal experience, within the larger context of Irish and Irish American history. Meagher does a fine job of combining detailed, thoughtful analysis with pertinent illustrations from those who participated in this complex story. [T]he book will certainly be interesting and accessible to others with interest in Irish and Irish American culture. In conveying a multifaceted analysis, Meagher has brought a community to life.” —History: Review of New Books
“Timothy Meagher’s fine study...is a rich and at times fascinating tale...Meagher’s focus and depth lend a freshness and clarity not always found elsewhere...The research that underlies this book is truly impressive in its scope.” —Journal of Economic History
“Inventing Irish America is a masterful study that should be required reading for any student of immigration or religious history.” —Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“Meagher’s rich and detailed study is filled with marvelous stories...It would not be an exaggeration to call this book a masterpiece both of historical detail and of a new and sophisticated theory of the second generation.” —American Catholic Studies