The Unstoppable Irish
Songs and Integration of the New York Irish, 1783–1883
308 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268105730 | April 2019
eBook (PDF) | 9780268105761 | April 2019
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268105754 | April 2019
The Unstoppable Irish follows the changing fortunes of New York's Irish Catholics, commencing with the evacuation of British military forces in late 1783 and concluding one hundred years later with the completion of the initial term of the city's first Catholic mayor. During that century, Hibernians first coalesced and then rose in uneven progression from being a variously dismissed, despised, and feared foreign group to ultimately receiving de facto acceptance as constituent members of the city's population. Dan Milner presents evidence that the Catholic Irish of New York gradually integrated (came into common and equal membership) into the city populace rather than assimilated (adopted the culture of a larger host group). Assimilation had always been an option for Catholics, even in Ireland. In order to fit in, they needed only to adopt mainstream Anglo-Protestant identity. But the same virile strain within the Hibernian psyche that had overwhelmingly rejected the abandonment of Gaelic Catholic being in Ireland continued to hold forth in Manhattan and the community remained largely intact. A novel aspect of Milner's treatment is his use of song texts in combination with period news reports and existing scholarship to develop a fuller picture of the Catholic Irish struggle. Products of a highly verbal and passionately musical people, Irish folk and popular songs provide special insight into the popularly held attitudes and beliefs of the integration epoch.
Dan Milner is an adjunct assistant professor of geography and history at St. John's University. He is the author of The Bonnie Bunch of Roses: Songs of England, Ireland and Scotland and has compiled a number of CDs, including Irish Ballads and Songs of the Sea, Irish in America, and Irish Pirate Ballads.
"Unstoppable Irish is the only work I am aware of that analyzes lyrics over such a sustained—not to mention crucial—period of Irish American history. The analysis allows us to see the process of Irish Americanization reflected in an evolving cultural arena, and it shows how song lyrics contribute to the development of what Raymond Williams has called the 'structure of feeling' of any given epoch. In doing so, Milner not only offers insight into the connection between popular culture and American political development, but also leads the way for other cultural historians of Irish America to follow." ~Peter O'Neill, author of Famine Irish and the American Racial State
"Songs litter the archives of urban history. Apart from mining them for colorful quotations, however, most historians don’t quite know what to do with them. Dan Milner has found an answer by combining the microhistory of the Irish in New York City with a close reading of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century song lyrics from the city’s popular press and stage. Milner’s weaving together of local politics, urban sociology, popular entertainment, and Irish song culture provides insight into how the image of NYC’s Irish Catholics moved from that of unwanted poverty-stricken immigrants to acceptable new citizens, who, by the end of the nineteenth century, were taking charge of the city." ~William H. A. Williams, author of 'Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream: The Image of Ireland and the Irish in American Popular Song Lyrics, 1800–1920
"Dan Milner caps decades of performing and collecting traditional folk music with an insightful analysis of how songs illuminate the Irish journey from outsiders to insiders. This book is essential for understanding New York City and Irish America." ~Robert W. Snyder, Rutgers University-Newark
"Music and song is the royal road into the psyche of the Irish and this book is a profound meditation on the journey toward becoming that was taken by the Irish of New York in the 19th century. In all of us that journey lives and these songs and what they tell us about the hopes and dreams of our forebears, as well as the heartache they endured, reward the scrutiny that Milner brings to them here." ~Irish Central
“In this fascinating study Dan Milner focuses on the songs of the New York Irish and uses them to uncover the experience of that immigrant community in the century from 1783. The Irish experience over that period was essentially a struggle for Catholic incomers to achieve acceptance from a Protestant establishment.” ~Dublin Review of Books
"In this fascinating, well-written study, Dan Milner employs and analyzes hundreds of rare, old Irish immigrants' songs and ballads—some of them rollicking, others desperately sad—to illuminate the struggles and successes of ordinary Irish men and women in the streets, worksites, and tenements of nineteenth-century New York City." ~Kerby A. Miller, author of Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America
"An incisive and enlightening exploration of immigrant culture and integration. Dan Milner offers insights into popular song as a means of protest and pride, which echo from nineteenth-century music halls to present-day rap. This is cultural history at its demotic best." ~Peter Quinn, author of Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York
"An excellent, well-researched work that tells a fascinating story about the early Irish Catholic experience in America. . . . The way Milner traces this history is fascinating. Rather than relying solely on dry sources like archival newspapers and secondary scholarship, he incorporates song texts—folk songs, street songs, and early variety theater lyrics, all taken from period sources such as broadsides, songsters, and published songs—to create a deeper and more nuanced reading of the Irish Catholic experience." ~The Irish Echo