Commentary Magazine


New York's Irish

To the Editor:

I find Mr. Moynihan’s article [“The Irish of New York,” Aug. '63] so contradictory as to be completely confusing, containing many statements with which one could take issue: he says, for example, . . . that if the majority of the Irish have climbed out of the working class, it has been only to settle on the next highest rung, yet he also says that the Irish “have in significant numbers joined the middle and upper classes.”

“They [the American Protestants] would fight a war and kill half a million men to free the Negro slaves,” but the Civil War was not fought . . . by “American Protestants” only. All the burgeoning immigrant groups of the era were well represented in the ranks, as volunteers, and prominent among them was the famous Irish Brigade whose exploits are recorded not only in “their accounts thereof” but in documented history. . . .

Moynihan says, “It appears it was the Jewish students in the Ford-ham School of Pharmacy who saved that ancient Jesuit institution from going on record as opposed to the election of the first Catholic President of the United States.” I am a card-carrying . . . Democrat, but if the Catholic students at Fordham considered Kennedy to be the unwise choice and yet had recorded their preference for him because he was a Catholic, would this be . . . admirable? . . . This appears to be one case where our stated claim to politics without regard to race, creed, or color was honored in the observance rather than in the breach.

He also says, “and even the most visible Irish contribution to the New York scene, the Irish saloon . . .” What is . . . visible, of course, depends . . . on the eye of the beholder. The cathedrals, churches, and schools . . . built by the Irish seem much more visible to me than the saloons. I doubt if many visitors to New York City have seen an Irish saloon! Almost all of them have seen St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Perhaps most important . . . it seems impossible to consider “The Irish of New York,” by confining this consideration to the geographical boundaries of the political entity, New York City. Among the leaders in the flight to the suburbs have been the middle-class Irish Americans. Far from losing their identity in this move, however, the Irish have proudly held on to it. The son and daughter who in the last generation would have been called John and Mary is now very often Sean and Maureen. . . . And the ranks of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade have been swelled by the members of the younger generation, very often removed from the old country by over one hundred years, but still proudly identifying with it.

There is one old Irish tradition that Mr. Moynihan did not mention—that when all external enemies have been demolished we dearly love to fight among ourselves. The only way to have saved your author from fang and claw marks would have been to warn your subscribers never under any circumstances to lend the August issue to an Irishman!

Audrey K. Boyle
New York City

_____________

 

To the Editor:

Along with . . . reasonable assumptions and speculations Mr. Moynihan attempts an incredible defense of the Irish . . . support of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. Mr. Moynihan glibly speaks about proofs of the “Communist conspiracy” which were “enough for anybody—but not for a good number of persons in the Protestant-Jewish intellectual elite.” This is surpassed only by his later comment: “The expulsion of Communism from the power centers of American life has been acknowledged in most Catholic circles. . . .” Even were there truth in these comments, could the New York Irish take pride in arriving at their conclusion through such dangerous means as McCarthyism represented? . . .

Mr. Moynihan further comments that “McCarthy finally let the Irish down. He ended up a stumblebum lurching about the corridors of the Senate where it had been decided that he was no gentleman.” Wherein did McCarthy let the Irish down? In becoming a “stumblebum,” or in finally being censured by an otherwise timorous Senate? . . .

Gilbert R. Davis
Geneseo, New York

_____________

 

Mr. Moynihan writes:

If Mr. Davis thinks I was defending Irish support of McCarthy, that is his problem, not mine.

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