During the nineteenth century, many Irish immigrants settled in New York City trying to escape famine and English Rule. They came to the United States looking for new beginnings and the hope of a better life. But they faced a new host of problems – a city and country nonaccepting of them, poor living conditions, and growing suspicion of their Catholicism. Nativist Americans campaigned against Irish assimilation and immigration. Yet, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Irish Americans had risen into positions of power in the New York political and social structure. While still not completely trusted by Americans, they were no longer the uncivilized and wild immigrants.
Such a change is illustrated through a comparison of these two images. The political cartoon and the photograph both illustrate the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. The political cartoon from 1867 shows a rowdy, drunk crowd fighting with each other, Anglo-Americans, and the police. The 1913 photograph displays an epitome of civilized – priests, military officers, police, and Irishmen sitting together on the grand stand decorated with American and Irish flags watching the parade. What occurred in those forty-six years to account for this drastic change?
While changes within the larger American socio-political structure certainly contributed to this change, in this exhibit I will focus on the contributions of the Irish themselves. Using a variety of primary and secondary sources, I will seek to explore the question: How did the New York Irish use a variety of individual power, organizations, and cultural events to gain a more prominent role in New York, and forge the Irish American identity?