Irish organizations and societies played a major role in creating the Irish American identity. With the number of Irish immigrants increasing, “the societies’ work was to keep the Irish community both informed and united and at the same time to make the Irish presence known to Americans of all ethnic backgrounds” (Coffey 74). The organizations ensured that the masses of Irish knew what was happening back in Ireland, stood as a unified presence, and everyone knew whom the Irish were. They helped Irish immigrants adjust and assimilate into American society providing fraternal support and guidance. They also played a larger role in connecting Irish immigrants to a shared past and forging a better future in America. The “organizations took names from Ireland’s pre-conquest past such as the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, the Clan Na Gael, the St. Patrick Brotherhood, and the Knights of Tara” reflecting “the larger renewed sense of self, the ideal of respectability, and cultural strength” (Brighton). This romantic, mythical past provided the Irish a sense of respectability and pride within an American society that sought to deny them. To many Irish, the United States was a place for them to recultivate the glory of their past. The organizations and societies connected Ireland and America in the actions and minds of their members.
The 1900 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Dinner illustrates this connection. The many toasts recognized Ireland and America. The gathered men “recollected that in the South African war Irish soldiers led by Irish generals have borne the brunt of the battle, have give increased lustre to the traditional bravery and courage of the Celt…” (Jovial Sons of Erin). The collective sense of the Irish was still very much real. Stories of bravery and courage displayed that the strength of the Irish from the past continued in the present. The dinner also reflected the Irish’s deep connection to America as the men “insisted that but for the Irish America would be the free and independent country she is today” (Jovial Sons of Erin). Perhaps exaggerating the impact of the Irish, but nonetheless cementing a shared Irish-American past; one where both contribute to a better future and help in each other in achieving greatness.
Such organization gatherings also reflected the changing role of the Irish in society – their growing importance and society’s growing acceptance. President Theodore Roosevelt was the guest of honor at the 1905 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner. The presence of the president underscored the fact that the Irish were an important group of the electorate. Why else would President Roosevelt bother attending? Not only did he attend, he paid a glowing tribute to the Irish: “The Irish in peace, the Irish in war, the services of race in the War of the Revolution and the Civil War, as in the workaday fabric of the American Constitution; the wonderful Irish character, its humor, its pathos” (Tribute to Ireland). He was not the only one paying tribute. What began in the eighteenth century as a dinner where the Irish celebrated themselves transformed into a larger event where not all the guests claimed Irish birth or heritage. An event “Irish in spirit,” the once distrusted Irish commanded a presence of the New York powerful.
Organizations and societies, such as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, cultivated a shared past of Ireland amongst Irish immigrants while also connecting them to the American story and cementing their place among the nation’s great.