Confessional Brezhnevism and Brian Farrell

by Henry Farrell on November 12, 2014

The Boston Review have just put up a piece I wrote on Ireland’s internal Cold War, which wasn’t about politics, but religion. My generation (and Kieran’s; and Maria’s) grew up in an Ireland where the Catholic Church’s control of politics and society was visibly rotting away from inside, but still strong enough to foreclose the alternatives. It was like Brezhnevism – a dying system, but one strong enough to make it difficult to imagine what life would be like if it were gone.

One vignette from the piece, describing the moment when Bishop Eamon Casey was revealed to have had a long term relationship and child resulting from same.

The day the news broke, I met one of my professors, who had a sideline as a scrupulously evenhanded television host, wandering across campus in dazed delight. “It’s over,” he said. “They’ve lost.” He was right.

I didn’t name the professor, although I didn’t exactly make it hard to figure out who he was. He was Brian Farrell (no relation), a very well known academic, intellectual and television host and interviewer, who died a couple of days ago at the age of 85. I don’t know what he’d have made of the piece – he very carefully kept his politics to himself. This is the only moment when I ever saw him break cover. Yet I don’t think this revealed any political or religious animus on his part, so much as a small-l liberalism, a straightforward pre-political desire that people be allowed to live their lives and love whom they wanted to, without having to live in fear of social ostracism or of losing their job. It must have been very hard to be gay, or living in an unmarried relationship in Ireland in the 1970s, and it still wasn’t especially easy in the 1990s. The Eamon Casey scandal undermined the religious and social institutions which made it so very hard, so that prejudice, while it continued, mostly went underground. This, I think, is why he was so happy.

That brief conversation with Brian, beside the ugly artificial lake at the center of University College Dublin, is the moment when it became clear to me that Ireland was finally, irrevocably, changing. It’s a different memory of Brian than most people who grew up watching Irish TV will have – his public persona was as a rather formal and mildly acerbic interviewer, who regularly grilled evasive politicians. Yet in person, even if you didn’t know him particularly well (I just knew him as a student taking his MA class on Irish politics) his decency and kindness came through. He will be very much missed.



Vance Maverick 11.12.14 at 5:43 pm

Utterly tangential — does “bedclothes”, for you, refer to clothes worn in bed, e.g. pajamas?


Maria 11.12.14 at 5:50 pm

Looking forward to reading the BR piece, Hen. You put your finger right on it when you say 1980s Ireland was like the crumbling Soviet Union – it was falling apart yet near impossible to imagine it being different. Only now does it seem a small sort of liberalism to have wanted “people (to) be allowed to live their lives and love who they wanted to, without having to live in fear of social ostracism or of losing their job.”

With Eamonn Casey’s bumptious fall from grace, the mask came off. But I always remind myself that those sorts of symbolic events only harness or shine light on the work of countless people struggling for change. Jo Walton’s magnificent new-ish book ‘My Real Children’ makes a quiet but beautiful point about how individuals working for social change can make it happen. (I really need to finish and post a piece on it.)

And as to Brian Farrell. I had a not life-changing but sort of life-directing moment with him, too. As a first year arts student trying to decide what to study, I was sent to talk to him. I was pretty nervous as he was such an intimidating figure on television, especially on Today Tonight. I asked him – not quite in so many words, since I was terrified – why I should study politics. I couldn’t really grasp it as a subject, strange though that seems now. He asked me a bit about myself, then carefully explained what the subject involved and how it would open up a lot of new ideas to me. He didn’t hesitate to simply say that I should study it and wouldn’t regret it. His manner was so kind and paternal in the best possible way. I’ve always felt grateful to him.


Vance Maverick 11.12.14 at 6:00 pm

That’s what I thought the word meant, but I really don’t think it makes sense in context. Again, a trivial comment on a nice piece.

Some past posts here (not sure which of you three) have given the sense of transformation more vividly. Hard to imagine for an American, where nominal disestablishment leaves us somehow more deeply wound up in religion.


Maria 11.12.14 at 6:01 pm

Sorry Vance, I hit ‘delete’ as I read the piece in the meantime – you’re right. Bed clothes is for the bed, not the person!


Maria 11.12.14 at 6:02 pm

From the BR; “The vast majority of people attended church. I did too, although my sister and I would sit in a pew close to the front and ostentatiously walk out if we thought the sermon too conservative.”

God be with the days!

I think it was quite sweet of us to care enough to walk out. Can’t imagine doing it now.


MPAVictoria 11.12.14 at 6:07 pm

“Yet I don’t think this revealed any political or religious animus on his part, so much as a small-l liberalism, a straightforward pre-political desire that people be allowed to live their lives and love who they wanted to, without having to live in fear of social ostracism or of losing their job.”

Now that is a lovely sentiment and a big part of why I am a leftist.


Main Street Muse 11.12.14 at 10:09 pm

My mother left Ireland many years ago, ended up dying in America, also many years ago. One whole family of Irish cousins fled Ireland as well. Most of their friends back in Dublin chose not to marry, though they did live with their partner and have children together.

I was always surprised at how everyone knew everyone (or so it seemed) when we visited our family in Ireland. And surprised at how many fathers were no longer “living in the family home.” It was hard to live within the confines of traditional marriage – I cannot imagine the stresses of being gay or anything else that existed outside of the rules of the church.

The Irish child abuse commission report issued in 2009 was one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read. Here’s WaPo on that: I can’t take anything the church says seriously ever again, quite frankly.


bad Jim 11.13.14 at 4:10 am

I’d like the Pope to come out in favor of the Affordable Care Act. It might just make a difference with the five Catholic men on the Supreme Court. Could it hurt?

With respect to the late Professor Farrell: 85’s pretty good. Less than 70 is perhaps to be pitied, better than 90 can be awesome, but eighty-ish, all things considered, is a pretty good age to check out.


Toby 11.13.14 at 8:46 am

The day the Casey story broke is like a JFK Assassination day for me – I can remember exectly what I was doing when I heard the news. I heard it on the car radio on Galway’s Threadneedle Road and had to pull over to give it my undivided attention. I also sensed a decisive moment had arrived.

Brian Farrell, like Gay Byrne in another facet of the TV medium, deserves a lot of credit for opening up whole vistas on parts of Irish life hitherto beyond scrutiny. The political generation who founded the state, and their successors, would never have expected to the subjected to searching questions in front of the nation, no more than Bishops would.

I can never remember Farrell at a loss – he had a knack for being incisive and courteous at the same time.


PlutoniumKun 11.13.14 at 9:12 am

It does seem like the passing of an era, but I must admit my memories of the period are very different – I was in UCD in the late 1980’s. My memories are of things closing in – the Church never seemed to figure large in my circle, and the reaction of most people I knew to the O’Casey revelations was ‘sure everyone knew that!’ Maybe because I am the youngest in my family I thought that the ’70’s generation seemed to have had the best of things – I felt a different sort of conservativism – that of urban middle class conformism creep up and strangle the country. I was far more worried at the time about what Reagan and Thatcher would do to mess things up than the Church, which already seemed like a spent force to me and my friends (many of whom came from religious rural backgrounds). I was involved in all the major referendum campaigns at the time, and my memory is of a general rural and smug urban conservativism being the enemy, not the Church. I remember pouring over polling data and noting that if only women voted like men, the country would have had divorce and the abortion amendment would probably have been defeated, but nobody having any idea how to address that in a campaign.

Brian Farrell was certainly something of a giant, although I never personally met him. I recall a few of his students deeply loathed him, for reasons I really can’t remember, but I suspect was more to do with their politics than the Prof.


Doctor Science 11.13.14 at 9:23 pm

I’m partly Irish-American — my grandmother left in 1921, my grandfather’s family in the 1860s and 70s. The startling difference between the Irish and Irish-American experience is that I-As are strongly urban and suburban, not really rural at all. It’s especially striking in contrast to Italian-Americans, who were far more likely than the Irish to have backyard vegetable gardens when my father was growing up in Brooklyn, and are far more likely to still be running farms (or vineyards) in the Northeast now.

I guess I’m saying that I didn’t realize that rural Ireland was still (or recently) demographically significant, not just a vision of the past.

I-As also have a very different relationship with the Catholic Church. I-As are the most liberal of the 4 major American Catholic ethnic groups (Irish, Italian, Polish, Hispanic — not that the latter is really a single ethnic group), and the least likely to defer to priestly authority.

I think there’s been a lot of confessional Brezhevism in the Catholic Church in general for the last several decades, but living in a country where the Church isn’t established meant that “imagining life without it” is no more difficult than looking around.


Ronan(rf) 11.13.14 at 11:14 pm

@11 – afaik, also that emigration sustained the sort of rural society Ireland was (it’s stability and relative prosperity was openly dependant on exporting surplus children who were not in line to inherit land)
See here for a concise explanation (as I couldnt do it as much justice – link should bring you to page 289 to about 292)


Doctor Science 11.14.14 at 3:43 pm


Thanks for the link, that was very informative! Bartlett doesn’t *quite* get the I-A experience, when he says “But a stubborn adherence to Catholicism, derided and feared as a foreign superstition headed by a foreign prince, and a marked preference for the urban ghetto rather than that rural idyll allegedly at the heart of the American self-image, clearly identified the Irish as quite un-American, and more than offset the advantage that they had derived from speaking English.”

I-As definitely started out in the urban ghetto, but they didn’t stay there — they ended up taking over the cities and dominating urban politics for a century or more. The “rural idyll” is only part of the American self-image; another, incompatible part is the “go-getter” filled with “Yankee ingenuity”: the engineer, the inventor, the salesman. Speaking English meant the Irish could start as the ideal Northern servant class, but they didn’t have to stay there — they could move up to become civil servants, police officers, politicians, mayors. As well as journalists, writers, salesmen, and any other job where the “gift of the gab” is crucial.

It’s very striking how thoroughly I-As rejected both the American and the Irish “rural idyll”. They didn’t move to the US to have a chance at a life like big brother’s, who had inherited the family farm back in Ireland. They emigrated to have a chance at a completely different life, one big brother could never experience. Bluntly, they had *hated* the farm in Ireland, and they wanted nothing like it in the US.

And as far as I can tell, that is still the case. Because these are the Irish people I’ve met, I hadn’t realized that *any* Irish actually loved the farm.


Ronan(rf) 11.14.14 at 5:25 pm

One of the things I found interesting in his argument (I’m not sure if you got to it in the piece I linked to) was the claim that .. ‘those emigrants who left from the 1830s onwards were highly politicised as a result of the various agitations – Catholic emancipation, the tithe war and the campaign for the repeal of the Union – which had involved the masses. The skills acquired in these campaigns would be useful in a relatively open, democratic society. To an extent unknown among other emigrant groups, the nineteenth century Irish emigrants arrived with an understanding of the democratic process, and how to use its instruments – voting, turnout, registration, organisation, committees, meetings, political agendas and such like. They also, almost certainly, had experience of what we may call ‘politics out of doors’, ie the agrarian insurgencies that had marked every decade since the 1760s..could also prove serviceable in the rough and tumble of American city politics.’

Does that ring true to you ?

“And as far as I can tell, that is still the case. Because these are the Irish people I’ve met, I hadn’t realized that *any* Irish actually loved the farm.”

I would guess (roughly) that there’s a decade or so between myself and Henry and Maria in age(I assume, give or take) , so their experiences arent neccesarily mine. There was substantial enough change in that period to, perhaps, explain the perspective you see with Irish immigrants now in the US.(*) Mainly (1) the Catholic Church wasnt really a feature in my life at all, despite going to mass and coming from a reasonably religious family. Perhaps thats specific to me, though I think it’s broader. (2) I grew up in ‘rural Ireland’ (in so far as a village outside of a medium sized regional town) There are different seasons of this stuff (it wasnt exactly the depths of West Kerry), but I never found it particularly stifling or repressive, and think this would be the norm with my generation (3) there was no expectation, or need, to emigrate when I got to the age (although I came and went in dribs and drabs) There is now again, though I think that will work differently than in the past (ie a lot of it will be more short term, a lot more will expect to return at some stage)
So the rural idyll doesnt exist anymore, really. (in fact in popular culture it seems, a little unfairly I think, to function more as a dystopic picture never to be returned to, than an idylic past) Most people, even those living in rural areas or who’s family has owned/still does own land, dont feel tied to it, or attached, afaik; it doesnt feature in their life anymore to the same extent, or culturally, symbolically, what have you

(*) I’m not sure when this (the ‘rural idyll’) stopped being a significant cultural symbol – im not sure of the term, but ill go with that – in Ireland. I’d assume before Henry and Maria’s time as well, but it’s above my paygrade to say anything else. Also, take all the above as largely speculation and so with a grain of salt !)


Doctor Science 11.14.14 at 8:08 pm

That quote about rough-and-tumble politics *absolutely* rings true. Most immigrant groups take 2+ generations before they get involved with US politics, the Irish basically hit the ground running — as they did for union organization.

I-A immigrants at least as far back as my grandmother’s generation talked about rural Ireland as a dystopia. Immigrants from southern Italy talk about the poverty, crime, etc., that they fled, but with more nostalgia for the actual *place*. And of course they go back much more often.

For my grandmother’s 75th birthday (1975), her children got together to arrange a trip back to see Ireland. She was appalled: “I left because I never wanted to see the place again.” She relented, went, and had a good time — but a lot of the good time was schadenfreude.


JanieM 11.14.14 at 8:43 pm

[I thought I posted this but it didn’t show up. If it’s stuck in moderation, apologies for the double posting. But that would be weird….]

@Doctor Science on immigrants from Italy: And of course they go back much more often.

This is a pretty vast and certain generalization and I’m wondering if you have anything other than anecdotal evidence for it. The differences I’ve noticed are far more generational and era-driven than ethnic.

I grew up in an Italian-American world in small-town Ohio, and not one member of the immigrant generation(s) that I knew ever went back. (I’m talking about a big Italian Catholic parish, not just my extended family.) They couldn’t possibly have afforded it, and they weren’t that interested in it as far as I remember.

My dad’s generation didn’t go back either (he was the son of people who immigrated from Italy as children – with their own parents – in the early 1900s). It was only when my generation grew up and had both the interest and the means that people started to go. This was also true of the many Irish-Americans I went to high school with, even though they tended to be a generation further removed from “the old country” than I was.

It seems to be different among more recent immigrants, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people can and do stay in touch easily, and air travel is more within the reach of ordinary people. I talk to my son in China a couple of times a week for nothing on Skype. When I left for college in 1968, I talked to my family at home (between Mass. and Ohio) maybe once a month; it was too expensive to do it more often. Air travel to foreign countries was unthinkably expensive.

Every immigrant I ask these days, from taxi drivers to the friends my kids brought home from college to people I work with, stays in touch with people from their home countries (China, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Moldova, India, France you name it), and travels back for visits now and then as well. In my experience, it just didn’t happen that way fifty years ago, regardless of where people were from. (Maybe it happened among the wealthy, but I didn’t know any of them.)


johne 11.14.14 at 9:12 pm

” …they had *hated* the farm in Ireland, and they wanted nothing like it in the US.”
We’re operating free from data, but my best friend was an umpteenth-generation Irish-American whose pre-Famine grandfather worked long enough in the mills of Massachusetts to return to the old country for his sweetheart, and then the two of them headed West, to become very early Iowa settlers, with the family remaining there for generations.
And Charles Russell did a savage cartoon of an stereotyped Irish farm family displacing a noble American indian somewhere out West.
It may be that the numbers of rural Irish Americans rivaled those who stayed in town, only they were more dispersed and less able to form the core of unions, parties and so on.


Doctor Science 11.14.14 at 10:04 pm


In fact, I was thinking of it because it’s discussed in the book Ronan linked above:

of all European emigrants to the United States, the Irish were the least likely to make the return journey. Some 58 out of 100 Italians would go back to the old country, and some 22 out of 100 Germans, but only 6 out of every 100 Irish. The presence of large numbers of suitable Irish marriage partners in the United States might partly account for the fact that, for the most part, emigration from Ireland was for keeps.

I live in NJ now, and my observations about Italian-Americans are based on what I see around here, and how it compares to my Irish-American family & friends in NYC, Boston, and points between.

The marriage partners thing is very real, too: my grandparents were introduced in NYC by a matchmaker who specialized in immigrants from Tipperary.


I think it’s probably important that your friend’s ancestors emigrated *before* the Famine. During and after the Famine, emigration went up by an order of magnitude or more, and the vast majority of those Irish went to, and stayed in (or near) cities — as described in the book we’ve been linking to.


JanieM 11.14.14 at 10:37 pm

Doc, thanks for the reference. I confess to not having read the entire thread carefully; I just don’t have time this week.

A quick bit of googling makes me wonder if 1) we’re talking about two different things; and 2) there’s a “100 words for snow” thing going on, i.e. some factoids that got repeated and then exaggerated and then reframed bare of context and then exaggerated some more (not by people here on CT, just in the normal course of human events).

Here’s something I found after 5 seconds of googling (from

Statistics by nationality are quite striking. According to a report in 1908 comparing the departures in 1908 with the arrivals of 1907, 61% of the Southern Italians returned home. Croatians and Slovenians (59.8%), Slovaks (56.1%) and Hungarians (48.7%) also had high return rates. The lowest rate, 5.1%, belonged to the Jews (categorized as “Hebrews”). This is understandable since they fled the pogroms to save their lives and had nowhere to return. Surprisingly, when you think of all the nostalgic songs about their homeland, the Irish rarely went back — only 6.3%.

These percentages are very like the ones in the passage you quote, but this article is talking about people who came to the US and didn’t stay. Your “go back much more often,” and your story about your grandmother resisting a gift visit, sounded much more like an assertion about visits, not permanent returns. The book paragraph you quote isn’t really clear on that point, although in context it might be.

Anyhow, the thing I find most unbelievable is that very many Italian immigrants a century ago who stayed had the money to go back. Certainly in my world they didn’t. And although I know letters went back and forth, there had been a very clean break with the old country among the people I grew up with. My grandfather said, “My kids are American, they can talk American.” I.e., my father’s generation was not encouraged to learn Italian, to put it mildly.

But I’ve got only anecdotes and I’m short on time, so even though I find this a fascinating topic I should stop.

Bemusing, semi-irrelevant factoid: I’ve been to Ireland 11 times, not always for short visits. I’ve never been to Italy. Some weird genetic screw-up, I suppose. ;-)


Ronan(rf) 11.15.14 at 12:08 am

The quote from the book is a little ambiguous, but I think (in context) ‘return’ means return for good , rather than visit.

Just on the Famine immigrants (if anyone knows) Did most remain on the East Coast or did significant numbers move West ? What would westward migration have meant at that stage, would it have primarily been migrating to other large cities (Chicago, San Francisco) , to homesteads, or to mines etc ? (I vaguely remember an answer to this question, that more moved West than was assumed in earlier research .. but I dont recall really, so just wondering how the demographics of that influx developed)


Ronan(rf) 11.15.14 at 7:02 pm

here’s the paper I was thinking about in the last comment (for anyone still reading)


Doctor Science 11.15.14 at 8:50 pm


Your experiences in Ohio are interestingly different from those of the Italian-Americans I know in NJ. I suspect that very high rate-of-return for Italian immigrants means that many were young men who came to the US to work for a decade or so before going back to Italy to marry.

Earlier, I said that one thing that distinguished Italian-Americans from e.g. Irish-Americans when my father was growing up in immigrant Brooklyn was that the Italians all grew vegetables, even in windowboxes if that was all they had. The Irish wouldn’t do anything that much like farming.

Do the Italian-Americans you know in the midwest still grow tomatoes, etc., even if they’re otherwise urban? Also, did their ancestors come mostly from southern Italy, or from the north?


JanieM 11.15.14 at 9:13 pm

Doctor Science — interesting questions, and funny you should mention tomatoes….

At least one pair of my Italian great-grandparents were farmers, though their farm was right on the edge of the town where I was born, so it wasn’t strictly “rural” in the way that my mother’s background was. My grandfather became a locomotive mechanic, not a farmer, though he did have a grape arbor for making wine.

The interesting thing about gardens is that both my grandmothers had huge gardens and put a lot of food by — but my other grandma wasn’t Italian at all, she was rural Baptist “old American” (for lack of knowing what else to call her, since WASP implies something quite different). On that grandma’s side of the family we can trace a couple of lines of ancestry to the 1620s and 1640s in Connecticut, and there are gravestones of my relatives in rural Ohio (where my mom grew up) that explicitly mention things like people coming from CT to the “Western Reserve” when it was unbroken wilderness.

So again, what I saw was generational more than ethnic. (With the disclaimer that neither side of my family is Irish-American, despite some redheads cropping up here and there. ; – ) Both grandmas raised families in deep poverty (Mom’s dad died when she was 2; my grandma never remarried). Both had big gardens, even as I was growing up. The next generation — my parents’ – didn’t, and that wasn’t just in my own family. I think much later, long after I left home, my dad did have a few tomato plants growing (or maybe peppers) after he retired.

But I have always thought it was a clear progression: my parents’ generation saw the ability to get by without a garden as a sign of economic progress, and they were delighted not to have to bother. (I know I’ve said this before, here at CT, also on ObWi in the old days.) So the knowledge was lost, and when I wanted to plant a garden (yes, tomatoes! among other things) years later, I had to search out the info in books or from friends who knew something about it. Before she died my grandma (the Baptist one) used to write me letters in which she would include little tips about doing things “the way we hayseeds do it.” But she was never a farmer either, really.

I’ve just been out to Ohio for a visit and as far as I know, people still don’t tend to have gardens. I did for many years, but I live in rural Maine.

The Italians [we didn’t have hyphens when I was a kid] where I came from were all from southern Italy, a lot of them from the same villages near Naples. There were many family ties; everyone was everyone else’s cousin or aunt or uncle or [insert some names for godparent relationships that I have never known how to spell].

I’m going to put some observations about Ellis Island in a separate comment.


JanieM 11.15.14 at 9:30 pm

As to your point about men coming over and working to earn money, then going back to marry – I see evidence (anecdote, not data) of another pattern, which was that a married man came over here, worked for a couple of years, then sent for his family. I have spent lots of time poking around on the website, and it took me many hours and blind alleys to find my grandfather’s arrival. (I still haven’t for sure found my grandmother’s; her family was much smaller and her surname much more common, so it’s more difficult.)

There are lots of misspellings and transcription errors – which are easy enough to see once you do find the right entries, because the site lets you look at photos of the actual ship manifests. (Or at least it used to; I haven’t been there in a couple of years.) But another thing that slowed down my search was that when my grandfather came with his mother and siblings, his mother was listed under her maiden name, not her married name. (And then her maiden name was mistranscribed, as was the name of one of the kids. I ended up searching through hundreds and hundreds of surnames that began with “C” until I found one that was a plausible mistranscription of the correct one.)

Tthey tried to come twice before they finally made it over here. Their names are all in two ship manifests and then crossed out – which doesn’t carry over to the database – as if maybe someone was sick and they weren’t allowed to sail. Then, the third time, they made it. The ship manifest has, scribbled in tiny writing, the info that they were going to meet her husband (with his name given) in my home town in Ohio. The fact that there were 6 or 7 kids – the names all correctly matched with my grandfather’s family – and that the town is right makes me as sure as I can be that this is the right grouping.

If there was ever an enterprise that made me distrust any assertion that something is a “fact,” it’s the genealogical research I’ve done – a very minor amount compared to what people do who really pursue it as a hobby. But that’s a whole other topic.


As an afterthought, I’m sure that the region people came from makes a difference to a lot of things. For instance — dialect words for food items and family relationships. Plus, my grandma came over here with she was somewhere between 6 and 12 (what is a fact, after all?), and she actually grew up in Brooklyn, not Ohio, so her “Italian” food had already evolved somewhat, I’m sure. I’d be curious to know how much this is true of Irish immigrants.

The Irish-American community in my home town was more assimilated and more dispersed than some others by the time I was growing up. There were still two major, more or less homogeneous Italian sections of the town; there was no Irish neighborhood as such. One of the Italian sections was called, and is still called to this day, “Swedetown.”

Go figure.


JanieM 11.15.14 at 9:35 pm

I will add that all the ethnic groups I mentioned have long since assimilated, dispersed, and intermarried by now. “Swedetown” is still a relatively poor part of town, but I would say it is set off more by class than by ethnicity at this point.

There were three Catholic parishes and a “mission” when I was growing up. Two of them were neighborhood-based, heavily Irish with a sprinkling of Polish and Hungarian. The third was explicitly, by charter, “Italian.” In keeping with the recent history of the Catholic church in this country, there is now only one, technically, but they are still fighting viciously over whose building will be the home base of the new, merged parish.


JanieM 11.15.14 at 9:41 pm

Me: she actually grew up in Brooklyn, not Ohio

I meant she grew up in Brooklyn, not Italy. But now that I’ve mentioned it, her marriage to my grandfather was arranged somehow, maybe by a broker, although that word was never used when I was told the story. She was very young. Her family refused his older brother as being too old. If I understand correctly, my grandfather went to Brooklyn and they were married, but they still had to have a chaperone ride the train with them back to Ohio.


JanieM 11.15.14 at 10:12 pm

As to who had gardens and who didn’t: Think of the influence of Italian food and Irish music in America. (Italian music and Irish food? Huh?) Think of the place of food vs music in the two cultures/countries: it’s fascinating, all separate from what people who came here because of the Famine might think about farming.


Ronan(rf) 11.16.14 at 5:34 am

Just to say, as I probably won’t be near a computer for a bit, but these last number of posts have been very interesting (to my eyes)
One or two things, but not much more as I’m falling into (or deeper into) bullshiting territory here. (1) I think janiem’s:

“So again, what I saw was generational more than ethnic. ”

seems right. I don’t want to remove this quote from its specific context, but the experiences of the famine immigrants is not that of immigrants such as Dr Science’s grandmother from the 1920s (?) This is an obvious point, and I dont think I’m necessarily refuting anyone so much as talking to myself; but why did a rural people flee to cities ? (aside from ease of access, jobs, social networks etc) , well they were fleeing a lack of food production in rural areas, surely that must stand to something ? (The psychological effects of the famine on where people settled must be a factor, or so I’d assume – though perhaps not)
I don’t think ‘opposition to the family farm’ works here, for multiple reasons, but land ownership didnt exist in the mid 19 century as it did in the early twentieth , ie there was rarely a ‘family farm’ to flee from- so it’s comparing apples and pears, a bit.

and this:

“where I came from were all from southern Italy, a lot of them from the same villages near Naples. There were many family ties; everyone was everyone else’s cousin or aunt or uncle or [insert some names for godparent relationships that I have never known how to spell].”

reminds me a bit off ( From a paper on Italian immigration to ireland)

“In both communities, the migrations had been associated in communal memory with a small place in the home country; the tiny village of Akmeyan (or Akmene) (with a population of 2,800 today) in northwestern Lithuania in the case of the Jews, and Lazio’s Val di Comino, about 100 km from Rome, and in particular the small community of Casalattico (population 700 today) in the case of the Italians. One strong hint of an early Casalese presence is that two of the four organ grinders convicted of assaulting two Irishmen on Dublin’s Chancery Lane in November 1887 had surnames closely.linked to the village. The links underline an important characteristic of both
flows—the key role of chain migration.
The link with Casalattico would seem to find further corroboration in the remarkably high proportion of Italians—nearly four in every five—in Ireland in the mid-1980s who had been born in the region of Lazio. Next in importance of Italy’s eighteen regions came Lombardy, which accounted for only 72 of the total of 2,312 Italian-born residents15. Yet this exaggerates the Casalattican component in Italian immigration in the interim.
In 1911 Ireland contained fewer than four hundred immigrants of Italian stock. Their surnames imply that were a varied bunch, by no means exclusively from Casalattico. Interestingly, too, 93 of the 104 of those identified as Casalatticans by their surnames lived in County Antrim or in the neighbouring counties of Down and Armagh. The 1911 census suggests that all of Ireland’s 28 Fuscos then lived in Belfast, as did all but two of the 44 Fortes. In 1911 only a dozen with common Val di Comino surnames—
including the Cervis—lived in Dublin. That the north of Ireland had been the original focus of Casalese immigration is corroborated by Reynold’s research in Casalattico in the early 1990s (Reynolds 1993: 99). Dublin’s Italians were more likely to have had Tuscan connections a century ago; they included Joseph Patrick Nanetti M.P., one-time lord mayor of Dublin son of Giuseppe, a sculptor from Lucca….” (same author as above)


Ronan(rf) 11.16.14 at 5:40 am

I will say aswell, the Italian ‘diaspora’ in Ireland was always known for having brought fish and chips to the country (this is touched on in the article, though I always remember hearing this growing up – not regularly, but once or twice – ‘we came here and fed the working class.’ A lot of chippers in Ireland, up until recently, were Italian owned (afaicr – or at least named in a semi Italian manner)


JanieM 11.16.14 at 3:05 pm

Ronan — the notion of Italian migration into Ireland bemuses and tickles me. Fish and chips…? Now there’s a study that would be interesting to pursue….

I think “chain migration” probably played a role in the Somali immigration into Maine a decade or so ago.

But I’m heading away from the computer for much of the day so that’s it for now.

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