Irish-American Autobiography: The Divided Hearts of Athletes, Priests, Pilgrims, and More review
Love at first sight is not generally associated with Irish studies. It is, however, a recurring theme in the memoirs of Irish-Americans visiting Ireland for the first time
Irish-American Autobiography: The Divided Hearts of Athletes, Priests, Pilgrims, and More
James Silas Rogers
Catholic University of America Press
Love at first sight is not, James Silas Rogers acknowledges, a phenomenon generally associated with Irish studies. It is, however, a recurring theme in the memoirs of Irish-Americans visiting Ireland for the first time. This is one of the many perceptive, and sometimes surprising, observations contained in Rogers’ analysis of the autobiographies of Americans of Irish descent – a label that, as the subtitle indicates, includes athletes, priests, pilgrims “and more”.
Among the most interesting works under examination are those by lesser-known authors such as Michael Patrick MacDonald, a community activist who established a controversial gun buy-back programme in south Boston in the 1990s. Another is the journalist Joseph Mitchell, who gave voice to New York’s immigrant Irish for much of the 20th century. Rogers describes his volume as “an attempt to track the shifting meanings of Irishness in America”. In so doing, he sheds light not only on the “essential liminality” of the Irish-American experience – and its need to ground identity in memoir and genealogy – but also the many complexities of Irish America that remain little-known or understood back in the old country.