Thursday, March 16, 2017

David M. Emmons' "Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910": Book Review

Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910
"Beyond the pale" originated from the limits, the palisades that the Normans erected around their incursions encircling Dublin. Outside of that tamed territory, Hibernian natives lurked, uncivilized according to the conquerors' suppositions. David Emmons, historian at the University of Montana, adapts this title cleverly. For in the American expansion, the immigrant Irish were also seen by Protestant counterparts as inferior, and relegated to the margins socially and spatially. In the growing U.S., contrary to stereotype, some “two-boat” Irish Catholics settled for neither shanty nor tenement. 

Industry demanded cheap, expendable frontier labor. The mines and mills erected, often by Protestant capitalists, attracted desperate Irish. Outnumbered, they formed communities and institutions to secure themselves in hostile territory. Having studied this phenomenon in the Irish-dominated enclave of Butte, Emmons in this follow-up expands his focus to eight different concepts of "the West" in the American imagination and fact. He compares or contrasts Irish Catholic experiences with those of black slaves and Native Americans, broadening this 2011 book's relevance today. 

It rewards careful reading. It's accessible, with folk stories and testimonies drawn from archival research. Its hundred-page list of documentation attests to Emmons' scope and discipline. Attention to detail regarding his claims, therefore, is expected.

The local insistence on camaraderie given dangerous jobs and social prejudice meant many Irish newcomers rallied together in their camps and towns. Emmons suggests that in a land where the future meant to go West, the Irish for their own survival might have cut themselves off from joining this enormous juggernaut. Faced with anti-Catholic discrimination and anti-Irish sentiment, they found themselves beyond the pale again, gathered in their clans, defensive against an all-too-familiar aggressor. (Spectrum Culture for "Our Favorite Books Read in 2016" staff list 12/18/16; Amazon US 11/16/16)

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