A DEFENSE OF THE IRISH: What Has Been Accomplished By the Irish Race

From the National Republican newspaper, Washington CD 24 Feb 1874, page 4; A DEFENCE OF THE IRISH. What Has Been Accomplished By The Irish Race

A Mrs. Hyatt was, until recently, the almoner of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Brooklyn. A few weeks ago Mrs. Hyatt wrote a letter to the lady who succeeded her, and who had supplied her with a young Irish girl as a house-servant through the office of the association, entreating that in the future “no Irish” be sent to her. Mrs. Hyatt wrote quite a long letter, in which she went into a disquisition of the Irish race in general, and denounced them in strong language. This letter of Mrs. Hyatt found its way into print, and has been taken up by a veteran journalist of New York, who is an enthusiast in his admiration of the Irish race, to which he is himself a bright and shining example.

W.E. Robinson sent a reply to Mrs. Hyatt, which was printed in a recent issue of the Brooklyn Argus, and as it is a valuable historical essay, as well as a full and complete defense of the Irish nationality, we transfer it to our columns, and recommend it to the perusal of our readers. After speaking of the action of Mrs. Hyatt, the writer says:
“Now who, let me ask, are these horrible Irish? At home they have been known by many distinguished specimens. James Barry, the great British painter; Joseph Black, the great British alchemist; Robert Boyle, the great British philosopher; Father Burke, the greatest pulpit orator; Edmund Burke, the greatest British statesman; Sir Philip Francis, the greatest British satirist; Sir Hans Sloane, the greatest British naturalist; Spranger Barry, the greatest British tragedian; and John Tyndall, the greatest British scientist. I might mention thousands of others–Bellew, Danning, Carleton, Charlemont, Adam Clarke, Doote, Curran, Edgeworth, Emmet, Fitzgerald, Goldsmith, Grattan, Hogan, Lever, Lover, Maswell, Mactist, Father Matthew, Thomas Moore, Daniel O’Connell, whom the greatest living American orator pronounces equal to Webster, Clay and Calhoun rolled into one; Sheridan, Sterne, Swift, Usher, and Wellington, and leave your readers to place them on their proper pedestals of fame.

I might also mention the Nugents of Austria, the O’Donnells of Spain, and others who, in all nations of the earth, assailed “fame’s steepest heights,” and “walked Ambition’s diamond ridge” with firmest steps. The President of the French Republic, MacMahon, and the recent Republican President of Spain, Castelar, are of this race of “quadrupeds.”

Photograph of Professor John Tyndall, Irish Physicist, of the Royal Institution of Great Britain; 1873; History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives

But the object of my noticing this matter at all is to try and correct the error into which some people fall who are ignorant of American history, and have not studied the origin of our people, when they speak of the Irish as something distinct from the American people. The Irish were the Americans in the days of George Washington and every day since then they have been, as they will continue to be, more and more so. Prior to the commencement of this century, the emigrants to this country were in a large preponderance Irish. More Irishmen arrived in Philadelphia in 1729 than all the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies twice told. At the Revolution the Irish were Americans, the English were Anti-Americans. There were ten Irish generals around Washington to one English general. Most of all the English were Loyalists and Tories. Almost all the Irish were Patriots and Republicans. It is a strange perversion of history that the true Americans should be called foreigners, and the enemies of George Washington should be called Americans. But if the Irish at the time of the Revolution were as numerous as the English, how is it at the present day?

Look at the Irish of the Revolution. Almost every one of them had ten or a dozen children. Rev. Dr. Samuel McClintock, an Irishman’s son, born in Massachusetts had sixteen children, four of whom were officers in Washington’s army. Rev. James Long Sloss, of Antrim, whose son is now a member of Congress from Alabama, had nine children. Rev. James Waddel, of Newry, the blind preacher of Virginia, and the tutor of Madison, had ten children. Rev. Dr. Finlay of Armagh, president of Princeton College, and grandfather of Professor S.F.B. Morse, had eight children. Rev. Charles Beatty, of Antrim, a second cousin of DeWitt Clinton, and a chaplain in Washington’s army, had eleven children, four of them officers in the American army, and one of them afterwards a member of the American Congress. Rev. James McGreggor arrived in New England in 1718, with one hundred Irish families. He had ten children. His son, David, born in Ireland had nine children. At this rate the descendants of this single Irishman and his fellow immigrants would now number about one million, and they are

A sketch of General John Stark aged 82 created during his lifetime by teenager and amateur artist Mary Crowninshield of Salem MA.

One of his sons was aid to General Stark. Rev. John Elder, of Antrim, commander of a Pennsylvania Revolutionary regiment (for all Irish clergymen fought for Washington) had fifteen children, the youngest of whom died at Harrisburg in 1858, at the age of eighty-seven. William J. Duane, of Tipperary, married a grand-daughter of Benjamin Franklin, whose descendants are mostly Irish, and left nine children, one of whose descendants, Miss Dallas, was married to Robert J. Walker, the distinguished secretary of the United States Treasurer, who was also Irish. John Read, of Dublin, had seven children, one of them a signer of our Declaration of Independence, another a colonel in Washington’s army, and a third a captain in our navy. Cornelius Read, of Antrim, emigrating to Saybrook, Conn., had ten children. Rev. James Caldwell of Antrim, John Caldwell, Calhoun’s uncle, had nine children, one of them adopted by Lafayette.

Holme’s Annals of America” tell us that in 1720 there arrived in Philadelphia alone nearly seven thousand Irish immigrants. Duane’s passages from Marshall’s “Remembrances” inform us that in two months of the year 1774 about three thousand emigrants came to Philadelphia from Antrim, Waterford and Londonderry. This was for only fourteen months at one port. How many Irish arrived in the intervening half century at Boston, New York, Baltimore, Charleston and other ports? All this time the Irish numbered ten to one of all other emigrants, and all these emigrants had children ranging up to ten and sixteen, and their children’s children equally prolific. If it recorded of one Irishman of that day that he had over nine hundred great-grandchildren.

A book published in Dublin in 1729, estimates that three thousand males left Ulster yearly for the provinces; this for ten years alone would amount to thirty thousand. In 1775, I think, one half of New England (leaving out the Tories who tried to defeat Washington) were of Irish birth and descent, and that over two thirds of the people of Virginia, Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland were Irish. This country was largely Irish when English Cornwallis surrendered to Washington’s Irish generals. Since then the immigration from England has not been more than nine to ten.

A report of the Committee on Foreign Affairs to the House of Representations in 1868, estimates twenty-nine million of our population as emigrants and their descendants since the acknowledgement of our independence. The last census gives the foreign-born of our population as five million and a half, and about ten million as the children of emigrants. Here are over fifteen million, much more than over one third of our population, foreigners or their children. Now, add to these fifteen million the descendants of the prolific thousands and tens of thousands, multiplying from five to tenfold each generation for a century, and you have the American people. More than three fourths of the American people are more or less of Irish blood. The English element is almost extinct. The German element is vastly greater. There are as many descendants, and have been as many distinguished Americans, from the New Hampshire Irish than from the English of Plymouth. It was an Irish colony in Mecklenburg that first proclaimed the doctrines of our independence before Charles Thompson, of Ireland, and Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, drafted it in Philadelphia. I can name a dozen Irish to one English general around Washington. The American army was an army of Irishmen, whom the English–then as now–hated and maligned. Glory be around the graves of the Butlers, Clintons, Hands, Irvines, Knoxes, Montomgerys, Moylands, Starks, Sullivans, Thompsons and Waynes, whose Irish swords flashed brightest in the contest that won American independence, and bright be the light around the English ray of patriotism that glistened on the blade of Gates! Our navy, like our army, was Irish; the O’Briens, of Maine, its founders and John Barry, of Wexford, an Irish Catholic, loved and chosen by Washington its first commodore.

Photograph of the Samuel Pierpont Langley commemorative statue at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California, in 1915. Langley was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, 1887-1906, and pioneer in astrophysics and aerial navigation. The base of the statue reads, “To commemorate science’s gift of aviation to the world through Samuel Pierpont Langley, an American.” Smithsonian Archives.

The independence by Irish teachers, such as Francis Allison, of Donegal, whom President Stiles of Yale college pronounced the greatest classical scholar of America and Samuel Finley, of Armagh, afterwards president of Princeton college. It was an Irishman, Berkeley, that pioneered New England education. The first American voyage to China was by an Irishman. The first great commercial house of Brown Brothers were, and the venerable survivors are, Irish. The first general the fell in the American cause, Montgomery, was Irish. The last battle of our recent war, at Gettysburg, was fought under an Irish Catholic, Meade. The first publisher of an American daily paper was a Tyrone Irishman, Dunlan. The first printer and first public reader as well as the framer of our Declaration of Independence were Irishmen. The American inventor of steamboat navigation, telegraphy and reaping by machinery, Fulton, Morse and McCormick, are Irish. The founder of the New York Tribune and the publisher and proprietor of the New York Herald are Irish, as were and are most of the writers, reporters and editors of the leading periodicals of Great Britain and the United States.

It is THE STATUE OF AN IRISHMAN, George Clinton, that has been sent to Washington, as worthiest to represent forever at the Chapel at Washington, our own Empire State. It was an Irishman, Colles, that first planned the Erie canal, and an Irishman’s grandson, DeWitt Clinton, that completed it. It was an Irishman, Ramsay, that wrote the first history of the United States. Our first explorers Kane and others, as England’s also, McClure and others, were Irish. The ministers of the Gospel that Washington confided in and trusted, in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Baltimore, were John Rodgers, James Caldwell, Alexander McWhorter, George Duffield and Patrick Allison–all sons of Irishmen. It was an Irish society, “The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick,” of Philadelphia, composed of Catholic and Protestants, that saved Washington’s army from destruction at Valley Forge, through gratitude for which George Washington himself became a naturalized Irishman that he might become a Son of St. Patrick. The head of our navy and our vice admiral are Irish. The head of our army is no better than an Irishman, for his wife is a Catholic and our lieutenant general is Catholic and Irish. A.T. Stewart, the leading merchant of the world, and John Tyndall, the greatest scientist living, are Irish; and Proctor, now charming our scientific circles, is, I believe, of Irish descent. The ablest judges, the most distinguished physicians, the most devoted clergymen, Protestant as well as Catholic, the most extensive merchants, the wealthiest and most public spirited citizens of Brooklyn, are Irish by birth and blood.

Lieut. General John Coughlin of Manchester Irish Regiment, 10th NH Infantry

THE MOST ELEGANT, refined and hospitable mansions on the “hill” and heights are owned and occupied by Irish Catholics. One half of the real estate of Brooklyn is owned by Irishmen, who pay their full proportion of taxes. More than one half of the people who go to church or attend school in Brooklyn are Irish. It was an Irishman (McKenne) that introduced Presbyterianism, and another Irishman (Lanbury) that first introduced Methodism into this country. It was Irishmen, who, by sea and land, in camp and Senate, by tongue and pen and sword and prayer, made America great, glorious and free.

Of all counties in Europe, Ireland is freest from crime, less given to drunkenness, highest in art, and most distinguished for education, gallantry and virtue. Europe received from her its highest civilization and refinements, and England’s most distinguished orators, composers, scientists, soldiers and writers were and are Irish. I do not deny that the Irish have their faults, here. Nine tenths of their failings are due, however, to the poisoned liquor so easily obtained here. Many of them, the victims of poverty at home, are looked upon as the representatives of the land which gave to America the the greatest portion of her population, manhood and mind. These, however, are but the rest upon the sabre and musket, which a little care and trouble will rub off, and leave the metal pure and bright. These are but the spots upon the sun.

THE LIGHT OF IRELAND’S GLORY in spire of these spots, still arms and illumines as it has in days gone by the universe of mind. What a Barry or a Berkeley, a Carroll or a Clinton, a Fulton or a Morse, a Knox or a Jackson, a Rowan or a Sheridan, a Montgomery or a Wayne may be worth to America, I cannot tell, but the political economist knows that an able-bodied man is worth a thousand dollars to our national wealth. Even the poorest emigrant, unlettered and unknown, who only digs and dies, is worth his weight in gold. Over every cradle, on every highway of labor, nearest to death on danger’s pathway, ever which our nation pursues her grand career, the Irishman sustained and imbued with Irish virtue, love, fidelity, valor, skill and labor, will work and toil and live and die for the starry flag of his adopted land.

Blarney Castle Ireland, near Cork, Ireland. Photograph 2005 by Janice Brown

There are many other things I should like to say, for the grand field of thought on this subject spreads itself out wide around me, but this letter is already too long. But I must say that I do really pity Mrs. Hyatt, if she refuses to recognize the Irish and Catholics of this city and country. She cannot attend a Presbyterian or Methodist church, for Irishmen introduced them to America. She cannot attend the finest lectures on light and astronomy, for Tyndall and Proctor are Irish and Catholics. She cannot attend the opera or theatre, for composers and actors are Irish. Should she visit France, she could not accept an invitation from Mrs. McMahon. Should she go to Washington, she could not call upon Mrs. Sherman, or to Chicago, she could not recognize Sheridan. She could not shop at Stewart’s nor lunch at Delmonico’s. If she visits the navy yard, she cannot return the smile of Mrs. Rowan; if she crosses to the Marine Barracks, she could not accept the elegant hospitality of Mrs. Broome; and, worst of all, she cannot look to the next world for happiness in heaven, for there she must expect to meet some Irish of the poorest class, singing, perhaps, with a celestial brogue; and even Lazarus, who was very poor, and not over-cleanly, is likely to be as prominent in Paradise as the almoner of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Brooklyn.
— W.E.R.


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One Response to A DEFENSE OF THE IRISH: What Has Been Accomplished By the Irish Race

  1. Marilyn says:

    Great article. Enjoyed reading it! I love celebrating my Irish heritage during Irish Heritage Month of March.

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