Books by Paul Wagner

Released: Sept. 1, 1994

This book, based on a documentary film that will air on PBS stations later this year, is an exceptionally vivid study of Irish immigration from the American Revolution to the present. According to Miller (Emigrants and Exiles, 1985) and documentary filmmaker Wagner, Irish emigration was first prompted in the 17th and 18th centuries by the anti-Catholic Penal Laws that, among other injustices, prevented Irish men and women from purchasing or inheriting land, voting, or holding political office. But the famine of 184550 was the beginning of mass immigration. During this time 500,000 Irish were evicted from their houses by landlords seeking to enlarge their holdings at the expense of their tenants. As the authors graphically describe it, ``thousands of peasants starved to death in their cabins or by the roadsides, their mouths stained green by the grass they had eaten in a vain attempt to stay alive.'' During this period, more than 1,000,000 died as a result of the famine and more than 2,500,000 emigrated to America. Here they found relative prosperity (at least, in contrast to the famine conditions of Ireland) and urged their countrymen to emigrate. They assimilated by becoming laborers: building canals, railroads, and bridges. During the Civil War more than 150,000 joined the Union Army. After the war ``No Irish Need Apply'' signs were still common, but Irish immigrants found that hard work and voting a Democratic ticket could alter the status quo in their favor. Out of this era came colorful politicians like Al Smith in New York and Democratic bosses such as Chicago's ``Bathhouse John'' Coughlin and Boston's John ``Honey Fitz'' Fitzgerald, whose grandson, John F. Kennedy, would become the first Irish Catholic president. Generously illustrated with remarkable photographs, this is an illuminating examination of a subject that is frequently misunderstood or misrepresented, and that remains current—in new waves of Irish emigrants—to this very day. Read full book review >