Essays on “nine Irish men and women [who] not only became American but also helped make America great.”
What makes these pieces work so well is the connection each writer feels with the chosen subject, with those not primarily known as writers revealing as much about themselves as their subject through their choice. For example, Rosie O’Donnell writes about helping the recovery in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and coming upon a statue of a woman with a child under her arm. It identified the woman only as Margaret, but O’Donnell identified strongly with this woman who had selflessly devoted her life to orphans. O’Donnell has considered herself an orphan since the death of her mother and has adopted five children. “I see myself in her,” she writes. Then there’s Irish émigré Pierce Brosnan, who identifies strongly with the experience of silent film director Rex Ingram, since both were primarily interested in visual art even after turning to acting—and both found that “Hollywood and the movie business was an empire built almost entirely by immigrants, men and women who had recently arrived in our country and who were in fact looking to reinvent themselves.” Film provocateur Michael Moore picks muckraking pioneer Samuel S. McClure, and he laments how the age of Trump could benefit from his example. Mark Shriver, who runs Save Our Children, connects some dots in the story of Boys Town’s Father Edward J. Flanagan. The piece by novelist Kathleen Hill on New Yorker writer Maeve Brennan is mostly literary criticism, in appreciation of someone who didn’t receive her due until her posthumous collection of stories—the renowned writer and editor William Maxwell had judged her “the best living Irish writer of fiction, but in her own country she was almost entirely unknown.”
Nine other writers might well have selected nine different subjects, which serves as a tribute to the indomitable Irish character and the transformational possibilities of America. This is a perfect St. Patrick’s Day anthology for the Irish book lover on your gift list.