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In Search of the Soul of Irish-America

by Tom Hayden

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 2001
ISBN: 1-85984-616-5
Publisher: Verso

A pugnacious autobiographical treatise, in which former California state senator Hayden reclaims his Irish identity.

Hayden’s family emigrated to the US during the years of the Famine and quickly assumed the assimilationist role, both out of a desire to survive (the “wild Irish” were perhaps as despised as Natives and African-Americans, though they had an ace up their sleeve: the right to vote) and out of the shame that accompanied the Great Hunger and the subsequent flight into amnesia. Here, Hayden tells his story of regaining his Irishness, and why. In the Irish soul he finds appealing elements: rebelliousness, moral idealism, communal ethics, mysticism, all still in circulation despite the best efforts of the church and an occupation state. He finds in the language and music a cultural diversity akin to biodiversity, not only an intrinsic value but a strengthening and protective character for society writ large, for it is at once very much itself and inclusive. Equally attractive are historical ties of the Irish to radical movements and their experience with servitude: As both victims and victimizers—Hayden draws upon the treatment of African-Americans by the American Irish during the latter half of the 19th century—he also considers the Irish experience invaluable in examining how racial attitudes are formed, and how it can be subverted to form links with the nonwhite world through a common history of colonialism, starvation, poverty, and threats of genocide. The heart here, though, is in Hayden’s time spent in Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, and his efforts to understand—more so, to live—the unfolding of Irish history as it is played out along political, economic, and human fronts.

An electric piece of emotional archaeology and a welcoming back of an ethnic spirit—nonconformist, open, ancient—that anyone could be proud to claim.