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Unformatted text preview: l l 2 Major Problems in American Immigration t" Ethnic History O 5 | I thupings of kinship related or Emigrant neighboring emigrant households 15 households {tom 0 5 i 5 km irom Ovre Gitdsib village Owe Gardst village Figure 4.2 Immigrant Households from (")vre Giirdsjti Village in Midsec ' u n of Athens Township, ca. 1885 ESSAYS These two essays illustrate the very different reasons for emigration from Europe that created very different ethnic communities in the United States. Historian Kerby A. Miller from the University of Missouri uses the concept of the “American wake" to illustrate the perception that emigration from Ireland was an exile. Like traditional wakes, at which a recently deceased person was mourned. the American wake sym- bolized the "death" of an immigrant who was, in effect, forced to depart for the United States. In an inextricable combination of nationalism. alienation, and guilt, nineteenth-century Irish immigrants saw themselves as forced to leave their island because of the unfair practices of the British government and large landholders. Be- cause they felt that they were not leaving Ireland voluntarily, they could argue that they were not forsaking country and kin on purpose. Rather, they were exiled, a fact that foretold that, for most, emigration would be an unhappy experience. Kathleen Conzen, a historian at the University of Chicago, provides us with a different story. In exploring the experiences of German Catholic immigrants in a rural settlement in Minnesota from mid- to late-nineteenth century, Conzen illustrates how immigrants could replant communities in the United States and maintain the habits and beliefs that they had carried with them from Europe. As immigrants “made their own Amer- ica,” they distinguished themselves from their American-bom neighbors in the ways 9w.» ‘5” GJ‘ -' _,) n ..ouqmron' 1‘10: 6v Prohluwi M Mug remand/ti ratio tan the Radio: Arte pt to Conserve, 183tk1880 05 ON l'HG‘ 113 5 l “A that they farmed, worshipped. and built their famili s. This exemplary example of a radical attempt to conserve differs in a variety of ways from the Irish exile illustrated by the “American wake." Irish Immigrants Who Perceive America as Exile KERBY A. MILLER . . . Irish<American homesickness, alienation. and nationalism were rooted ulti- mately in a traditional Irish Catholic worldview which predisposed Irish emigrants to perceive or at least justify themselves not as voluntary, ambitious emigrants but as involuntary, nonresponsible “exiles.” compelled to leave home by forces be- yond individual control. particularly by British and landlord oppression. In pre— modern times Gaelic culture's secular, religious, and linguistic aspects expressed or reinforced a worldview which deemphasized and even condemned individualis- tic and inn0vative actions such as emigration. Although Gaelic Ireland withered from the blasts of conquest and change, not only did certain real continuities re main to justify the retention of archaic attitudes and behavior patterns but in fact those institutions—family. church. and nationalism—which dominated modern Catholic Ireland strove to perpetuate old outlooks which both minimized the de— moralizing impacts of change and cemented communal loyalties in the face of in- ternal conflicts and external enemies. Thus, tradition and expediency merged. and emigration remained forced banishment—demanding political redress and the em- igrants‘ continued fealty to sorrowing Mother Ireland. All these themes, attitudes, and social pressures were epitomized by the emi- grants‘ leave-taking ceremonies. commonly known as “American wakes." Archaic in origin yet adapted to modern exigencies, the American wakes both reflected and reinforced traditional communal attitudes toward emigration. Indeed, these rituals seemed almost purposely designed to obscure the often mundane or ambiguous re— alities of emigration, to project communal sorrow and anger on the traditional English foe. to impress deep feelings of grief, guilt. and duty on the departing emi» grants. and to send them forth as unhappy but faithful and vengeful “exiles"~—— their final, heartrending moments at home burned indelibly into their memories. easily recalled by parents‘ letters, old songs, or the appeals of Irish-American nationalists. The American wake seems to have been a peculiarly Irish custom, unknown in Britain or continental Europe. Most extant evidence of the practice dates from the post-Famine decades. but Asenath Nicholson witnessed an American wake in County Kilkenny in l844, and similar ceremonies—called living wakes—were common in late~eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Ulster, where they were held by Presbyterians as well as by Catholics. Nevertheless. the American wake From Immigrth and Exiles: Ireland and the lrirh Exodtti to North America by Kcrhy A. Miller. Copy- right © I988 by Oxford University Press, Inc, Used by permission of Oxford University Press, Inc. Hi l l 4 Major Problems in American Immigration r" Ft/mt'r Ht'rtury seems to have been primarily a Catholic peasant custom carried on most persis- tently and in its original forms in areas which were still, or in recent memory, Irish- speaking. Thus, by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American wakes were most common in west Munster, Connaught, and west and mid-Ulster, while in the midlands and eastern counties the custom had either become disused or lost many of its traditional features. In short, like its model—the wake for the dead—the American wake was a product of Gaelic culture, and both customs even— tually disappeared with the routinization of emigration and the westward advance of Anglicization. However, as late as 1901, American wakes were still common throughout most of Catholic Ireland, and one newspaper lamented that the entire island had become "one vast ‘American wake.‘ " The name given the custom dif- fered from area to area. Although the term “American wake" was most common, peasants in the Golden Vale called the ceremony a “live wake," while in east Ulster it was a “convoy.” In Connaught Irish-speakers referred to “the farewell supper" or “feast of departure,“ those in Donegal to the “American bottle night" or “bottle drink." In especially Anglicized counties with long experience of emigration, such as Meath and Wexford, the leave-taking occasion was called the “parting spree,” indicating the attrition of its once-tragic connotations. Nevertheless, despite regional variations of nomenclature, save in east Lein— ster the custom remained substantially similar throughout the island, and its most common name—the American wake—best reflected its character and tone. Of course, in traditional wakes for the dead, the relatives and neighbors of the de— ceased sat through the night and watched the corpse until burial. Among Catholic peasants the custom was a seemingly incongruous mixture of sorrow and hilarity, with prayers for the dead and the moumful keening of old women alternating with drinking, dancing, and minhful games. Although real deaths did not occasion American wakes, the choice of name was significant since Catholic countrymen at least initially regarded emigration as death’s equivalent, a final breaking of earthly ties. Such attitudes were rooted deep in Irish folklore, for example, in voyage tales which symbolized death or banishment and in popular beliefs which equated going west with earthly dissolution. In the mists of the west Atlantic, in the direction of America, lay the mythical isles which ancient traditions held to be abodes of the dead. Westward travelers, even peasants who added west rooms to their cottages, were believed fated for early demise; likewise, west rooms in farmhouses were tra- ditionally reserved for aged parents who had relinquished control of farms to sons and daughters-in-law. More concretely, in emigration's early decades, when money was scarce, travel slow and perilous. illiteracy widespread and mail service highly uncertain, and destinations only vaguely perceived. the departure for North America of a relative or neighbor represented as final a parting as a descent into the grave. Indeed, given the high mortality rates which afflicted Irish emigrants in both colonial Virginia and early-twentieth-century New York City, associating em- igration and death was not illogical, as churchmen warned and as peasants” own observations of consumptive “returned Yanks" seemed to verify, ironically corrob— orating ancient tales of Tir na nOg, the mythical western Land of the Young, whence no traveler returned except to wither and die. In addition, for the politi» cally minded the American wake seemed a proper commemoration of a process that was bleeding Ireland of its young men and women. As the Irish-Irelander European Migration and the Radira/ Attempt to Conserve, 1830—1880 1 l 5 Robert Lynd observed in I909, it was “not without significance that so funereal a name should be given to the emigration ceremonies, for the Irish emigrant ts not the personification of national adventure, but of something that has the appearance of national doom." Given such traditions and attitudes, it was not unnaturalfor tn’sh countrymen to hold wakes for departing emigrants. Even in the late nine- teenth century, traditional countrymen “made very little difference between gomg to America and going to the grave," and as one elderly informant remembered, when you left home, “[i]t was as if you were going out to be buried." The American wakes resembled the traditional deathwatches in their outward characteristics as well as in their symbolic significance. Both were held to gather together relatives and neighbors to honor the "departed," to share and assuage the grief of the bereaved, and to express at once communal sorrow and a reaffirmatton of communal continuity in the face of potentially demoralizing disruptions. The American wakes usually took place in the home of the prospective emigrant and generally lasted from nightfall until early morning of the next day, when the “Yan- kee"—as he or she was called in west Munster—made the final departure. During the week preceding the American wake, the intending emigrant visited relatives and neighbors to bid them personal farewells and invite them to attend. Priests seem to have been rarely or only briefly present at these affairs (perhaps because traditional wakes generally were clerically proscribed occasions of sin), but by the late nineteenth century it was customary for the "Yankee" to make confession and take communion on the Sunday before departing, and also to pay an obligatory visit to the parish priest’s house, there receiving his blessing, presents of prayer books, scapulars, and holy pictures and medals, "as well as much excellent advice and warnings as to the dangers to faith and morals to be met with by those who leave the Catholic atmosphere of holy Ireland." Through these rituals churchmen both sanctioned and, they hoped, retained some control over a process which they opposed but could not halt. Meanwhile, the women of the emigrant‘s house were busy baking, cooking, and cleaning in preparation for the American wake. Unless times were very bad or the community exceptionally poor, either the emigrant‘s parents or the guests supplied liberal amounts of food and refreshments, including large quantities of whiskey or, later, porter and stout. While their elders sat around the hearth, the young folk danced to the music of fiddles, flutes, pipes, or melodeons. Between dances the guests cried, sang songs, told stories, and drank away the night. Thus, like their more gruesome counterparts, the American wakes combined elements of gaiety and grief, but all the evidence indicates that the latter emotion predominated. This was particularly true in the earliest American wakes, held in areas which had witnessed little previous emigration and in traditional or Irish- Speaking districts generally. Dancing and singing were often absent at such early Wakes. and the participants passed the night with sighs and somber conversation, in an atmosphere laden with gloom and foreboding. Frequently, as in real wakes, the emigrant’s mother or another old woman raised a keen over the “dead” one. These were long, sorrowful elegies which alternately praised the emigrant‘s Virtues and descanted upon the sufferings which his or her loss would inflict on parents and community. Indeed, both the traditional keens for the dead and these Stylized lamentations over emigration often bitterly reproached their subjects, thus l 1 6 Major Prahh’mx in Aini'ri'ran liiiiiiiqr'izlitili t” Frhmr History projecting parental and communal responsibility and guilt upon the “departed.” “Why did you leave us? had you not every comfon that heart could wish? were you not beloved by your parents and friends?" sang a keener for the dead in 1817: sen— timents replicated later in the century by an emigrant‘s mother in Kilkenny—— “O mavoureen, and why do ye break the heart of her who raired ye? Was there no turf j in the bog, no praties in the pit, that ye leave the hairth of yer poor ould mother?"—and still later by another in Connemara—- “Is there anything so pitiful as a son and a mother / Straying continually from each other? I who reared him without pain or shame lAnd provided food and good clean sauce for him. . . . Isn‘t it little my painful disease affects him /And the many sorrows that go through my heart?" . . . . **** Regardless of the emigrants ambitions or the real roles parents may have played in obliging'departure, the effects of such laments, delivered in shrill, pierc- ing wails. were irresistible and devastating. Before long, “with tears rolling down worn cheeks and feeble old men tearing their gray hair," a chorus of wailing women and weeping men, including the emigrant, joined the old keener in her de- spair. No wonder that participants in such starkly primitive American wakes de- scribed them as “harrowing affairs” displaying “naked grief" and “elemental emo~ tions." No wonder, either, that participants. especially the emigrants themselves, would seek to relieve the tensions of such occasions by making elaborate promises to return or send remittances and by excusing their actions as involuntary, nonre- sponsible “exile.” **** Perhaps the most telling indicators of the spirit prevalent in the American wakes were the songs which the participants sang. These were a mixture of folk compositions, broadside ballads, and—increasingly by the late nineteenth cen- tury—songs published in popular periodicals such as The Nation '5 Penny Readings or in cheap collections like The Harp of Tara Song Book. The later published bal- lads were almost invariably nationalistic, interpreting emigration in political terms, but in fact it is often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish “genuine” folk compositions from commercial productions. so similar were their themes and so frequently did authors of both kinds of songs borrow images and phrases from each other and from the earlier formal-song traditions. To be sure, the great major- ity ofthe emigrants‘ ballads were unorigina], clumsily worded and rhymed, and re- plete with mawkish sentimentality. However. their sheer number and immense popularity on both sides of the Atlantic (many songs current in late-nineteenth- ceiitury Ireland had been composed in America) indicate that they both reflected and reinforced conventional Irish perceptions of emigration, and were so deemed highly appropriate to express communal sentiments at the American wakes. That such sentiments were nevertheless not entirely unambiguous is demon— strated by a significant minority of songs which conceptualized emigration in other than political or negative terms. For example, several ballads portrayed emigration unhappin but realistically depicted its usually mundane causes. Thus, the author of "The Emigrant's Farewell to Donegal" lamented. “My father [held only] five _ European Migration and the Radical Attempt to Conserve, 1830-1880 1 17 acres of land / it was not enough to support us all, [Which banished me from my native land, I to old Ireland dear I bid farewell." A few songs went funhergand blamed emigration on parental decisions regarding inheritances and marriage prospects: “How cruel it was of my parents to send me /Away 0 er the dark rolling waves of the sea," cried “Barney, the Lad from Kildare," now alone, “out of work, and without a red penny" on the cold streets of urban America. In addition, a num- ber of ballads actually celebrated emigration as a blessed release‘from poverty or oppression. and predicted that the emigrants would enjoy prosperity and liberty in “The Glorious and Free United States of America.” “If you labour in America, promised that song‘s composer, “In riches you will roll. lThere s neither tithes nor taxes there / Nor rent to press you down; / It‘s a glorious fine free country, /To we]- come every man. / So sail off to America, /As soon as e‘er you can.“ Some songs were positively joyful, portraying emigration as an exciting adventure best under- taken by footloose “playboys” such as “The Rambling Irishman," “The Wild Irish Boy," and the author of “Muirsheen Durkin," who declared he was “Sick and’tired of working" and so was “off to California, where instead of diggin’ praties /I ll be diggin' lumps of gold." Likewise, “The Irishman now going to America told the rollicking story of an Irish canal laborer who fought and wooed his way into the heart and purse of an American widow with $2,000 and a well—stocked farm. That song’s composer, like many others, urged his listeners to reject Irish poverty and follow his example. More extreme was the atypical ballad “The Green Fields of America,“ whose unsentimental author declared, “[It’s] little I'd care where my bones should be buried,” and cursed those so supine as to remain willingly in Ireland. Songs which described emigration and America positively seem to have been most common in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and most popu- lar then and later in Anglicized districts whose relatively advantaged inhabitants had had long and generally favorable experiences with emigration. For exam- ple, most of the emigrants‘ ballads sung in Counties Meath and Wexford around 1900 were optimistic, promising opportunity and even "independence" in a still- idealized America. Coinciding as they did with the Great Famine‘s horrors, the 1848 California gold strikes at least temporarily reinvigorated the old image of America as a land of easy riches; even in traditional Kerry, songs promising freedom and happiness in the United States (especially to the unmarried) were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Such songs certainly served useful purposes, for as rhymed renditions of the caislea’i'n (ii'r myth they assuaged many of the fears and tensions surrounding emigration. However, theirs remained a mi- nori'iy viewpoint, especially in the post-Famine period, when emigration became at once more intensely politicized and most prevalent in hitherto-traditional or lrish- speaking districts. Moreover, despite their undoubted popularity such songs were generally inappropriate at American wakes, for those occasions were deSigned not to celebrate departures but to lament them. not to extol the emigrant as an ambi— tious or carefree individual but rather to impress upon him or her the full burden of a communal opinion which demanded grief, duty. and self—abnegation as the price of departure. Thus, although a number of songs praised the “Land of Liberty" as a refuge, usually this was in the context of politicized exile from a beloved Ireland rather than a simple eulogy of America‘s abstract attractions. More typical was a l l 8 Major Prohizms in Ameriran lmmtymtion e) Ethniz History composition entitled “My woe be to Columbus who first found out the way,” and even in the early nineteenth century the majority of emigration ballads were pro foundly melancholic. Indeed, one elderly woman later recalled, “All the songs that ever I heard about going away to America were sad. . . Taken together, the great majority of ballads sung at American wakes repre- sented a stylized dialogue between the emigrants and those who remained in Ire- land—a dialogue which fully and dramatically expressed the central elements of the traditional Irish worldview in its conventional applications to the emigration experience. For example, among the saddest and most popular songs were those which, like the traditional keens, reproached and reminded the emigrants how lonely and miserable their parents would be after their departure. “Where are our darling children gone," asked one song heard in County Kerry; “Will they never- more return, / . . . To their fathers and their mothers, / They have left in misery?" Replete with parents’ self-pity, songs of this genre seemed intended to inspire guilt in departing children: God keep all the mothers who rear up a child, And also the father who labors and toils. Trying to support them he works night and day, And when they are reared up, they then go away. These ballads scarcely reflected an accurate picture of emigration's practical causes or of Irish family relationships, but, given their childhood training, neither ambitious nor resentful emigrants could help feeling remorse and guilt for leaving home when they heard such songs. However, the emigrants‘ tears shed in re5ponse were not sufficient recompense for their communal apostasy—“ye go to sarve yourselves, and why do ye bawl about the thing that's yer own choosin’,“ ex— claimed one reproachful father—and other songs composed from the parents‘ per- spective made clear the continued obligations which the emigrants were enjoined to fulfill. “Good-bye Johnny dear," sang one apocryphal mother. “when you are far away, Don’t forget your poor old mother, Far across the sea, Write a letter now and then, And send me all you can, But don‘t forget where'er you roam, that you are an Irishman. Similarly. related songs warned of the dire consequences of not sending remit- tances home. Thus, in “The Three Leaved Shamrock" a young Irishwoman begs a traveler to carry a tragic message to her brother in the United States—their aged mother has been evicted: Tell him since he went away how bitter was her lot, And the landlord came one winter‘s night and turned us from our cot. Our troubles they were many and our friends they were but few, And brother dear our mother used to ofttimes talk of you, — European Migration and the RadimIAttempt to Conserve, 1830—1880 1 l9 Saying darling son come back again, she often used to say, ‘Till at last one day she sickened, aye, and soon was laid away. Her grave I watered with my tears, it‘s where these flowers grew, This is all I‘ve got now and them I send to you. “Imagine,” exclaimed an old woman from Donegal, “if you were going away the next morning and hear a song like that: wouldn't it put you out of your mind with longing!" The natural counterparts to such ballads were the many songs which drama- tized the emigrants‘ own sorrow for leaving and predicted their unhappiness in North America. Of course, the fact that many young lrishmen and ~women left home eagerly, if often naively, contradicted the ballads‘ messages, but the songs accurately reflected young emigrants” frequent regrets and self-pity for their lost childhood as well as the reactions of those who stayed behind and projected their own loneliness on their children overseas. Even more important, such songs al- lowed the emigrants to exorcise guilt and responsibility for breaking familial and communal ties, because their dominant theme was that all Irish emigrants were really griefstricken and involuntary “exiles,” compelled to leave home against their will. For example, many ballads—such as this original composition by a west Ulster emigrant—described the “exile’s‘” feelings at the moment of departure: Gazing back through Barnes Gap on my own dear native hills I thought no shame (Oh! who could blame?) ‘twas there I cried my fill, My parents kind ran in my mind, my friends and comrades all, My heart did ache, I thought 'twould break in leaving Donegal. Most songs of this genre emphasized that “Poor Pat Must Emigrate," that young lrishmen and ~women were all, in the words of one emigrant composer, "forced to rove abroad far from the Shamrock shore, /And leave the land which gave me birth, and her whom I adore." However, as might be expected, only rarely did they attribute causation to “cruel parents," Catholic “land—grabbers” or employers, or even to abstract poverty and natural disasters, but instead they almost invariably projected responsibility on Catholic Ireland‘s historic oppressors, thus portraying the emigrants as “exiles” for faith and country, as victims of landlord or British/Protestant tyranny. Highly politicized emigration ballads were most com- mon in the late nineteenth century, when they reflected the Land League's and home rulers’ efforts to propagandize and mobilize the countryside. For example, a popular Land League ballad sung at contemporary American wakes declared defi- antly, “We want no emigration / Or coercion of our nation," while “Home Rule and Freedom" described the emigrants as “driven away from the home of their child- hood." Likewise, in another "New National Ballad" of the period, the singer laments, “From my cabin I‘m evicted and alas compelled to go, /And leave this sainted island where the green Shamrocks grow." However, “exile” was hardly a novel theme in Irish popular literature: the Gaelic poetry of the sixteenth and sev— enteenth centuries; the aish’ng verses and traditional keens of the eighteenth cen- tury; and the ubiquitous broadside ballads of the pre-Famine decades—all blamed 120 Major Problems in American Immigration r’ Ethnic History Catholic Ireland’s sorrows and discontinuities on British oppression and depicted emigration as analogous to political banishment. In short, for emigrants compelled to self-exculpation. historical and literary traditions, cultural and psychological predisposition. contemporary expedience, and continued communal conflicts with landlords and British officialdom merged to perpetuate in song the image of emi— gration as forced “exile.” Moreover, although some late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century emi- gration/exile ballads promised the emigrants happiness in the “land of plenty and sweet liberty,“ the majority of songs heard at American wakes prophesied only poverty and homesickness in the “land of the stranger," where the Irish would wander “lonely . . . in sorrow and fear, / Not a hand that can sooth, nor a smile that can cheer." Thus, “The Irish Labourer” and “The Honest Irish Lad" foretold unem- ployment and prejudice in America, while “The Irish Emigrant’s Lament" ex- pressed the anguish of traditional personalities adrift in an alien and ruthlessly competitive country: “They say I‘m now in freedom‘s land, / Where all men mas- ters be," cried that song’s composer, "But were I in my winding-sheet / There‘s none to care for me." In part, these dire predictions accurately reflected the harsh and uncertain conditions of Irish—American life, especially at midcentury. How- ever, their prevalence in song at the American wakes indicated the strength of con- ventional outlooks, which persisted throughout the period whether corroborated by or conflicting with the realities to be encountered overseas. Logically, if emigra- tion was reluctant and sorrowful “exile,” then the Irish going to America should not —indeed, could not—find happiness there, separated as they would be from their ancestral homes and beloved country. If truly “Exiles in Erin" (An Di’birteac 0 Eirinn), then they could never be content abroad. As the author of “Song of an Exile" declared, although “cold.” “senseless,” ambitious emigrants might forget “the loved isle of sorrow," “the heart of the patriot—though seas roll between them— / Forgets not the smiles of his once happy home": thus, Time may roll o‘er me its circles uncheering, Columbia's proud forests around me shall wave. But the exile shall never forget thee. loved Eire Till, unmoumed, he sleep in a far, foreign grave, In effect, by declaring in verse that their lives in America, as well as their de‘ partures from Ireland, were or would be unhappy—riven with inconsolable home- sickness—the emigrants further satisfied the demands of the exile convention and effectively deflected both communal and self-accusations of selfish and nontradi- tional behavior. In addition, many ballads sung at American wakes specifically promised parents not only that the emigrants would never forget them “In the land I’m going to" but also that they would fulfill their duties to those left behind. Thus, the composer of “Farewell to Ireland" swore to “write to all relations" and “send my savings home to keep / My mother, dear, alive." Indeed, by the late nineteenth century American remittances had become so customary and obligatory that a number of emigration ballads were written in the form of letters from cheerfully self-sacrificing emigrants who thus provided the panicipants at American wakes with models for future emulation. “Dear Mother, I take up my pen to write you these few lines," sang one composition, — European Migration and the Radical Attempt to Conserve, 1830—1880 121 Hoping to find you well, and'close on better times,‘ I send home a ten—pound note [!] to my brothers Mick and Joe. And that‘s all I can afford till the champions grow. , . . At least equally gratifying both to apprehensive emigrants and to loved (She‘s at home were those songs which in a sense completed the exile cycle by pr: ic ing that someday the homesick emigrant would ‘fOnc'e . . . more return to my fearbnai— rive home. /And from that old farm ne‘er again Will I roam, Finally, not a ew lads sung on both sides of the Atlantic promised not only that the emigrants vygul remit money and, if possible, return to their parents but also that they we); Ia - ways remember and someday wreak vengeance on those‘deemed responSi e 0; their country‘s sufferings and their own unhappy ‘eXll‘t‘B. Thus, the composer (fin “Evicted” demanded that lrish»Americans never forget the homeless ones tonig who lie on Irish soil. Where British red—coats ruthlessly their sacred homes despoil ‘ Where mothers, bent and worn with age, are turned abroad l9-dl8, While from a thousand breaking heans, there comes this wailing cry: Torn from the home that has shelter'd us, home of our joys and tears, Thrust from the hearth where the laugh and songs gladden'd us many years, Homeless we wander tonight, under the moonlit sky. . England may break the Irish heart, but its spirit Will never die. In short, despite the dancing and drinking, these sad and angry ballads ex— pressed the essence of the American wake experience. As one elderly returned em- igrant recalled, “On the night of the Bottle Drink . . . you would think that they were trying to see who could sing the oldest and saddest songs g. . and if you were going away yourself and hear them it would break your heart. Inspiring profuse weeping and bitter lamentations, the ballads helped make the American wake a; occasion the emigrants would never forget, filling them With memories assomate with intense sorrow and regret—memories easily evoked whenever they gathered in America to sing and hear the old songs from home. When at last dawn broke, the emotionally draining American wake itself came to an end, but the poignant rituals surrounding the final parting continued until the last terrible moment. Among Catholic emigrants the parish priest again appeared to sanction and sacralize the event, often sprinkling holy water on the heads of the de- parting while invoking God‘s and the church‘s reluctant blessmg on their entir- prise. Then came the emigrant‘s last look around his old house and. perhaps, is last farewell before he started on foot or by horse can to meet the stagecoach or the train which would carry him to Queenstown or some other port. At such moments “[tlhe last embraces were terrible to see; but worse were the k‘i’ssmgs and the Claspings of the hands during the long minutes that remained. When Maura O'Sullivan left her mother’s cottage, the old women of the Village raised a last m0urnful keen: “Oh, musha, Maura, how shall I live after you when the long wm- ter's night will be here and you not coming to the door nor your laughter to be heard!" Their testimony indicates that even the most store of emigrants were Shaken by these last good—byes. For example, James Greene recalled, The parting I 22 Major Problems in American Immigration r“? Ethnic History Shake hands . . . brought tears to my eye & an ache to my heart." and years later an elderly Ulster-American remembered, “The last thing I saw was Father, Mother, and the children standing at the gate. I never saw them again. . . “I took my seat [in] the Jaunting car," wrote another; “the whip was applied, and amidst the WM» ing of hats and handkerchiefs I took a last and lingering look at that little town where I spent some of my happiest days." However, in many districts it was customary for parents and friends to prolong the agony as much as possible by accompanying or “conveying” the emigrant for a certain distance from home, One historian argues that the “convoys” were intended to “cheer” the emigrants, but contemporary descriptions indicate that usually the practice was anything but cheerful. Peig Sayers remembered that when her neigh- bors left west Kerry, at first some people in the convoy were “crying and others were laughing," but “[b]y the time we moved up the Well Road one would think that it was a funeral procession.” In 1863 the Nation reported, "Every other night a wailing cry passes over the roads of the country from the friends of the emigrants conveying them to the different railway stations, and lamenting their departure. , . . It is melancholy to hear this mournful lament before daybreak in the silent coun- try." Sometimes relatives and friends would walk only a short distance with the emigrant, perhaps to some traditional and appropriate landmark such as “the Rock of the Weeping of Tears" in west Clare. There the emigrant and his “mourners” would take their last sight of one another and say their last good-byes; it was a “sorrowful sight, for parted they were from that day forward as surely as if they were buried in a grave." However, if the railroad station was near, the peasant Irish had no compunctions about enacting their last scenes of grief among strangers. Such leave—takings were especially tumultuous and traumatic: A deafening wail resounds as the station-bell gives the signal of starting. . , . [G]ray— haired peasants so clutch and cling to the departing child at this last moment that only the utmost force of three or four friends could tear them asunder. The poners have to use some violence before the train moves off, the crowd so presses against door and window. When at length it moves away, amidst a scene of passionate grief, hundreds run along the fields beside the line to catch yet another glimpse of the friends they shall see no more. Nevertheless, at last the final break with home had come. and the emigrants were now on their way to North America. “The final break with home"? Not really, save in a physical sense, for the sig— nificance of the American wake and, indeed, of the entire Irish leave-taking ritual was that it both reflected and reemphasized in an extremely forceful fashion all of the conventional Irish attitudes toward life in general and toward emigration in particular. For most young Irishmen and -women leaving home was in some re— spects a traumatic initiation into adulthood, because emigration literally expelled them from the confines of childhoods passed in largely parochial and still— traditional societies. However, the parting ceremonies reinforced old patterns in such a dramatic manner that they ensured that all but the most “cold” and “senseless” emigrants carried away burning memories and burdensome emotional obliga- tions—that despite their physical departure, they would not break totally away European Migration and the Radical Attempt to Conserve, I830—I880 12 3 from the values and behavior demanded by tradition and by parents. priests, and nationalist politicians. In a very tangible sense, these heartwrenching scenes and songs constituted the emigrants’ final overt exposure III Ireland to the values and symbolism of a traditional worldview which “explained and justified emigration only in terms of involuntary “exile.” Perhaps revealing were the promises which many emigrants, under the stress of these moments, gave to return someday to Ire- land. convincing those who remained behind that “[n]early every Irish person that went to America had the intention of coming back . . . and settling down at home. Of course, such promises were unrealistic and rarely fulfilled. However, the fact that they were made. remembered, and cherished and that their failure was regret- ted on both sides of the Atlantic served to keep Irish-Americans emotionally ori- ented to their childhood homes. Furthermore, even if they enjoyed material pros- perity in the New World, their guilt about promises unfulfilled. reinforced internalized obligations to ensure that most emigrants would send remittances and that at least occasionally they would still regard or portray themselves. as involun— tary “exiles.” “For God‘s sake and for ours," begged one harassed emigrant of his parents at home, “endeavor to shake off your sorrow and do not leave us to accuse ourselves of bringing down your grey hairs with sorrow to the grave by leavmg you when we should have stayed by you. Our intentions were good and still con— tinue and, if God prosper our endeavors. we will soon be able to assmt and cheer you," Finally, the same guilt, refracted through the stark memories of the American wakes, provided fertile ground for the appeals of Irish-American nationalists that the emigrants “do something" for Mother Ireland. Images of their mothers tears, their fathers’ graves, their parents’ hypothetical sufferings from poverty, English oppression, or their children’s alleged “ingratitude”: all these were the nationalists stock—in-trade, just as they had been the prevalent themes of the songs sung at the moment when the emigrants had been most vulnerable. Freeing Ireland. declared one orator, “is a debt we owe to nature and nature's God, and until it is discharged, all who call themselves Irishmen . . . cannot be at peace"—and, he might have added, would not be left at peace. German Catholic Immigrants Who Make Their Own America KATHLEEN NEILS CONZEN In I950 a prominent New York journalist, Samuel Lubell, bounced 'his way over the unpaved roads of central Minnesota’s Steams County to the isolated rural parish of St. Martin. in a quest for the roots ofa distinctive conservative voting be- havior that he identified with farm areas of German and particularly Catholic back- ground. St. Martin’s Benedictine pastor. Father Cyril Ortmann. who extended the From Kathleen Neils Conzen, Making Their Own America: Assimilalion Theory and the German Feas— am Pioneer. Copyright © I990. Material has been renamed and abridged and is reprinted by permission of Berg Publishers, Oxford. UK. ...
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Miller, Irish Immigrants - l l 2 Major Problems in American...

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