The First Word: Celebrating Irish Heritage in Holyoke
If there’s a connecting theme in this issue it’s the Famine: Brian Moynihan’s ancestors came over at the end of the famine, Christine Kinealy writes about the international response to the famine, while David Fleitz brings us a story on the early days of American baseball that was populated with the first generation – the sons of famine immigrants.
Looking back over the years, I see that I often write about the famine in those issues in which we profile Irish-American corporate chieftains. The incongruity that the descendants of the survivors of the famine should be handling with such vast amounts of money, always strikes me as profound.
In truth, I tend to see the history of America through Irish eyes, they were so much apart of it, from the America Revolution, through the Civil War, Gold Rush, the building of the railroads and canals, but my thoughts must often return to the those who left during the great starvation (there was plenty of food in the country, so it is indeed wrong to call it a famine), for they are the mainspring the source, the cornerstone of Irish America.
As I interviewed Brian Moynihan in the monumental billion dollar Steel and Glass structure that is the new Bank of American Building, appropriately on Avenue of the America in Manhattan, it’s an easy leap for me to turn back the pages to those ancestors of his who stepped off the boat in New York and made their way upstate to small farms, out of their brave, or desperate steps for they had no choice but leave, the managed to provide a roof over the heads of children, feed them, school them, so that just a short while later his grandfather could be come a lawyer, his father a chemical engineer, he a lawyer, and legal counsel and now head of global management.
Many of those profiled in these pages are descended from those early refugees. Indeed, some of the greatest Americans came out of those brave souls, or maybe they weren’t so brave, maybe desperation and hunger gave them courage to face that awful passage across the Atlantic. Georgia O’Keefe’s grandparents, Eugene O’Neill’s father, Henry Ford’s father.
Those ancestors who made it out – an so many thousands died on board ship on shortly after they got here – but many, many more survived, and they were made of strong stuff – they didn’t buckle. They made it but they had to work for it, and had the ability to take setbacks and reappraise them. They enjoyed ordinary lives and it was good enough.
And in this tough economic times we can call on them as spirit guides. And see that our travails are nothing compared to what they went through. They would say to us tht it’s a time to look once more to family and community and to see who our friends are, and perhaps return to a simpler time of earlier generations who borrowed responsibility and banks make loans that people could afford.
I sincerely to thank all of you “Friends of Irish America” who supported us with your advertising dollars for this issue. We hope to be able to continue to bring you the stories of your ancestors. Their contribution to America is immeasurable and in many cased their love was America was unsurpassed, and we do our best to remember their sacrifices, and call on their strength when we need it.