The First Word: Putting the Fight Back in the Irish
Niall O’Dowd returned from interviewing Coach Brian Kelly with a story of a cab driver he met – an immigrant from Africa who had seen little of America outside of South Bend, Indiana. When the cabbie learned that Niall was Irish, he exclaimed with admiration, “You Irish, you own everything over here!”
Watching the televised game between Notre Dame and Utah and witnessing the sea of green that surrounded the win by coach Kelly’s team, one could only concur with the cab driver’s summation.
We sure have done a great job of branding. The Mad Men component of our Business 100 would agree. The fact that Notre Dame is actually in Paris is a mere technicality. The Irish own the brand.
(Astonishingly, the famous school that educated so many Irish Catholics and set them on the road to top careers, including a major percentage of our Business 100, didn’t have an Irish Studies program until our Irish America Hall of Fame honoree Donald Keough made it happen. But that was 20 years ago, and today, Notre Dame is home to one of the finest Irish Studies programs in the world.)
How the Irish went from being a maligned immigrant group (when Barney McGinniskin became the first Irish police officer in Boston in 1851, commentators of the day suggested that it was “a cultural conflict”), to one of the most vital, colorful and successful groups in America, is a story that has many strands.
Education was certainly one of the major factors. Also, a steady stream of new immigrants from Ireland kept the brand alive, and the Irish American dream aloft.
Alas, these days the story of the Irish in America is most often told in the past tense.
A debate on immigration telecast live from the University of San Diego on Nov. 16 focused exclusively on Hispanics and the issues they are facing. There was nary an Irish face present with the exception of the moderator Lawrence O’Donnell. The Irish were mentioned but only as the primary example of an immigrant group who had succeeded despite a poor start.
I wish all our troubles were in the past. But Ireland is again in time of crisis. And with America’s closed-door policy, the safety valve that the Irish found here has been nailed shut. Soon, those Irish Studies programs may be the only way for Irish Americans to learn about Irish culture and heritage – they won’t learn it firsthand from their immigrant cousins.
It is hard to come to terms with the fact that Ireland once again needs help. And as in the past, the Irish at home are reaching out to Irish America.
As we were about to go to press on this issue, I received a phone call from a woman in Ireland I will call Mrs. H. “Can’t you do something for the banks in Ireland?” she asked in a voice of a mother commanding a child to “clean up your room, immediately!”
It was about 4.30 in the afternoon here so it was night time in Ireland. I’m guessing Mrs. H. was watching the news and the situation in Ireland had her panicked.
“It’s an awfully big problem,” I offered, a bit brusquely, as I began to mutter about being in a meeting, but Mrs. H. wasn’t about to let me off the hook. “Surely someone in New York can help?” she insisted. “Don’t you know Brian Moynihan?”
Mrs. H. was still talking as I hung up. Now I feel guilty about giving her such short shrift. And I feel guilty also because I haven’t answered an e-mail from a young Irish college graduate who is looking for a job in publishing and wants my advice. Her boyfriend has an Irish law degree and passed the New York bar first time out. He’s interested in aviation law but would take anything. He just wants a job too, like his girlfriend.
Perhaps Mrs. H. is right, and some of you on our Business 100 list can help. We can’t let Ireland go down without a fight. Maybe you can offer an internship for an Irish college graduate at one of your companies, maybe you can do more. One thing is for sure, if something doesn’t happen soon, Ireland stands to lose its economic sovereignty and jeopardize its corporate tax incentives, which would severely limit its ability to attract new business (that’s according to a friend of mine who understands such stuff).
The intricacies of high finance are beyond me but I think I have come up with a brilliant way to help Ireland and have fun doing it. Let’s all go for a visit!
After all, no matter how far-flung we may be, we are family. So let’s head on over there – believe me, a busload of Americans would receive a welcome like never before.
Mrs. H., put on the tea kettle.
Interested in an Irish America reader’s trip to Ireland? Contact [email protected] or speak to Kerman at 212 725 2993 x 150.