American Independence Day: Remembering How Ireland Forgets

A thought-provoking post for July 4th., highlighting that the Irish contribution to the American Civil War by many Famine emigrants is largely ignored in Ireland. These men had to flee the hunger and sickness in this famine stricken country, but did we forget them as soon as they sailed away? At a recent Conference in Ballinasloe Co. Galway on ‘Understanding Ireland’s Great famine: New Perspectives’, a contributor made a strong point to the effect that it was not only Kennedy’s who left these shores and helped shape the USA, but that untold numbers Irish men and women played a pivotal role in shaping that nation, yet they have disappeared from Irish memory.

Irish in the American Civil War

Today is the 4th July, Independence Day in the United States. Throughout the day there will undoubtedly be a number of Irish-American themed stories and soundbytes in Ireland, as is appropriate given our historic links with the United States. From my own perspective, it is also a day to reflect on just how much Ireland as a nation chooses to neglect that relationship with her diaspora in America. This neglect in memory is becoming starker and starker when remembrance of the American Civil War is measured against the efforts being poured into our only other comparable experience of conflict- World War One. A mere 49 years separate these two events, the only in Irish history where 200,000 + Irishmen marched off to war.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with President Barack Obama in The White House (Wikipedia) An Taoiseach Enda Kenny with President Barack Obama in The White House (Wikipedia)

With the 100th anniversary of the Great War on the horizon in August, many impressive new…

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2 responses to “American Independence Day: Remembering How Ireland Forgets

  1. It may be politically incorrect but it sometimes seems to me that those who stayed at home have forsaken those who left, especially in that terrible period around the Famine…or is that an outside perception?

    • Pauleen. You are right – his is exactly the thrust of this piece – that we have indeed forgotten those who left. People who left were often not seen or heard from again- we had emigrants ‘wakes’ here, as though for a dead person.There is something of a recognition happening now- albeit slowly.For example, there have been a number of publications this year on Famine Orphans who went to Australia – most people here had not heard of these before. It has to be said that the entire Famine period passed from memory for a long time but is now being studied and written about, with conferences up and down the country, workhouses being restored, and of course Damian’s book highlighting the contribution these migrants to the USA.

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