The Irish of New York

"A Commentary Report: The Irish of New York," Commentary, August 1963.

Excerpt: It is now well over a century since any of the various groups living in New York has been able to claim so much as a bare majority of the populace; only the Jews today can claim even a quarter. There have been times, however, when one group after another established what might be termed a working hegemony: first it was the Dutch, then the English, then the Irish. The first two were simply swamped by newcomers (white Anglo-Saxons are barely 5 per cent of the current population), but the passing of the Irish era has been a more complex matter, touching on much that is central to the present turmoil in New York.

The Irish era can be said to have begun with the fall of Boss Tweed in the 1870’s, but the groundwork of Irish dominance was set long before that. The politics of the city had become increasingly egalitarian through the 19th century, and the Irish working class had increasingly asserted itself. In 1868 a New York aristocrat, George Templeton Strong, commented bitterly in his diary: “Our rulers are partly American scoundrels and partly Celtic scoundrels. The Celts are predominant, however, and we submit to the rod and the sceptre of Maguires and O’Tooles and O’Shanes. . . .” But by the 70’s, Strong’s bitterness was already overlaid with a note of helplessness: “We are to Papistical Paddy as Cedric the Saxon to Front de Boeuf.”