The Irish in America


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A Little Bit of Ireland in Lake Michigan

James Earl Jones (from http://www.achievement.org)

I have Michigan on my mind. It all started the other day when I came across a great blog post from St. Patrick’s Day: James Earl Jones is a Michigan Irishman and Other Stories About Michigan’s Irish Heritage. Louis Blouin of FoundMichigan.org explores Michigan’s Irish heritage. Here’s the introduction – very funny:

St. Patrick’s Day is all about getting your fake Irish on, whether it be decorating yourself in various cheap green crap that was no doubt made in China, not Ireland; busting out the one Pogues song you have on your iPod; or choking down a breakfast of green eggs and ham at your local Irish(ish) pub. It’s about that, and having an excuse to drink before 10 a.m. But Michigan has plenty of authentic Irish heritage to hang your hat on (even the oversized Leprechaun headgear you got at Meijer last night). Here’s a roundup of some of Michigan’s real-deal Irish heritage you might not have known about—and a nod to some of the fake stuff, too.

Blouin’s entire article is interesting, but the section titled, Beaver Island: Mormon turned Irish Kingdom, definitely caught my eye. I had never heard of Beaver Island. What a fascinating history…click here for Blouin’s full article. Read what he has to say about Beaver Island, then come back for more on the research taking place.

The University of Notre Dame’s Historical Archaeology of Irish America project investigates the nineteenth century Irish settlement of Beaver Island, Michigan. The head of the investigation is Deb Rotman, Ph.D., RPA of Notre Dame. On the project blog Professor Rotman explains:

This archaeological and historical project allows scholars and students to investigate an aspect of the Irish Diaspora that is currently virtually unknown – that is, the lived experiences of Irish immigrants who settled away from the large urban centers on the East Coast…

Since 2006, my students and I have been investigating Irish immigrant experiences in South Bend, Indiana, including archaeological excavation in the city as well as archival research and oral history collection in both Ireland and the United States. Beginning in 2010, this project expanded to include Beaver Island, Michigan, which was inhabited in the late nineteenth century by immigrants from Árainn Mhór off the coast of Co. Donegal.

Beaver Island, Michigan (from http://www.beaverisland.net)

What I like best about this project is that it is taking a serious look at the lives of Irish settlers in America’s rural Midwest. Professor Rotman points out that little research exists on any Irish immigrant settlements other than the urban centers of New York City and Boston. The Irish were pioneer settlers in much of the Western United States, and it is about time attention be paid to their lives and the contributions they made to their communities and adopted country.

The project website includes a number of papers completed by students involved with the Beaver Island project. The papers explore the history and sociology of the island using the archaeological evidence they have unearthed. Check out the blog here.

Professor Rotman, perhaps when you finish up with Beaver Island, you might want to take a look at Clontarf, Minnesota and nearby Tara Township? I have always wanted to do a dig by my grandfather’s birthplace  in this rural American Irish settlement…just think about it!

Click here for more information about the history of Beaver Island – from its days as a “Mormon Kingdom” to a land full of names like GallagherBoyle, and O’Donnell, where Irish was the language of choice. I wonder what the folks in Donegal have planned for next year’s Gathering Ireland 2013…will the people of Beaver Island be welcomed “home” to Ireland?

Corktown, Detroit, Michigan (from corktownhistoric.org)

Links to more on the Irish in Michigan: