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Kathy Shaidle

No Irish Need Invent Urban Legends About ‘No Irish Need Apply’ Signs

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Posted on March 17 2010 12:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."


My NewsReal colleague Michelle Horstman has penned a fine post espousing an even finer sentiment: that the Irish should serve as a great example to other ethnic newcomers; despite breathtaking, backbreaking hardship, they eventually embraced the American melting-pot model and assimilated into the broader culture, without losing their distinctive cultural and religious traditions.

The Irish also managed to emerge from their experiences without (much) residual resentment towards non-Irish Americans. And need I add, Irish Americans have served valiantly in the armed forces, are legendarily gallant firefighters and police officers, and have contributed boundless laughter, literature and music to their adopted home.

However, Horstman leaves out a few things; for example, that the reason “nativists” hated these newcomers enough to burn down Catholic convents and call for mass Irish deportation was that, well, the Irish  were for the most part uneducated drunken brawlers (hence the term “Paddy wagon”, and the shortlived national appeal of Prohibition).

Fortunately, a tiny cadre of priests and nuns led laypeople to embrace education, (relative) civility and integration, hence the coast to coast network of parochial schools and St. Someone hospitals that were once the flower of American Catholicism.

In other words, the average Irishman was shamed from within his community and without, to better himself. Those were the days…

As well, I must take issue with Horstman’s reference to those “No Irish Need Apply” signs of song and story. According to one historian, they never existed.

Richard Jensen of the University of Illinois studied the issue and wrote:

The fact that Irish American vividly “remember” NINA [No Irish Need Apply} signs is a curious historical puzzle. There are no contemporary or retrospective accounts of a specific sign at a specific location. No particular business enterprise is named as a culprit. No historian, archivist, or museum curator has ever located one; no photograph or drawing exists.

The complete absence of evidence suggests that probably zero such signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories, stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters, anywhere in America, at any time.

(…)

Irish Americans all have heard about these signs—and remember elderly relatives insisting they existed. The late Tip O’Neill remembered the signs from his youth in Boston in 1920s; Senator Ted Kennedy reported the most recent sighting, telling the Senate during a civil rights debate that he saw the signs when growing up.

(And we all know how reliable Senator Kennedy’s accounts of his personal experiences can be.)

On my own blog, I’ll happily speculate about what all this says about Irish psychology; here, we need only remind ourselves that we live in an age in which victims are the new heroes, in which fake Holocaust survivors (and Righteous Gentiles), fake Vietnam veterans, fake alien abductees and fake rape victims and Muslim-hate-crime-targets (to name only a few) are accorded a temporary degree of renown and respect. Identity politics and all.

PS: I know they are four Yorkshiremen; play along with me…

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