Readers of scholarly books know that titles often begin with literary flair, and they look to what follows the colon for advice about the work's substance. Not so for David Brundage's Irish Nationalists in America. The important information precedes the punctuation. This is a study of Irish nationalists in America, not of Irish American nationalists (closer to the title—and topic—of Thomas N. Brown's well-known 1966 book Irish-American Nationalism, 1870–1890). He examines not the seekers of Irish American identity, community, and political effectiveness, but Irish nationalists who emigrated to, sojourned for greater or lesser periods in, visited, or, in some cases, were born in the United States. Some regarded themselves as American; others definitely did not. Brundage lays it out plainly: “This book provides a history of Irish nationalists in the United States from the 1790s to the 1990s, from the era of Wolfe Tone to that of Gerry Adams” (p. 2). Tone was an American sojourner of half a year, Adams only a visitor. In barely two hundred pages, Brundage's book, with thoroughness and readability, covers a lot of ground, from the late eighteenth century's United Irishmen through Daniel O'Connell's Repeal movement, Young Ireland, Charles Parnell's Home Rule, the creation of an Irish Republic, and the contest over and within Northern Ireland to the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998. At the same time, he explores the movements in America connected with them—a confrontational brand of Democratic Republicanism, Repeal associations, Fenianism, the Clan na Gael, the Irish National Land League, the Friends of Irish Freedom, and, for that matter, African American civil rights initiatives (which were inspiring to Catholic rights in Northern Ireland). His principal theme is that “the Irish in America had enormous influence on the course of nationalism back in Ireland,” and he carries it off convincingly (ibid.). Brundage identifies a second theme: “Irish nationalists also exerted considerable influence on political and social developments in the United States” (p. 3). It is appropriate that the wording of this promise is more contingent, because Brundage does not flesh out this argument with nearly the same thoroughness. Although Brundage does tie nationalist movements spawned in either Ireland or America to social and political conditions, his book comes close to being an intellectual history or at least a social history of ideas. He refers to Irish nationalism as “an ongoing work of political imagination and discursive invention” (p. 5), and in some ways the book has the feel of a study of “great men” (and, significantly, women) who created and sustained organizations. This is less a criticism than a caution; readers will learn more about a creative few than the supportive many. This approach also opens the way for Brundage to give laudable attention to the importance of women—beginning with Matilda Tone—in the development and propagation of the idea of Irish nationalism. Moreover, it provides the author the opportunity to develop an interesting subtheme: the contest—and sometimes the alternation—between ideas about “physical force” nationalism and more political “constitutional” nationalism. This book will be of greater interest to students of Ireland than to students of the United States. Although Brundage says that his study “sheds considerable light on the history of the United States,” given the constraints of the space, he can only do so much. His emphasis upon thought leaders prevents Brundage from exploring too deeply or innovatively the circumstances of Irish Americans that shaped their views of both Ireland and the United States (p. 3). © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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