Feliz Dia de San Patricio


This Paddy’s Day, let’s all take a stroll down Memory Lane, and revisit the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, a decorated artillery unit of the Mexican-American War… Or El Batallón de San Patricio, as they were known after defecting to the Mexican Army.  As with any historical anomaly, this defection from predominately recent arrivals from Ireland was not a flash-in-the-pan of History, but rather the collision of many larger forces and movements, centuries in the making.  To understand these forces, you need to take a look at the history of the Irish-American diaspora, and the many contemporary parallels in modern politics.

Above: The author of the article during a deployment to OIF in 2009, pretending to be tough.  See the ‘Erin Go Bragh” flag in the background, which was the battalion flag of the San Patricio Battalion and a frequent symbol of the Irish diaspora.



Recently, Donald Trump declared March to be Irish-American Heritage month, which will surely be a thorn in the side for any sensitive conservatives who are still reeling from the trauma of African-American History month.  Take for example Facebook’s favorite uber-patriot and self-appointed Gruntstyle model who never served in the military, Adam Calhoun, who posts gems like these which insist that there is no such thing as a “hyphenated-American”.  Sadly for Adam and other right-wing snowflakes like him, though, the butthurt over so-called hyphenated Americans is nothing new.  Theodore-Roosevelt for example, was a critic of the term and frequently criticized it in speeches, including one to the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal Catholic organization founded in part to combat anti-Catholic discrimination which was widespread throughout America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Another typical trope this time of year is the legions of these very same #MAGA hat-wearing unhyphenated Americans posting memes asking when was the last time that you ever heard the Irish complain about being oppressed, like this:



Never mind the staggering irony that most of the people posting these memes seem to come from the very groups who oppressed Irish-Catholics for centuries in the first place.  And yes, so-called ‘Scotch-Irish’ throughout the American South would fall into that category.  The people in America called ‘Scotch-Irish’ are actually descended from the Ulster-Scots[1] who were brought in to Ireland by the British to force the native Irish-Catholics off of their land in the sixteenth century, and continued to oppress and intimidate the Catholic population into the 20th century and even arguably till today.  Clearly this meme is the biproduct of people who are not Irish-American, because as any Irish-Catholic-American clearly knows, there is an entire musical cottage-industry of songs which seek to remember this very same oppression.  In addition, groups like the Knights of Columbus and Ancient Order of Hibernians actively continue to fight against retailers pushing crass stereotypes about the Irish to this day.

But in addition to going toe to toe with the largest retailers in the nation, the AOH lobbies for immigration reform, and in particular the rights of undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States.  So this Saint Patrick’s Day, as the country is in the throes of a seemingly never-ending culture war in which Mexico is playing a central role, what more fitting saga to revisit than the Saint Patrick’s Battalion, and the myriad of reasons why they chose to defect?

Similar to today’s toxic political environment in which many influential people question whether or not Islam is a legitimate religion protected by the First Amendment, the 1840’s America that many Irish refugees were arriving to was one in which many similarly influential people were asking the same questions about Catholicism.   In the United States this atmosphere of intense anti-Catholic bigotry was manifested in many riots between nativist mobs and Catholic immigrants, typically from Ireland, such as in Philadelphia and Charlestown Massachusetts.  This wave of anti-Catholic nativism gripping the young American Republic in the 1840s occurred during a decade of surging Irish immigration.  And unlike the Irish immigrants, both documented and undocumented, who I knew as a kid in the suburbs of DC, the Irish arrivals of the 1840s were fleeing a devastating famine which resulted in 1.5 million people dying or emigrating from a nation with a population of about  8.5 million at the time.
The apathetic response by the British government to this disaster was best summed up in the Lord Governor’s oft-quoted observation that “God sent [the Famine] to teach the Irish a lesson”[2].   In fact, many contemporary historians point to the fact that the Famine was in large part caused by the centuries of Apartheid-style rule of the British government which gave all governing power to a small privileged Protestant minority over the native Catholic majority, known as the Penal Laws.  In not being allowed to own large areas of land (or vote, or hold office, or serve in a court of law) the native Catholic population had to rely for centuries on subsistence agriculture made possible only by the potato.  While many historians debate the precise reason that the Saint Patrick’s Battalion defected, this long tradition of oppression was the cultural foundation which thousands of newly arrived Irish-Catholic immigrants possessed when they were conscripted into the United States Army to fight an unpopular war which was largely being promoted by Southern Democrats in the hopes of expanding slave-states[3].

Thrown into this milieu of social ambivalence was the fact that most of these Irish soldiers were subjected to discrimination and abuse by their fellow native-born soldiers and commanders because of their Catholic faith.  This probably did not help the fact that the invading US military frequently committed what are now known as war-crimes against Catholic churches and convents, priests and nuns[4].  Given the centuries-long history of Irish foreign military service in Catholic nations’ armies, especially Spain and Portugal, often known collectively as the Wild Geese, defecting from the Anglo-Protestant American invaders to the Spanish-speaking Catholic Mexicans likely seemed plausible, and even commendable to many Irish at the time.  In all likelihood, though, the reasons for defecting were probably as varied as the hundreds of soldiers who did so.   This was not of course limited to Irish immigrants, as there was a number of French, German, and Polish born soldiers who defected but by and large the vast majority of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion were Irish, and virtually all were Catholic.  Led by John Riley, who had previously served in the British Army as an artilleryman, the battalion provided the Mexican Army with much needed expertise and training in artillery tactics.  The San Patricio Batallón went on to serve honorably in the Mexican Army, fighting in the battles of Buena Vista, Churabusco, and Mexico City before the vast majority of them were captured, put on a show-trial, and executed.


Above: The Battle of Churabusco, in which the Saint Patrick’s Battalion fought bravely against numerous American assaults before finally being overrun.  Nebel, Carl, The War Between the United States and Mexico, Illustrated.”  1851.

Other than a modestly successful film with Tom Berenger in the 90s and the odd tune which may show up in an Irish trad music fan’s shuffle, the legacy of the San Patricios has been minimal in the United States despite its stranger-than-fiction nature.  In the city of San Angel, Mexico, however, there is a monument and plaque with the names of seventy-one members of the battalion executed[5].  Clifden, County Galway also holds an annual commemoration of the Battalion’s leader, John Riley, who was born there two centuries ago[6].  So this Saint Paddy’s day, along with cringe-worthy alcohol-fueled appropriations of the day meant to celebrate the Catholic patron-saint of Ireland, let’s take a moment to reflect on the Saint Patrick Battalion’s place in American historiography.  It is important to reflect on the fact that we as veterans once swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, not the culture of the United States.  And one of the most crucial aspects of that Constitution, is the freedom of religion.  It is the freedom of all people to not have to answer questions like “What are you first, Catholic/Jewish/Muslim or American?”.  Sadly though, this brave and wonderful paradigm which has shaped the modern world’s moral compass, was not the American reality which countless Irish-Catholic immigrants were exposed to when they arrived in America and were forcibly pressed into service for a war against a Mexico which had never wronged them.

[1] Moloney, Deirdre. “Who’s Irish? Ethnic Identity and Recent Trends in Irish American History.” Journal of American Ethnic History. Vol. 28, No. 4 (Summer, 2009) pp. 100- 109.

[2] https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/british-treatment-of-irish-like-america-s-racism-says-english-writer-of-victoria

[3] Olson-Raymer, Gayle. Whose Manifest Destiny?  The Conquest of Northern Mexico.  Humboldt State University, 31 December, 2014, http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist110/unit3/MexicanAmericanWar.html.

[4] Hogan, Michael F. X.  “The Irish Soldiers of Mexico.”  History Ireland, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Winter, 1997), pp. 38-43.

[5] Hogan, 43.

[6] Paredes, Martin.  “The Irish Heroes of Mexico.”  Clifden and Connemara Heritage Society.  04, December, 2010, http://clifdenheritage.org/the-irish-heroes-of-mexico/.

Apocalypse Now and Then: The Crazy Irish-Catholic Male as a Trope in “War for the Planet of the Apes”


crazy mel 2


al smith 2.jpg

From Al Smith’s failed bid to be the first Catholic to run for President to Mel Gibson, well, being Mel Gibson… the Irish-American Catholic man has always occupied a special place in the American psyche which is shorthand for social anxiety, angst, violence and instability.  Holding a unique place within the American political landscape which is treated with equal levels of wariness from the political left and right, it is no wonder that author Philip Jenkins of Baylor University has referred to anti-Catholicism as “the last acceptable prejudice“.

*Before reading on, spoiler alert for War for the Planet of the Apes*

As with any group seen of as alien and foreign though, American Catholics can often view their religion in both high and pop-culture through an exotisized, fetishized and romanticized lens which oscillates between the noble savage and the exotic other.  Jesuit James Martin has written of this phenomena being for two reasons:

First, more than any other Christian denomination, the Catholic Church is supremely visual, and therefore attractive to producers and directors concerned with the visual image. Vestments, monstrances, statues, crucifixes-to say nothing of the symbols of the sacraments-are all things that more “word oriented” Christian denominations have foregone. The Catholic Church, therefore, lends itself perfectly to the visual media of film and television. You can be sure that any movie about the Second Coming or Satan or demonic possession or, for that matter, any sort of irruption of the transcendent into everyday life, will choose the Catholic Church as its venue. (See, for example, “End of Days,” “Dogma” or “Stigmata.”)

Second, the Catholic Church is still seen as profoundly “other” in modern culture and is therefore an object of continuing fascination. As already noted, it is ancient in a culture that celebrates the new, professes truths in a postmodern culture that looks skeptically on any claim to truth and speaks of mystery in a rational, post Enlightenment world. It is therefore the perfect context for scriptwriters searching for the “conflict” required in any story.

The War for the Planet of the Apes, in its presentation of antagonist Colonel McCullough played by Woody Harrelson, captures both the exotic and the terrifying with Catholic imagery somehow still tainted with Irish ethnic undertones.

First, before I go on, I’d like to say I’m a huge fan of this reboot, and also was very impressed with something the movie got right.  As a combat veteran (which, as we all know makes me a qualified critic of every historical, political and cultural debate in contemporary society) I watched the previous film, thinking, “Oh, they vaguely referred to a military base ‘up North’… if this film is set in San Francisco, that’s obviously Fort Lewis, not that any of those Hollywood phonies would bother doing research for that!”.  But, lo and behold, the soldiers throughout the film were wearing unit insignia for 2nd Infantry Division and 17th FIRES Brigade, as well as 1st Special Forces Group, all based in Washington State’s Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).  So… good job Hollywood, you managed to get something right in your depiction of the military.

The most obvious allegory that I could draw in comparing the treatment of the apes to historical racist depictions of the Irish as people with simian features, or as this gem from Punch magazine below did, full blown damn dirty apes:


The above cartoon  was written in the context of dismissing the notion of Irish Home Rule or independence (because it would have been silly to assume that the ‘lower races’ were capable of self-governance).  It shows with their pithy pun of Mr. G. O’Rilla, one of the easiest things for Anglo-Saxons to poke fun at Irish people about were their strange names, with funny prefixes.  While this British cartoon used the “O” prefix, a far more common observation in America was the “Mac” or “Mc” prefix, leading to “Mick” becoming a shorthand slur for an Irish or Irish-American.  This was why Woody Harrelson’s character, whose name is not mentioned in the film once, but whose nametape says “McCullough” was so significant.

But the scientific racism of the 19th & early 20th century, largely a result of rapid colonization, in many ways only modified the source of existing prejudices held by those with power.  As Luke Gibbons has pointed out in his wonderful novel Gaelic Gothic, as the British explored further and further continents and encountered cultures more and more different from their own, they did not begin to think of the Irish as more similar to them.  Rather, it heightened their awareness of their continued differences.  And so, with the advent of modern, biologically-based racism, there was finally a scientific answer to one of the most jarring and anxiety-inducing aspects of Irish culture to the British and Anglo-Americans… It was inferior biology which had made them cling to the superstitious and unreformed Catholicism.  Alas!  Their drunkeness, their superstitious rituals and treatment of the dead, their Tamany Hall-style graft, and political violence, it had nothing to do with the Pope, and everything to do with progeny!  But just as scientific racism merely built on old prejudices with new understandings, many of our contemporary prejudices have been handed down from old ones.  This cartoon from America demonstrates the social fears widely held in America that Anglo-Protestants associated with Irish-Catholics.


While it would be easy to dismiss Colonel McCullough as a once off oddity, he represents a long and continuing tradition of American popular culture portraying Irish-Americans with what Diane Negra calls a, “broad consensus in the US that Irishness is available to speak a precariously classed, highly unstable whiteness”.  From Denis Leary to Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, (and I would add Mel Gibson, born in New York to an Irish mother) Negra has written extensively on the perception of Irish masculinity in American culture.
In many ways Colonel McCullough was an extension of this.  By normalizing the notion of post-traumatic stress, violence and callousness so often used to depict the Irish-American man in film, his Irishness was reinforced.  And from the crucifix he wore around his neck shirtless, to the name of his unit, Alpha-Omega, with its Greek symbols branded onto his minions,  to his making the sign of the cross over those same minions with his straight razor mid-head-shave, the film constantly uses Catholic imagery to simultaneously portray his masculinity and terrifying exoticism.

in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti…

But then, as Woody Harrelson himself has said before….


I’m happy that Hollywood got the unit insignia right on the soldiers from JBLM in Washington State.  I also really liked the homage paid to Apocalypse Now, from the Colonel’s monologue on sacrificing one’s humanity, to his rogue status having to be exterminated by his former superiors with extreme prejudice.  But in a time when veterans across America are battling against constant Hollywood portrayals as two-dimensional psychopathic poster children for post-traumatic stress and walking, talking stereotypes with Southern accents, I wasn’t thrilled to see the portrayal of soldiers as mindless killing machines.  And having been raised with my Aunt Margaret’s oil lamp and rosary beads she brought through Ellis Island on the hutch…a constant reminder my parents would point to  of how easy I had had it as a third generation Irish-American, I wasn’t thrilled to see the angry Irish-American Catholic man used as shorthand for mental instability either.


In the Era of Trump, Forget 1984: Read the Age of Triage!

On  February 10th, 2003, a day before I turned 16, my dad took me to a meeting with other men of our race to become a member of a secret society which has roots going back several centuries.  The men of our race were not determined by their white skin, but rather by being Irish ‘by birth or descent’, and most minutes of the secret meetings were mundane disagreements over how to spend money for charitable donations or the best way to organize cultural or political events.  These suburban working and middle class men I was surrounded by were members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.  The AOH is an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization which was formed in the 19th-century in an atmosphere of intense anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant discrimination and violence sweeping the country.  This came from a deep cultural foundation of secrecy and rebellion in Ireland, where English landlords who had implemented an apartheid style of government over Ireland which disenfranchised and marginalized the Catholic majority of the population to be ruled over by a wealthy Protestant elite known as the Penal Laws.  Through centuries of oppression, secret agrarian societies, distrust for the state, a folk-religious form of Catholicism and violence became deeply ingrained into Irish culture, and was readily accessed and mobilized throughout the 19th and 20th centuries by Irish-Americans to react to hostile forces under which they saw themselves as besieged.

But where Oliver Cromwell’s campaign of genocide in Ireland, or the Know-Nothing Party or KKK’s nativist lobbying and riots failed, middle class success seems to be succeding in eroding a sense of Irish-Catholic identity.  Quoting Robby Jones, the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, Emma Green notes in a recent article for The Atlantic that in the US, ““Churches have served, for most of the nation’s life, as pipelines to all kinds of civic engagement”.  She goes on to point out that “White working-class Americans of all ages were much less likely than their college-educated peers to participate in sports teams, book clubs, or neighborhood associations—55 percent vs. 31 percent said they seldom or never participated in those kinds of activities.”  This notion of civic and community apathy was apparent to me when I joined the AOH and noticed the huge age gap between myself and the other members (at 15 years and 364 days old the nearest man in age to me was my own dad who had been almost 40).  I was part of the first generation in my family to not be educated by Christian Brothers with Irish brogues in New York City parochial schools, and instead went to public schools in the DC suburbs of a small blue collar town famous for a Civil War battle and Lorena Bobbit.  But just as we had a sense of Irish diaspora, we also had a Northeast diaspora.  The fact that it was my great-grandparents who’d come to America during a time of tremendous political and sectarian violence in the 1920s didn’t matter.  Ireland was not a far-off abstract notion, when our AOH divison’s ranks were filled with other men my father’s age from New York, Boston, Baltimore and Philly who had Irish grandparents, peppered in with older men who had immigrated in the 1950s, or men and women my parents age who had been brought to us as a much needed infusion of fresh Irish blood thanks-be-to-God for the economic recessions in Ireland of the 1970s and 80s.  And of course the Summer I joined the AOH was the same year it seemed a month couldn’t pass without hosting a pack of young twenty somethings living down the street working construction jobs in DC from all over Ireland on J-1 visas.

But through all of this sense of manufactured ethno-religious identity, I was still painfully aware of one thing: we were working against the tide, and this sense of community was fading in the modern, individualistic, middle-class world.  Perhaps Tony Soprano said it best in the pilot episode of the show when he bemoaned to his therapist that, “I think about my father, he never reached the heights like me. But in a lot of ways he had it better. He had his people, they had their standards, and pride. Today, what have we got?”.  The idea of loss of community and traditional institutions in the modern world has not gone unnoticed by the seers and sages of the culture, and perhaps are being paid attention to too late, with head scratching over where we went wrong.  In a recent article for The Atlantic, Emma Green observes that the decline in civic and religious involvement has lead to a political landscape in which, “More and more white Americans are being pulled toward isolation, away from the thick knit of civic and religious life that has long defined American political culture”.

By every possible metric, Catholics in America are what the left likes to call a historically marginalized group.  Within the study of anti-Catholic thought, there is a divide between old and new anti-Catholicism, with the former being linked to Protestant nativism and theological differences and the latter tending to focus on issues such as abortion and homosexuality.  The left ironically inherited much of its anti-Catholic prejudices from conservative Protestants who to this day think that my praying to statues of the Virgin Mary amounts to nothing more than pagan idolatry to a Goddess figure, and my reading of Genesis as a metaphor for evolution makes me a blasphemer.  They don’t seem to apply the same reservations about sweeping Catholic marginalization in the United States under the rug of American history because of the Church’s teachings on sexuality the way they do with the equally, if not more so, conservative theology of Islam.  This inability to fall on the traditional left-right balance of American politics lends way to a sense of perpetual alienation, perhaps best illustrated by the famous Catholic Buddhist beatnik Jack Kerouac, who wrote in letters to friends that he’d probably been the only person in America smoking marijuana while watching the McCarthy hearings on TV and cheering for the iconic Irish-American Joe McCarthy against the Communists.

Whereas many on the right feel it is okay to ask Muslims today if they are American first, or Muslim first, they forget that all of these and much more were trotted out against us first.  While Donald Trump’s executive orders banning entry to people from 7 (then 6) Muslim majority countries were seen as one of the greatest acts of oppression since 9/11 by many on the left, it pales in comparison to the widespread levels of violence against Catholics which went on for entire generations, well into the 20th century.  Of course, as a society we tend to focus on the sensational illustrations of the results of larger demographic shifts and movements than we feel comfortable addressing, whether they be post-truth travel bans, or nativist anti-Catholic riots in the streets of Philadelphia.  My middle name is Roosevelt because my grandfather and namesake was born to Irish immigrants on the day FDR was elected.  Tammany Hall may be remembered as a corrupt club of cronyism to many, but to my people, it was a source of refuge, sanctuary.  Like the opening lines of Scorses’s fictional tale of the Irish Mafia, The Departed, “In the beginning we had the Church.  But that really just meant we had each other”.  And with popular depictions like those below defining a paranoid nation’s perception of Catholics even until the 1920s when Al Smith was the first Catholic to run for president it’s easy to see how he lost in a landslide, being the first Democrat to lose the South since the Civil War.   And it’s easy too, to see how our places of sanctuary, whether they are gangs, civic clubs, political machines, fraternal Catholic societies, brought up the same kind of social anxiety then that so called ‘sanctuary cities’ bring up today.

Al smith


Perhaps it may seem counter-intuitive for me to bring up prejudices of the past century which we have as a society largely moved on from.  Just as it was the losing side of the American Civil War which clings most fervently to the past, so too I at times feel like I am living under the credo of Faulkner’s that ‘the past isn’t dead.  It’s not even past’.  But perhaps my search for answers in the shallow grave of the past is the perfect place to search if you view the current atmosphere of political division in America as a manifestation of a conflict between the forces of modernism and tradition which strips human beings of their value.  Since I read that sales of George Orwell’s dystopian sci-fi novel 1984 had spiked since Trump became president, I kept coming back to a book I read back in 2006, before I enlisted in the Army at the height of the Troop Surge, when I had long hair, listened to loud angry music, and took Philosophy electives at my local community college.  The Age of Triage: Fear and Hope in an Overcrowded World, by theologian Richard L. Rubenstein is considered one of the seminal works of what has come to be known as ‘Holocaust Theology’.

In examining several humanitarian catastrophes from the 19th-century on, Rubenstein explores the role played by modernization and its consequences.  In the 19th-century it went from the enclosure movement in England which overnight rendered virtually all English shepherds unemployable and destitute, to the Irish potato famine which if not an act of genocide, was certainly ‘genocide-adjacent’.  He then explores 20th-century genocides from the Holocaust to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.  Through all of these, Rubenstein traces a steady and predictable form of ethical rationale based solely on what he termed ‘the Revolution of Rationale’ which reduced human beings to ‘redundant populations’.  This revolution of rationale was rooted in the final stages of the Enlightenment, a darker side of the same revolution against the shackles of medieval feudalism and religious fundamentalism which also produced the Renaissance, the American and French Revolutions, and the notion of modern Western constitutional democracy.  The title of the book comes from the ways in which systems treat the populations made redundant by modernizing forces, that is, those who are triaged to survive, and those slotted to be left to their own devices.  Written in 1983, Rubenstein closes on a darkly prophetic note, musing over a future in which ‘surplus populations’ are reduced by poison-laden drugs, and working class populations of all skin color and creed have their humanity reduced by factories replacing their labor with automation.

I knew as a young man joining the AOH that I was seeking a sense of belonging with something from the past that was vanishing rapidly.  Maybe it was my Catholic tendency towards drama, tragedy, and theater, like Oscar Wilde, perhaps the world’s most famous deathbed-Catholic, that made me want to pin my own destiny so inextricably to the sinking ship which is Irish-America.  Perhaps the allure of tradition to me was in fact not so different to that of my immigrant great-grandparents, who had the Church as a sole source of community and social support, as it must have filled some gap in my youth left from being frequently suspended and expelled from schools.  Perhaps that left me nostalgically romanticizing my own father’s young education at the hands of Irish Christian Brothers in New York at the height of white flight, crime and urban decay.  Maybe that quest for belonging led me to enlist in the Army National Guard at the height of the Iraqi Troop Surge in 2007, where I would joke with buddies that if I’d been made a recruiter, I would have made my annual quota in a single weekend at a hardcore punk show in some dingy basement or run-down VFW or Knights of Columbus Hall full of similarly angsty and angry young men.

But all of those things, those clubs, and institutions, and scenes that’ I’ve once counted myself a member of, are healthy outlets for normal and understandable emotions.  When I was young, the world was full of optimism for a brief time, that World War Three had been averted by the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The seers and sages wrote of “The end of history” and video on the news of laser-guided bombs over Baghdad and Bosnia ordered by Bill Clinton made the horrific ground wars of the past seem like relics of a bygone era.  Only on 9/11 was this optimism replaced with the fear and besieged mentality of a nation that has realized that in the place of the Soviet Dragon was now hundreds of smaller snakes, which could lash out with small bites instead of belching flames at any time.  The world became less predictable, and more violent.  So too, I feel that the optimism of people feeling like the culture wars of the 80s and 90s are all but over, is being replaced by the fear that what will replace it will be far worse.  As Peter Beiniart of The Atlantic recently wrote:

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.

The secular shift is just as prevalent in the left as the right, just as America seems more divided than it has been in most people’s memories.  This increasingly secular and viscous type of division reminds me of what Rubenstein wrote of in Triage as the rise of racism as we know it today, which was the logical progeny of previous sectarian tribalism.  It nonetheless had profound differences shaped by the radical changes in scientific understanding, most notably Darwinism in an era of rapid industrialization and colonial conquest by a small number of Western nations.  Rubenstein writes that:

Racism or Neo-Tribalism…was an attempt to establish a basis for community on the foundation of shared archaic roots.  The exclusion of the alien was intrinsic to its very nature.  Racism can be seen as a thoroughly modern response to the phenomenon of population superfluity and the fragmented affiliations of atomized bourgeois society.  Racism was also an expression of the trend toward homogenization, centralization, and leveling that is a feature of modern bureaucratized society.  Racism sought to establish an ideological basis for affiliation and community after all of the lesser units of community, such as the village, the Church, and even the nation, had proved unable to meet the challenge.

Today, just as some in the political left in America are calling for there to be ‘no platform’ for debating the policies of Trump, others seem to also be looking back wistfully at their former nemesis George W. Bush as a once worthy adversary the likes of which Trump can’t hold a candle to.  In the same way, the scientific racism used by fascists in the 20th-century and mass murder by atheist Communist regimes can leave one looking back to our tribal, linguistic, and sectarian division in the pre-modern era as somehow less traumatic.  It was, of course, but more so due to technological ability to blood-let which corresponded to the rise of racist tribalism.  And perhaps this sense of looking towards the failures of the past to bring Utopia to earth can help explain how and why Irish-American and Catholic-raised Steve Bannon has reportedly cited the virulently anti-Catholic fascist Julius Evola.

Oh if only we could go back to when having a name like Bannon and being even nominally Catholic made you a pariah in America, then maybe he could commiserate with different cultural others more easily.

Rubenstein points out that throughout the 20th century, the populations which were often rendered redundant were not always the poor, but often they were often the doctors, lawyers, and academics within religious or political minority groups who overnight found themselves on the wrong side of rapid demographic shifts.  In a time of dichotomy being drawn between people who are white, and people of color, with no debate over the imperialism of non-westen nations such as the Ottoman or Japanese Empires, this is one of the reasons that I am looking back to the anti-Catholic bigotry of previous centuries.  Because I know that we are just one hyper-inflated currency or war away from it being me in the crosshairs.  Because I know, as a Catholic distrustful of Heaven-on-Earth Utopian ideas of society, that history does not end.  And as a combat veteran who in my early 20s drove through once-beautiful suburbs of Baghdad which had become hollow bullet-riddled slums after just a few years of neglect and violence, that no affluence or education can keep our darker human drive towards survival, or Original Sin if you want to call it that, out of us us completely.

In Triage, Rubesntein posits that the solution to the revolution of rationale is a spiritual, rather than political one.  Rather than advocating an idealistic and naive return to Eden of destroying the machines which have produced the efficiency that has rendered so many people redundant, Rubenstein makes the argument that because the Revolution of Rationale was made from a religious movement in the Enlightenment, that the way to re-humanize the most vulnerable of society is to have a societal self-examination and new sort of religious revolution, which shifts an emphasis on policy making from rationale to humanity.  It would be impossible to return to Eden, he argues, and abandon technology, just as it is impossible to look at the genocides of the 20th century and lay their blame at the feet of any one ideology, as none have bloodless hands, be they fascist, communist, capitalist, liberal, conservative, religious or secular.  It would be impossible to recreate the large demographic and historic trends which led to my being raised with the quirks of a sense of Irish-Catholic ethnic identity, rooted in empathy towards immigrants, the oppressed, and equal parts love for the working-class and distrust of Communism.  Just as most middle class-heavy societies throughout history have generally been formed by catastrophic cataclysms like war or plague which no politician seems in a rush to mimic, my New York, Irish-Catholic identity was forged by immigration, famine, secret societies, faction fighting, public service, and urban political machines.

But in a world which seems past its peak, in which populist angst seems to be stemming from a sense of people losing their long held economic security rather than struggling to gain any for the first time as my grandparents had, perhaps a collective spiritual introspection is what is needed.  Perhaps Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin is right to call out his own Church for being in need of a ‘reality check’.  Perhaps religious institutions, like political ones, grew too comfortable for too long, and the resurgent rise of both far left and far right ideologies is because of this.  And perhaps, as Richard Rubenstein concluded hopefully in The Age of Triage:

“There is nothing radical about insisting that no human being ought to be considered surplus.  On the contrary, the real radical are those who do not know the difference between a genuine human community and a jungle.  Survival of the fittest may indeed be the law of the jungle, but a human community is not a jungle”

With automation on the horizon, it’s easy to blame immigrants, or anyone who isn’t you.  In times of upheaval, it’s easy to revert to the law of the jungle.  I’ve seen it myself, I’ve lived it myself.  But the efficiency of automation and rising economic inequality doesn’t have to make us all don a mullet and inherit the world of Mad Max, the Road Warrior, and it isn’t radical to say that we deserve better than that as a species.  So please, run, don’t walk, to your nearest book store (before it gets turned into an abandoned ramshackle by online shopping and drone delivery) and buy yourself a copy of the Age of Triage.

Blog Portfolio, Irish Writing and Film

Before I went to Iraq in 2009 I used to try to freestyle over beats in the barracks with the older NCOs I looked up to.  The moniker I thought up  for myself was ‘Fianna Phil’.  It was perfect, because it used alliteration, was highly esoteric to most Americans, and it was Irish.  Being around Southerners (I deployed with the North Carolina National Guard) has always made me feel a heightened awareness of my own New York Irish Catholic ways, even though my family moved to Virginia when I was just a little baby.  So Fianna Phil worked for me.  It’s like free styling.  It’s like my Irishness.  It’s like Milo Yiannopoulos’ Catholicism.  It’s a performance.  The first thing I wrote in my blog was a brief ‘About’ section, and like the early days of punk rock, it was quite primitive:

Hi, I’m Phil Nannery, currently a postgraduate student at University College Cork in the MA in English, Irish writing and film program.  Prior to this, I have lived in several different countries, working in several different fields, and I am very excited to be in Ireland, researching Irish literature.

I come from an Irish-American, Catholic background, and at times feel warring and conflicting ideas of American-ness and Irish-ness, and even Catholic-ness within me.  I want to explore American literature, and how Irish literature influenced it both stylistically and culturally, well into the 20th century, even after the Irish became ‘white’.  One of the strongest correlations that I want to explore, is the literary influence the modernists like Joyce had on the Beatniks of the Post War period, but also, the cultural effect of Catholicism, especially the syncretic, almost folk Catholicism of Ireland, had on writers such as Jack Kerouac.  How did the Catholicism of the Irish diaspora affect its ‘otherness’ in American society long after they were accepted to be white along their Protestant counter-parts?  If English Americans are the largest ethnic group in the US, then why doesn’t New York have a grand Saint George’s Day parade?  These ideas of community, self-segregation, alienation, otherness and solidarity, as well as stylistic influences of James Joyce on a generation of paradoxical outsiders, in love with Catholic and Buddhist mysticism at once, could provide a student with an entire career of opportunities to research and write about.  I would like to spend the next year etching out a small slice of research, on which to form a dissertation of my own.

Yikes.  I knew what I wanted to write about, but like an Army officer, I only had a vague idea, and no earthly clue of how to implement it without an NCO.  But it was strangely fun and a relief to write about my research interests.  It made me feel slightly less out of place coming back to school after taking a few years off.

Following that, I wrote about Dr. Heather Laird’s public lecture titled “Remembering” Past Futures: Commemoration and the Roads Untaken”.  The idea of ‘bourgeoisie nationalism’ was very intriguing to me, and I remember thinking ‘oh, shoot, I should’ve taken more notes’.  But at three paragraphs, it was very much still just probing the blogosphere I still had so many reservations about.


kerouac drinkingbehan1

The next blog I wrote was the first one I cited an essay on, in a cute little works cited page, the first time I’d written a works cited page since finishing my undergrad in 2013.  By now I’ve used that Michael S. Begnal essay extensively, from my editing of Kerouac’s wikipedia page, which I then wrote about in a separate blog post, to my mini-conference Pecha Kucha presentation, to my most recent blog reflection on said presentation.  The essay seemed tailor made to what I wanted to research.  It was such a perfect find, like a blue diamond at the bottom of a rubbish bin.

Around this time as well I reached out to Dr. Donna Marie Alexander asking for help with the technical side of my blog, as I didn’t understand how to make the widgets view-able.  She was super helpful in helping me figure everything out, and it started to look better, with things like my twitter feed appearing on the side margins, and I used a photo I took of Trinity Cathedral at night as a background for the screen.


It was around this time too, that I started to realize, though not surprisingly, that the direction I was taking the blog in was one focusing heavily on Catholicism and the Irish American diaspora.  I’d written a few reviews of films, focusing on the complex nature of colonialism and post-colonialism.  I lived in Japan teaching English for a few years, when I decided to move to Ireland and go back to grad school after reading The Field by John B. Keane.  I’d been working with an Irish guy, and trying to explain why I seemed so markedly different than the other English teachers, who all seemed more positive and upbeat than myself.  Other than having a radically different group of life experiences, I often pointed to how my Irish Catholic upbringing probably gave me a set of fatalistic roles I had grown comfortable performing in.  And so I started talking about how I would go back to school one day, maybe in New York, or Boston, and write a thesis trying to figure out how this sub-culture within America was still so powerful after so many years.  I actually only found out that the GI Bill would cover me studying in Ireland while scrolling through the FAQs page of the VA website for a separate query I’d had.  That was when I decided to move here.

In feedback we got back about halfway through the semester, I was told that I, “strike a well-judged balance between, for example, your engagement with a film and the relevance of what you are studying to considering the ramifications of that engagement beyond the personal” (O’Connor).  I had been happy to hear this, as my biggest fear was that I would allow my own personal experiences to color my research.  I often try to use my own personal experiences as a starting point before launching into a more measured and objective analysis.  If nothing else, I’ve always felt like it could at least explain why I would be writing about such esoteric interests.

For the Blog assignment, we had to write about at least two conferences or seminars we’d attended.  Though I went to several readings hosted by the UCC English Society, I ended u only writing about two events.  One was the lecture by Dr. Heather Laird, and the other was a Writing Workshop I went to.  Like my blog itself, I approached the event a bit cautiously at first, as I’m often nervous embarking on new adventures with new people.  But, like the blog as well, I ended up enjoying it very much.  I find it interesting that in the space of time from Dr. Laird’s lecture to the writing workshop (about 4 months) I went from just a few paragraphs of thought thrown onto the page to a much longer, in depth summary of the event full of photos, gifs, and other visuals.

Finally, I wrote my reflections on the recent Textualities Conference, and my final Literature Review, weaving together as many of my thoughts from my research as coherently as I could.  Like life itself, the course seemed to blow by, frightening at first, and enjoyable almost as soon as it was over.  I’ve enjoyed using this blog, and look forward to continuing it long after the conclusion of this course.  I hope to expand not only my readership but the scope and scale of my writing.  Thank you for reading.


Works Cited:

Begnal, Michael S.  “To be an Irishman Too”: Jack Kerouac’s Irish Connection”.  Studies:An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 92, No. 368 (Winter, 2003), pp. 371-377)

“Milo: Catholics are Right About Everything.”  Youtube, uploaded by Milo Yiannopoulos, 15 December 2016.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5q4u1nE6tI.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “About.”  Fiannaphil,  https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/about/  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  ‘“Remembering” Past Futures: Commemoration and the Roads Untaken.”  Fiannaphil, 03 Novemeber 2016, https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2016/11/03/remembering-past-futures-commemoration-and-the-roads-untaken/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Who Among You?.”  Fiannaphil, 05 November 2016, https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2016/11/05/who-among-ye/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “The Eagle Huntress.”  Fiannaphil, 22 November 2016, https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/the-eagle-huntress/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Saint Mel Gibson of the Masochists, Pray for Me.”  Fiannaphil, 23 January, 2017.  https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/saint-mel-gibson-of-the-masochists-pray-for-me/.  Accessed 30 march 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Wikipedia Editathon!!!.”  Fiannaphil, 20 February 2017.  https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/wikpedia-editathon/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Writing Workshop.”  Fiannaphil, 28 February 2017.  https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/writing-workshop/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Literature Review.”  Fiannaphil, 30 March 2017.  https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/literature-review/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Nannery, Phil.  “Textualities 2017 Reflections.” Fiannaphi, 28 March 2017. https://fiannaphil.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/textualities-2017-reflections/.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

O’Connor, Maureen.  “Blog feedback.”  Received by Phil Nannery, 08 December, 2016.

Literature and IT Review

In my upcoming thesis, I will be examining the works of three American authors, Flannery O’Connor, Jack Kerouac, and J.D. Salinger, to examine their understanding and portrayal of the way Catholicism affected a rapidly changing post-war Irish diaspora.  Under a working title of “The Irish-Catholic as Other in Post-War American Literature” I want to examine the ways Irish Catholics of the mid 20th century were hindered, or helped, in assimilating into the white middle class.   Conversely, I want to examine the role of Catholicism and ethnic identity in working class Irish Americans seemingly left behind by the rapidly increasing economic affluence of the period.  I am using three different authors spanning a wide array of literary backgrounds because I felt like it would be more reflective of the broader American society.  However, all three writers, two white males and one white female, nonetheless represent a diverse representation of ethno-religuous backgrounds, at a time that many different ethnic white and religious minorities were becoming part of the wider white middle class.  I wanted to explore this area of American literature because as a kid from New York with Irish American parents who moved to Richmond, Virginia when I was young, I was very aware of how alienated I felt being one of the only Irish Catholics at my school.  I think that this gave me an early sense of what Adrian Frazier calls an “ethnic identity” (Hollywood, 19).  I believe that this gave me a greater awareness of white ethnic and religious identity in reading American literature.  I want to use this to make sense out of the rapidly vanishing senses of identity of the post-war period, and in what ways this identity remained unassimilated.  How, several generations since Post-War commentators wrote of the ‘vanishing Irish’, is there still a, “broad consensus in the US that Irishness is available to speak a precariously classed, highly unstable whiteness” (Negra 280).

Artist: C.J. Taylor / Michingan State University Muesum, Appel Collection

In doing research for my essay in the film module last year, I compared Caddyshack and The Quiet Man‘s depictions of the Irish American diaspora.  Significantly, I looked at how The Quiet Man was portraying Sean Thornton, an Irish American nostalgically returning to Ireland at a time of unheard-of economic growth and prosperity in America, whereas Danny Noonan of Caddyshack seems unable to escape his Irishness during the economically turbulent late 1970s.  Focusing on the role of class determining a sense of ethnic identity in America will be very important for me to establish early on and throughout my thesis.  I’ve come across good examples of this in Lawrence J. McCaffrey’s book The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America.  Though by the 1950s, the ‘vanishing Irish’ were largely moving from what McCaffrey terms ‘ghettos to suburbs’ it is important to note that not all were.  He points out that from the 1950s to the 1970s, “Not all Irish-American Catholics have experienced significant economic, social, or residential mobility” (187).  McCaffrey goes on to write about how this frustration and insecurity played out in resistance to racial integration of schools and support for the IRA during the Troubles.  Kerouac, O’Connor, and Salinger all write about elements on the fringe of society, from the drug addicts and bums populating the works of Kerouac, to the hairy bellied pimp in Catcher in the Rye, to the Misfit of O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find.  This leaves me with several questions I hope to find through sources such as JSTOR or secondary texts.  First, were these characters on the fringes of society perhaps reflective of those ethnic whites finding their way into the works of these writers, either explicitly, or through coded language?  Were the Irish Americans being left behind coded as more Irish or Catholic because of this?  And how does this compare to the affluence of Irish Americans banding together at wealthy prep schools as in Catcher in the Rye?  Was this just some relic of a former time, or does it truly represent a continuing sense of Otherness among Irish Americans because of their Catholicism into the Post-War period?

All of these are questions that I will attempt to address throughout my thesis, and JSTOR has many titles I believe will prove useful.  Salinger’s Jewish identity for example has many parallels with an Irish Catholic identity of the period.  In Post War America, both were in a state of crisis, rapidly being assimilated into secular white society, and considering the vast improvements in quality of life and economic prosperity that they often accompanied, this was often not seen as any type of ‘crisis’ by individuals within these communities.  In an essay dating from 1966, Professor Allan C. Brownfield writes of the ‘vanishing Jew’ in much the same way many commentators referred to the ‘vanishing Irish.  Notably, he repeatedly divides America into 3 cultural camps, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant.  And like many newly affluent Irish Americans who began to identify less as Irish or Catholic, and more as white, he writes that:

The battle-cry has been lost on deaf ears within the Jewish community. Rather than worrying about what rabbis term an alarming rate of inter-marriage, and a lack of concern about Jewish identity, most American Jews are happy in the feeling that they have never had it so good (18).

In examining Leslie Fiedler’s seminal 1964 essay, “Jewish-Americans Go Home”, Leah Garret points out that Salinger was one of many writers of the era who:

reinvented Jewish protagonists as non- Jews, or gave them “goyish” qualities in order to represent a “universal” form of American alienation. The writings of this generation,  according to Fiedler, are negatively “marked by the abandonment of the Jewish character as a sufficient embodiment of the Jewish author’s aspirations and values, and by the invention, beside him or in his place, of characters who are not merely non- Jewish, but are, in fact, hyper-goyim, super-Gentiles of truly mythic proportions: specifically, sexual heroes of incredible potency (171)

I think that perhaps this is reflected in Holden Caulfield feeling alienated by the constant sectarian tribalism of the other boys at his prep school.  Salinger came from a much more economically affluent background than either O’Connor or Kerouac, and perhaps this played a role in his alienation from the same sort of religiously institutionalized tribalism relied on by working class ethnic whites experiencing class mobility before and after the Post War period.

I have not found many books or essays on the role of Flannery O’Connor’s Irish ethnic identity, or lack thereof.  However, I am confident that I can discover many resources using JSTOR or biographical works in Boole, as I only decided to write about her last, after coming across so much information about her in studying the role of Catholicism in Americann literature.  Though she is the only of the three authors who was Irish American, she didn’t leave a large ethnic footprint, but her mark on the analysis of Catholicism in American literature is massive.  In Ross Labrie’s book, The Catholic Imagination in American Literature, an entire chapter is dedicated to the ways in which O’Connor wrote about Catholicism informing the imagination of a writer.  I had originally come across this in the hopes of using it for my essay in the Gothic to Modernism module, though ultimately I did not.  For generations in America, constructions of Irish ethnic pride and camaraderie went hand in hand with the institutions of the Catholic Church, most heavily focused in the American Northeast and Midwest.  In almost any essay or book’s introduction I have come across of her, O’Connor’s Catholicism is typically mentioned early on, and is usually only a sentence or so away from mentioning that she is also know as a Southern writer from the largely Protestant South.  I’d like to explore if the detachment from Irish ethnic identity also reflects a life of appreciating Catholicism on theological, rather than social grounds.

Kerouac slow suicide

While Salinger and O’Connor may have seemed alienated from the institutionalized sense of ethnic community fostered by the Catholic Church, trying to transcend or escape their ethnic identities, Kerouac was turning into it, all chips in and guns blazing.  Having been a fan of Kerouac’s for years, I’d been familiar with his affinity for Catholic spirituality and his Mel Gibson styled, masochistic Catholic approach to earthly suffering.  My first awareness of any sort of  Irish connection he may have had I actually discovered on accident when searching in JSTOR for articles about the supposedly Catholic origins of the term ‘Beatnik’.  “To be an Irishman Too: Jack Keouac’s Irish Connection” by Michael S. Begnal examined Kerouac’s affinity for Ireland as being linked to his own French American identity.  Perhaps a perfect illustration of this is the huge Joycean influence on his work, or the encounter he had with Brendan Behan in the early 1960s.  Subsequently, I came across an essay by Nancy McCampbell Grace entitled “A White Man in Love: A Study of Race, Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Jack Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy, “The Subterraneans, and Tristessa”.  What was interesting about this essay was the inclusion of Maggie Cassidy as a working class Irish-American in an intersectional analysis of race, class and ethnicity in the works of Jack Kerouac.  The romantic longing for the vanishing ethnic identity of white Catholics in communities such as Irish Americans seems perfectly encapsulated in the essay.  As McCampbell Grace writes, Maggie Cassidy demonstrates that,  “whiteness becomes a class charade; race is nothing more than class in fancy dress” (50).

There is no shortage of research on the role of Catholicism in the works of Kerouac or O’Connor, or the role of Judaism in the works of Salinger.  There is no shortage of research in the widespread entry into the white middle class of Irish Americans in Post-War America.  But I have not been able to find much research comparing the role Catholicism played in this process.  Were the centuries-old prejudices against Catholicism overcome and forgotten about as so many Irish immigrants entered into the middle class in Post War years?  Considering that Paul Blanshard’s American Freedom and Catholic Power was a bestseller in America for 1949-1950, selling over 240,000 copies in its first edition (World Heritage Encyclopedia) I find this hard to believe.  I don’t have the answers yet, but I hope to use all of the resources available to me in Boole, texts, peer reviewed articles on JSTOR, the City Library, and any other means possible to document the extent that Catholicism played in portraying Irish identity through the works of these three authors.

Works Cited:

Begnal, Michael S.  “To be an Irishman Too”: Jack Kerouac’s Irish Connection”.  Studies:An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 92, No. 368 (Winter, 2003), pp. 371-377)

Brownfield, Allan C.  “The Vanishing Jew.  The North American Review, Vol. 251, No. 3 (May, 1966), pp. 18-20.

Frazier, Adrian.  Hollywood Irish: John Ford, Abbey Actors and the Irish Revival in Hollywood.  The Lilliput Press, 2011.

Grace, Nancy McCampbell.  “A White Man in Love: A Study of Race, Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Jack Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy, “The Subterraneans, and Tristessa.”  College Literature, Vol. 27, No. 1, Teaching Beat Literature (Winter, 2000), pp. 39- 62

Garret, Leah.  “Just One of the Goys: Salinger’s, Miller’s, and Malamud’s Hidden Jewish Heroes.”  AJS Review, Vol. 34, No. 2 (NOVEMBER 2010), pp. 171-194

Labrie, Ross.  The Catholic Imagination in American Literature.  University of Missouri Press, 1997.

McCaffrey, Lawrence J.  The Irish Catholic Diaspora in America.  The Catholic University of America Press, 1997.

Negra, Diane.  “Irishness, Anger and Masculinity in Recent Film and Television.”  Barton, Ruth, pp. 279-295.

Taylor, C.J.  The Mortar of Assimilation–And the One Element that Won’t Mix. Michigan State University Museum, Appel Collection.  http://hppr.org/post/immigration-stories-caricatures-and-stereotypes-stauth-museum.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Quotefancy, Jack Kerouac.  https://quotefancy.com/quote/947292/Jack-Kerouac-I-m-Catholic-and-I-can-t-commit-suicide-but-I-plan-to-drink-myself-to-death.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

World Heritage Encylcopedia.  American Freedom And Catholic Power, http://www.gutenberg.us/articles/eng/American_Freedom_and_Catholic_Power#cite_note-9.  Accessed 30 March 2017.

Textualities 2017 Reflections

I recently did the *drum roll please…… TEXTUALITIES MINI-CONFERENCE!!!  I ended up having to give my presentation a bit early because I’d bought tickets to fly back to America last year.  I’d wanted to surprise my dad, having found out that he would be the grand marshal for my hometown’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade, which we always hold on the Saturday prior to the holiday itself.  Having to go a few days before the conference ended up feeling like kind of a double edged blade.  On the one hand, I felt sort of nervous not having anyone else to watch and sort of go off of, but on the other hand, I was able to get it over with sooner than anyone else, and have a video record of it.  I was really nervous, even though this course so far has given me an opportunity to write about what I love.  And capturing it on video gave me both halves of that: I would notice how some things I said evoked laughter, just as quickly as the times I misspoke, or my voice cracked.

If you haven’t already seen it, here is a video of my presentation:


So big shout out to everyone who made it out that day to ask questions, thank you! I would like to answer some of those questions now, as well as delving into a few things I have thought of since giving the presentation.

1: Dr. Heather Laird asked me what the Irish diaspora in America was assimilating in to, and what that meant.

  • Part of the difficulty, in fact I think the biggest difficulty of my thesis, will be establishing the language of my research, and I think this was a great example.  Having minored in History during my undergrad, I have always been wary of using contemporary language and paradigms in understanding the way that people of the past thought.  I’ve always felt that this is similar to holding a pre-conceived notion, then molding the world and its events to reach that conclusion, like the exact opposite of the scientific process.  I feel that this is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays, especially in the Humanities.  And because I will be writing about changing perceptions which were taking place in America in the 1940s to 1960s, this will be something I have to be careful of.
  • So, the question remains, what were Irish immigrants assimilating in to?  This speaks to the idea of ethnicity, which is neither racial nor wholly socially constructed.  Ethnicity is not as widely recognized in today’s society, and in an increasingly diverse world, the chasms between different subcultures of the same skin color seem at times to be rapidly disappearing.  The idea of a white American holding an ethnic identity nowadays has largely become something of easily dismissed comedic fodder, see below.
  • But this was not always the case.  As I’ve written before, I grew up feeling a strong sense of ethnic identity, but an identity in a sort of twilight.  As a kid I saw the last of the generation of immigrants in my family die, leaving in their wake heirlooms, mass cards, and stories at the dining room table.  The idea of ethnicity in previous generations was very tangible.  In conjunction with the early 20th century’s scientific racism, most people believed that if you were an American whose ‘blood’ was Irish Catholic then, it didn’t matter if your great grandparents had arrived in America in a previous century, you were Irish.  Or Polish.  Or Italian.  Any of these ‘ethnic’ nations, typically poor peasants, and almost always Catholic, had a type of ethnic difference which only in the last 50 years has been largely transcended by the whiteness of their skin.  It will be very important for me to cite the many resources I’ve come across in the past year in the library which demonstrate that ethnicity did not have in previous generations the same fluidity or ambiguity that we in the postmodern world can apply to our understanding of things.
  • One of those resources I came across earlier this year is the Dale T. Knobel book Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America.  Dr. Laird asked about the idea of America already being mixed, and while there have always been Catholics and Irish people in America, prior to the challenges of mass migration due to the Famine, America unquestionably saw itself as an Anglo Protestant nation.  In quoting a prominent Presbyterian evangelist of the Antebellum Period of American history, Knobel observed, “‘Puritanism, Protestantism, and True Americanism are only different terms to designate the same set of principles” (5).  I hope to find more material which corroborates this strongly held notion of American identity.

2: Performing Irishness.

  • One of the most surprising things I came across was Kerouac’s fascination with Irish culture.  But as with all great paradoxes, it was surprising, but shouldn’t have been.  In several of Kerouac novels I’ve read, (notably, On the Road and Tristessa) Kerouac’s protagonists were the sons or grandsons of Italian rather than French immigrants.  White immigrants practicing a folksy type of Catholicism and somehow regarded even up until the 1950s as racially ambiguous white people…
  • And Salinger is no different!  Holden Caulfield complains about people assuming he is Catholic because of his Irish sounding last name, and draws alienation from their sense of solidarity, a relic from their time of secret societies and agrarian discontent, carried into the upper middle class of America…. I can’t be the only one who sees this!!!

    I can’t be the only one who sees this!!!
  • As I mentioned in the presentation, in doing research for the film module, Diane Negra from UCD has written extensively on Irishness being used as a visual shorthand in contemporary American culture to communicate a toxic form of whiteness, often masculine, angry, violent and besieged.  No one questions the Irishness of Denis Leary, who grew up in Massachusetts with parents from Kerry, and sings songs about being an angry lapsed Catholic, boldly daring cancer to come for him for enjoying chain smoking and binge drinking.
  • But Jack Kerouac using the same sense of ethnic fatalism so often ascribed to the Irish race to drink himself into an early grave, having a lifelong attachment to the working class, white immigrant, ethnic Catholicism of his mother is often overlooked.  Why did he change Neal Cassady’s name in On the Road, his most iconic work, to Dean Moriarty?  I find it hard to believe that Kerouac, famous for his obsession with words and ideas from other languages he found esoteric or incommunicable, was unaware of the name Moriarty, which, according to Ancestry.com is, “shortened Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Muircheartaigh ‘descendant of Muircheartach’, a personal name composed of the elements muir ‘sea’ + ceardach ‘skilled’, i.e. ‘skilled navigator’”.  All of this is a performance, and one which is difficult today I think for us to grasp.  It’s what I want to make sense of.

3: Doctor Donna Marie Alexander asked if I will I be examining the role of gender in my research?

  • Short answer, absolutely.  My dilemma is this, and I am still trying to articulate it, but here’s a simplistic explanation: I don’t want it to devolve into a rehashing of my most recent essay on our Gender and Sexuality module, in which I examine the role of Marian devotion, and the pressure mothers historically have put on sons to become priests.  I focused on the sexual otherness priests were historically (and still sometimes to this day) portrayed as by historically anti-Catholic movements.
  • Nor do I want to turn my research into yet another in vogue heap of abuse thrown at a Catholic Church which isn’t exactly popular these days in Ireland, or America.  Since the recent Tuam Babies scandal, I’ve noticed a dearth of denunciation for the society at large which sent unmarried women to the horrible conditions of these homes, other than a few minor opinion pieces here and there.  Similarly, I feel like there has been very little acknowledgement of the fact that these homes were not operated solely by Catholic institutions but also by Protestant organizations, and that these double standards seemingly go completely unchecked.  I find it fascinating that there are so many parallels between the moral panics of the 19th century which led to widespread anti-Catholic violence and the current atmosphere of anti-Catholic thought in the Western world.  A good example is the 1836 Ursuline Convent riots in Massachusetts, in which wholly unsubstantiated accusations of macabre sex rituals and infanticide of babies born to nuns and fathered by priests led to violence on a scale requiring the state militia to intervene.

    ursuline convent
    Photo courtesy Jay Griffin.
  • So… what’s the role of gender in all of this?
  • Glad you asked!  Essentially, I will be examining the way that this deep seated anti-Catholic prejudice cemented a BESIEGED MENTALITY among Catholic Americans in America from the 19th century on.  Due to the history of anti-Catholicism in Ireland, and the link between it and a foreign nation occupying and marginalizing the majority of the population, this was perhaps felt more intensely in the Irish American community than perhaps Italian American immigrants coming from a society where the majority of the population both peasant and politician, were Catholic.  But then, I don’t know, and I want to examine that.  I will be attempting to reach a conclusion I do not already know, and answer questions I don’t already have formed in my mind.
  • Going off of that assumption, what was the role of gender in MOBILIZING this community?  As is often the case of Romantic Nationalism of the 19th Century, young patriotic men are often seen to be coming to the defense of their Motherland.  Look at this: 9460447.0003.205-00000003
  • The role that mothers often played in the formation of Catholic diasporic communities is something I feel is all too often overlooked.  I know that J.D. Salinger’s mother was born Catholic, and that he didn’t discover this until his adolescence, which had a profound affect on him (Gluck).  How did this affect his outlook of the Irish diaspora, with their long association with family feuding, and tribalism?
  • Kerouac’s Catholicism was heavily influenced by his own mother, yet he grew up with a strongly anti-clerical father…. he mentions many times in On The Road, for example, “I took a straight picture that made me look like a thirty-year-old Italian who’d kill anybody who said anything against his mother”(5).  Later, he writes of meeting a woman in New York and, “It suddenly occurred to me this was my mother of about two hundred years ago in England, and that I was her footpad son, returning from gaol to haunt her honest labors in the hashery”(161-162).  In addition to the tribal Catholic Italian trope used, I find it interesting that he used the term ‘gaol’ rather than jail, so strongly evocative of Ireland, yet have found little analysis of either of these to date.
godfather mother
Catholic mother with young Don Corleone in The Godfather.  Photo courtesy of The Niles Files.
  • And for an ethno-religious subculture so linked to the notions of family often besieged, what role did Flannery O’Connor’s vocation to the single life play in her writing?
  • Was O’Connor’s work then affected by her being the only one of the three writers from the heavily Protestant American South?’

Irish American Map

  • Did her Catholic isolation affect the women of her short stories?

All in all, I am happy to report that, much like the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, this mini-conference left me with more new questions than answers.  I was afraid at first that I’d not have enough questions to ask, or material to use to cover 15,000 to 17,000 words for my final thesis, but I no longer have that fear.

Works Cited:

“Euro Americans…Reflections on European Ethnicity in America.”  26 November 2010.  http://euro-americans.blogspot.ie/2010/11/where-irish-americans-live.html.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

Folley, Nick.  “Catholic Church is Not to Blame Entirely for Tuam Babies.”  Cork Independent, 19 June 2014.  http://www.corkindependent.com/20140619/news/catholic-church-is-not-to-blame-entirely-for-tuam-babies-S85780.html.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

Griffin, Jay.  ps09jgriffin.  Medford High School.               http://becomingamerica.wikispaces.com/ps09jgriffin.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

Gluck, Robert.  “J.D. Salinger and the Holocaust.”  The Algemeiner, 27 April 2014, http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/04/27/j-d-salinger-and-the-holocaust/.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

“I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills! – Will Ferrell In Zoolander GIF” https://www.tenor.co/view/willferrell-crazypills-zoolander-crazy-insane-gif-3547413.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road (Penguin Classics) (p. 5-6 & 161). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Knobel, Dale T.  Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America.  Wesleyan University Press, 1986.

MacLise, Daniel.  “Illustration to Thomas Moore’s song, ‘Erin, the Tear and the Smile in Thine Eyes.'”  O’Shea, Helen.  http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mp/9460447.0003.205/–defining-the-nation-confining-the-musician-the-case-of-irish?rgn=main;view=fulltext.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

“Moriarty Family History.”  Ancestry.com.  http://www.ancestry.com/name-origin?surname=moriarty.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

@nilesfiles, The Niles Files.  “The Godfather Part II: Fruit of Thy Womb”, The Niles Files, http://nilesfilmfiles.blogspot.ie/2012/03/godfather-part-ii-fruit-of-thy-womb.html.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

White, Victoria.  “Protestant Bethany Homes Babies Ignored Despite Tuam Revelations.”  Irish Examiner, 12 June 2014, http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/columnists/victoria-white/protestant-bethany-homes-babies-ignored-despite-tuam-revelations-271739.html.  Accessed 28 March 2017.

Writing Workshop

Last week I went to an awesome writer’s workshop for… writers-block-2!!!

[Full disclosure, though, I haven’t been having writer’s block.  Creative writing lately has felt like the easiest outlet for stress or frustration I have.]

Nonetheless, it sounded really fun, and I had been to a few events hosted by the UCC English Society, and they’d all been fun… oh no, need to find synonyms for ‘fun’…. will bring that up next time, hope it will be… fun?

Anyway, here’s the flier:writing-workshop

I hadn’t heard of Kathy D’Arcy before, having done my undergrad in the states, but it was really fun… eh, nice, meeting her at the event.  We started off with a meditation, then some simple writing exercises, describing a person we knew by just writing non stop for 5 minutes.  Eventually, we got prompts, such as, write a metaphor about this person using ‘fire’ or ‘earth’ or ‘water’.  I used the person I always seem to… Brendan Castle, a buddy of mine I met when we were 17 at Scout Camp over the Summer.  We hated each other.  Like, I mean, big time.  His purple hair and anarchy logos were the antithesis to my Catholic iconography stenciled over punk rock lyrics on my jumper.  I didn’t see him again until we were 19, when we discovered we were very much involved in the same music scene when I drove a friend of mine, who was the lead singer for the band Brendan was playing drums for, to the dilapidated recording studio behind the Halal butcher and in front of the Trailer Park off Route 28 in my hometown.  Becoming friends through shared musical tastes, and an affinity for the social circle of others on the fringe of society led him to call me one afternoon in 2008, after I had completed Basic Training and Infantry School, and had been drilling part time as a National Guardsman, preparing to go to Iraq for a year.  Ultimately, we ended up as roommates in Richmond for a while, working civilian jobs and going to college, and drilling on weekends at the same National Guard unit, before going to Afghanistan together, my second deployment, his first.  We stopped being Brendan and Phil, and instead became Castle and Nannery.

Above: A couple of BFFs.

Kathy asked me if I’d heard of Kevin Powers before.  It was strange.  I met him last year, after getting rear ended borrowing my sister’s car by some neck-tattooed hick on the Midlo Turnpike.  Kevin Powers went to the same University as me, and I was there giving a talk to English undergrads about how to teach English abroad, having promptly grown a beard and moved to Japan after ETSing from the Guard and graduating in ’13.  I walked up to him after his reading in the English building on Grace Street, the same Grace Street that had been called Hell Block when me and Castle moved to Richmond, before it became gentrified and safe.  I asked Kevin ironically, if he could ‘spare a cigarette for a combat vet down on his luck’.  He laughed, and we had a smoke together, and chatted.  I told him that I hadn’t read his book, The Yellow Birds, afraid that it would influence me too much as I tried to find my own voice and style.  He understood, totally

Kathy told me that there is a huge demand for ‘war fiction’ now, because it’s happening so recently, and still happening, and there is not much material being written about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I thought of how it seemed to me that all the memoirs and non fiction books and fiction written about Iraq and Afghanistan seem to come from journalists, or worse… officers.  Not enlisted, not grunts, like me and Castle.  People love the stories of Special Forces, and Special Operations, though they don’t know the difference between the two, and the big shot generals who make the big decisions.  “Gods and Generals”, I believe that Civil War film was called…. I used to joke around with my buddies in Afghanistan, that I would write a memoir one day, about the disconnect between the top brass and the media, and America’s perception from the reality of us ‘boots on the ground’.  Never mind trying to explain the flood of emotions I experience when I read some reporter or politician debating the deployment or definition of ‘boots on the ground’.  That would be impossible to communicate, and I won’t even try.  I would call the memoir ‘Peons and Privates’, I would always say.  While that still remains an inside joke with buddies, I have written a novel since, and am currently sending query letters to literary agents who mostly don’t write back.  Don’t believe me…?  Observe, exhibit A:dwelling-cover

But that’s not done overnight.  It’s not.  And sitting down, and having a fit of eloquent verbal diarrhea won’t magically manage to create an outlet for all of the thoughts, and memories, the sounds, and sights, and smells that I took in and soaked into my mind, my body, my soul, everything for 2 years in my early 20s.  It’s a process.  It’s a fun process.  And Kathy’s input was awesome, and encouraging, and fun, to hear.  She asked me if I was familiar with the Beats, and I grew mollified, and said ‘of course’ and mentioned how I was planning on doing a thesis on the cultural influence of the Irish diaspora on Jack Kerouac.  She told me that she asked because I had these long, flowing sentences, which I recently found a word for (parataxis).  I thought back to my senior year of high school, in the states, after meeting Castle at Summer camp the same week I found out my parents were getting divorced, and shortly before finding out the Marine Corps recruiter wouldn’t take me because of my medical history and getting expelled from school when I was younger, a few years before I joined the Army instead, I would sit in the back of Mr. Miller’s English class in front of a big poster with a picture of Jack Kerouac and a quote of his.kerouac 2.pngI’ve thought about this for years.  It was one of those things that began my interest in writing, in living, in being a beatnik, in going to Ireland to see where my family came from during the Celtic Tiger in 2006, in joining the Army in 2007, in travelling.  And most of all, it is what I have always thought of, since being in Iraq, and always wanting to capture just one image that I remember.  I once saw a line of red tracer rounds shooting across the night Baghdad sky, to shoot down incoming mortar rounds.  I was safe, of course, as it was several kilometers away.  But the image of something so violent, exploding against the night sky, with the Iraqi heat pressing up against my chafed and reddened young skin, has always felt like the most impossibly illusive experience to attempt to communicate to others.  But then, I guess that’s what makes me mad, and that’s what makes me desirous.

I hope to use some of the insights and feedback from the session, and look forward to more English Society events, and a big shout out to the UCC English Society and Dr. Kathy D’Arcy of UCC as well.



Works Cited:

Ott, Christopher.  “Mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved”.  Serviette Scribbles, 11 June, 2013, http://www.serviettescribbles.com/2013/06/mad-to-live-mad-to-talk-mad-to-be-saved.html.  Accessed 28 Feb. 2017.