By William W. Giffin
Indiana Historical Society Press; $13.95
Irish and Indiana are synonymous with building the state’s early transportation systems — canals, National Road, railroads — and early manufacturing. Yet the connection goes back farther, to George Crogan of Dublin who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1741 and ultimately engaged in diplomacy with the Miami, Wea and Piankashaw leaders on behalf of the British. He was also the chief negotiator to end Pontiac’s War.
This slim volume recounts much of what appeared in Peopling Indian: The Ethnic Experience (1996, Indiana Historical Society). What you get is a quick “glimpse of past Irish life in Indiana.” There is sufficient data to explain the lasting effects of “the stigma of being poor people in an affluent land.” Early on the Irish were recruited to do the work second and third generation Americans didn’t want to do. Later migrations came seeking a better life, only to find urban existence was stifling and the hatred of the KKK posed major concerns for safety. Yet, within a generation or two, the book points out, the Irish became shopkeeprs and professionals and moved easily into civic life. Connections to the mother country, nevertheless, remained strong.
Of particular interest is the connection with Meredith Nicholson’s best-selling The House of a Thousand Candles, set in 1900 when the Irish National League in support of independence from Great Britain was particularly active in Indiana. Irish activist Laurence Donovan plays a major role in the affairs of John Glenarm, who must live a year in Indiana to fulfill the stipulations of his grandfather’s will.
Reading this novel along with the history is a delightful exercise. Giffin’s Conclusion points to the need for more scholarship and more books about the Irish experience in Indiana. He lists a number of neglected themes awaiting a new generation of authors. Anyone out there interested?