he history of the formation and development of the United States is tied directly to immigration. Since the earliest arrivals of immigrants from Europe, to the arrivals from Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the United States has been the chosen home of freedom lovers and freedom fighters. Sometimes, America's door was not always open, or it was only slightly ajar. In those times, it took a persevering spirit to get in. The immigrants who became Americans, those that came in the front door held open for them, those that squeezed in before it was shut, and those who came in through the back door uninvited, all have a common bond which connects these emigrants from diverse cultures. This common bond was the desire to have the liberty to seek an opportunity to pursue religious, economic, and/or political freedom. This bond connects the many peoples who came and come to our shores and who now are called or seek to be called Americans!
Almost every country has had their tired, their poor, their huddled masses yearning to breathe free come to this country. Three countries stand out in the statistics. The 1990 Census of the United States recorded more than half the population of the United States claimed ancestry to these three countries. These countries constitute the major contribution to the United States of America in terms of population.
Most Americans are aware of the influence England, France, and Spain had on American history; and most Texans are aware of their contributions to their state's history. Texans are aware they represent three of the "Six Flags over Texas" (there were more than six, but that is another story).
England, France and Spain were large and powerful enough to have colonies across the world from their homeland in the "New World", part of which became the United States of America. Despite their key role in the development of the New World, Spain and France are not represented as major contributors to the population of the United States. Both country's U. S. population percentage is well under 10%. Three other countries contribute over 10% each.
England is one of these, but more so are two other countries which did not have colonies in the Americas. One of these, Germany, had enough emigrants in the United States during the early days of this country, that German missed by one vote displacing English as the official language of the United States. During the period between the Mexican War and the Civil War, there were enough Germans in Texas for all laws to be published in German as well as Spanish and English. After the Mexican War this practice was extended to publications of almost all the branches of the Texas government.
The second major contributor to the American population is not on the economic and political level of the other two, England and Germany. It was not rich and powerful. It was and is smaller than the other two; but contributed as much or more than they have in the making of America. The numbers show it to be a close second to Germany in the make up our country's life blood, its people. The history books show this country's contributors to American history exceed their percentage of the population. This country's contribution to America is both legion and legend! The country is Ireland.
Earlier census numbers did not reflect the true situation with respect to the Irish among us. For many years the Irish were counted as being English as they were considered part of Great Britain. Many of the early records do not make a distinction. The same can be said of other Celts; the Scotch and Welsh. Ireland, Scotland and Wales did not have the influence as countries or governments on America or Texas. It was as a people the Irish and other Celts made many and important contributions to both the United States and Texas. The Irish came as individuals to meld their Celtic culture into the American melting pot. The Irish and the other Celts became an important part of America and as we shall see, of Texas.
As can be seen by the graphic above the Irish were more than 20% of the population in several states and over 15% in many more as shown by the U. S. 1990 Census. These numbers would be larger if the other Celtic nations of origin (Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, etc.) were included .
As almost half of the Presidents of the United States were of Irish descent (see Appendix I), many Americans are somewhat aware of what the Irish mean to American history. The contribution of the Irish to the history of Texas is not as generally known. Oh, the people are known, individually, for what they contributed to Texas history, but the Celtic connection has not been made. There are many reasons for this oversight. Perhaps the foremost reason was- Texas was frontier country.
In the northeastern United States, ethnic groups, including the Irish, were kept together by the economics of the job and housing markets. There were constant, daily reminders of their ethnicity from the outside, so they tended to become insular to take care of their own. There were church, charitable, benevolent, and other social societies or organizations which, while supporting the Irish or other Celtic community, reinforced their dependency on themselves and their traditions. This was not the case on the frontier where there was plenty of space and plenty of room for independent pioneers.
When things got rough and neighbors pulled together, your neighbor's accent didn't preclude you from accepting his help or offering yours. The next time it may be you or one of your own needing assistance, and there were not that many people around for one to be choosy.
The rigors and remoteness of the frontier gave many Irish acceptability, but it took them away from any Irish support group, including their church. Lack of priest, pastor, or clan accelerated the assimilation of some Irish into a new identity that was developed locally. As a result, I have met families which lived in Texas for several generations, with stark Irish surnames, unaware their forebears were anything but Texan, American and Baptist. They were totally unaware of their Celtic connection, or Hibernian heritage which would identify their ancestors as being from Ireland and almost certainly Catholic or Presbyterian.
To understand why the Irish, and other Celts were in America and Texas, you need to be aware of some of the events in their history (see Appendix II). After the English invaded Ireland in 1169, the situation in Ireland became so bad for the Irish, many left. The English pushed off the land the Irish who remained, and rented it to others. In 1608, the recipients in Ulster, northern Ireland, were mostly Scottish families who were brought to Ireland to cultivate the confiscated land. One hundred years later, the English raised the rents of the now Irish families, often putting the land out for bids. Families were put in the position of having to bid for the land they had cultivated for generations, often against the family of the dispossessed, previous Irish owner. The English in so doing, made a new Irish enemy, and hardened the old enemy. The bidding process also increased the enmity between the two Celtic groups who called the land home. The English called for bids again eighteen years later, and then again five years later. When the dispossessed and the oppressed rebelled, the English killed hundreds of thousands outright with the sword and millions more with the starvation that followed.
Rather than live unfree in their own land or face possible death, many an Irish man, woman, and child left. Others left because they realized that by making improvements on the land, they were in effect raising their own rents come bidding time. Bidding time was at the whim of the English.
< Percentage of Irish leaving Ireland in the period 1841 - 1851
In the late 1830's, the population of Ireland was approaching eight million. More than one hundred and fifty years later, in the 1990's, the population of Ireland is only three million. Five million people gone!
Gone too are the children and grandchildren of those five million. This negative population growth reflects the number of Irish who died or departed Ireland, and the despair of those who stayed and refrained from bringing children into English slavery. The five million does not count the generations of Erin's sons and daughters who left for other lands and became fathers and mothers for their new country (remember, Texas had about 2.8 million of Erin's children in the 1990 Census; the United States recorded 42 million).
England slinks away having passed Canada's door to place the Irish infant on the doorstep of the United States in this political cartoon of an earlier day
It would not be wrong to say that England was somewhat complicit in the immigration of the Celts to the United States. The English wanted the land, but did not want the people, nor did they really want them in other parts of the empire, they had tried that in Australia and the Caribbean. Better to be rid of them entirely.
Most of those who were able to leave Ireland, came to America. The first to arrive were mostly the Presbyterian Irish from Ulster, though there were healthy numbers also emigrating from the other provinces. Later, it was the Catholic Irish who arrived in greater numbers in America. So many Irish immigrants came just before the American Revolution that a large percentage of the Continental Army was Irish. Still more came when the English were defeated and driven from the United States. Most of the Irish immigrants stayed very close to where they got off the boat, in the closest U.S. port cities to Ireland. By the early 1800's, as more and more immigrants from Ireland arrived, pressures were beginning to mount. Discrimination was rampant and soon led to bigotry, violence and mob action. Violence against many of the Irish also meant attacks on their religion. An example was an anti-Irish riot which burned a convent, the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on August 11, 1834. At the time of the attack, there were 60 children and 10 nuns in the building. They successfully escaped with their lives through a garden.
THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS
As pressure mounted and the discrimination and violence increased, the Irish turned to ancient traditions for protection. The need arose for a new organization from an old idea; and so on May 4, 1836, the same year as the Texas Revolution, a group of Catholic Irishmen founded The Ancient Order of Hibernians in America (AOH). Although new to America, the Order had a long and rich history in Ireland.
"Orders" of men as organizations in Ireland predate the coming of Christ. Some of these organizations included: the Knights of the Red Branch, the Clan na Buoiscne, the Fianna, and the Fir Domniann mentioned in Appendix II.
After Saint Patrick converted the island to Christianity in the fifth century, many of the "Ancient Orders" dedicated themselves to the building of churches, schools and monasteries for the Catholic Church. When England invaded Ireland, a long persecution of the Irish and their religion began. Irish churches were destroyed, the Mass banned, and priests murdered. The Mass at that time was in Latin, so the Irish took the Latin word for Ireland, Hibernia, and formed in 1520 an organization to hide the priests, provide the people secret Mass locations, and to preserve Irish traditions. They named this new order, The Ancient Order of Hibernians. It was from this tradition the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America was organized in 1836. Its membership was limited to Irish born Catholics. Every prospective member required a sponsor who was already a member.
The organized Irish were able to make a difference and soon became a strong political force in America. New York was in 1860, the largest "Irish" city in the world. It had an Irish born population of nearly 207,740 out of a total population of 805,651. The adjacent, independent city of Brooklyn had another 56,710 Irish born as residents. In the War Between the States (Civil War), 235,000 Irish born men fought on both sides (150,000 Union; 85,000 Confederate). A lot of the prejudice against the Irish was erased by their performance in the war.
Meanwhile their organized activity, particularly in the Democratic Party, progressed to the point they controlled many of the large city organizations. The Irish were one of the keys to the Democrat's control of the United States government for 33 years, from the election to the presidency of Irishman Andrew Jackson in 1828 whose parents came from County Donegal, Ireland until Irishman James Buchanan, whose father was also born in County Donegal, left office in 1861. They did this first as voters, then as workers for the Democratic Party, and finally as minor, then intermediate office holders. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, as an Irish organization, was a part of this organized activity to participate in the American system. Having achieved its goals of defeating the Know Nothings and the bigotry they represented, and other organizations and people of similar ilk, the A.O.H. in 1884 broadened in scope and extended its membership to Americans of Irish descent. In 1886, it separated itself from the organization in Ireland.
The first A.O.H. Division organized in Texas was in Galveston in 1874. Other divisions were organized in the state. San Antonio founded a Division in 1881. By 1897, there were three Divisions just in the city of Houston, as well as a Ladies Auxiliary. There were eighteen A.O.H. Divisions in the state located in the major cities (Houston, Galveston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth) and smaller towns. In the modern era, Corpus Christi, Abilene and Austin organized divisions as did outlying communities of large cities such as San Patricio, Humble, and Clear Lake City. For those Irish in Texas who found the A.O.H. too parochial, there was the Emmet Council which was not as restrictive and had a larger membership than the A.O.H.. Many Hibernians belonged to both groups.
The situation for the Irish in the United States turned around after they organized and became politically active in the American political system. The Ancient Order of Hibernians can rightfully lay claim to some of that success. Evidence of their political power can be seen in U. S. and Texas history. In Texas, in 1898, the governor, Charles A. Culberson, attended the Houston Saint Patrick's Day parade organized by the city's AOH Divisions. The Mayor of Houston was an Irishman, John T. Browne, and a Hibernian. In 1905, the governor, S.W.T. Lanham, came to Houston for the Irish festivities on Saint Patrick's Day which included the dedication of the City of Houston's first public statue. The statue was of Irishman, Texan, and Houstonian Richard Dowling. The AOH and the Emmet Council both played important roles in getting the monument funded and in place.
Though a Catholic and an Irish organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America is an organization with broad objectives, with an emphasis on things Irish. The Preamble to the Constitution of the A.O.H. in America is as follows:
It is hereby declared and decreed that the purpose of this Organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, is:
1) to promote friendship, unity and Christian charity.
2) to foster and sustain loyalty to country and community.
3) to aid and advance by all legitimate means the aspirations and endeavors of the Irish people for complete and absolute independence.
4) to foster the ideals and perpetuate the history and traditions of the Irish people.
5) to promote Irish culture.
6) to encourage civic participation.
7) to encourage an equitable U.S. Immigration law for Ireland, and to cooperate with all groups for a fair American Immigration policy.
8) to accept and support, without prejudice, the concept of free expression of religious practice for the people of the world.
The CELTIC CONNECTION was written to fulfill many of these purposes.
THE IRISH COME TO TEXAS
Meanwhile, back to the story of the Irish coming to this country from Ireland. Not all the Irish crowded the cities of the east coast. Irish who became miners and lumbermen moved north and west. Irish railroaders moved west with the railroad. Before those trades were readily available to Irishmen, most of the Irish that moved out of the port cities, moved from generation to generation, south and west with the frontier. For many Irish this meant migrating to Pennsylvania, then to Virginia and the Carolinas, to the Ohio River Valley, then on to Kentucky, and Tennessee. From there, they began to move West. Succeeding generations wanted to do as their parents and grandparents had done by expanding their opportunities and make a new life for themselves in a new land. These pioneers moved into Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and then to Texas. Others came later from the crowded coastal cities looking to find a better life. They followed the trail cut by the pioneers. Still others had an easier route to Texas, their port of entry was New Orleans, or other Gulf of Mexico ports, or beginning in 1828, directly to Texas ports. Some Irish were in Texas long before it bordered the United States. When ever and where ever the Irish came to Texas, it was not hard to notice them, especially on March 17th.
MARCH 17th, SAINT PATRICK'S DAY
Like Irish stew and Irish coffee, the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day as more than a holy day was invented by expatriates; men and women who left Ireland in search of, and who found freedom. Freedom was for too many years and too many Irish, not to be found in Ireland. Their search for freedom took them far from their families and homeland to new lands, where they started new families and new traditions. Through time and distance the Irish spirit, a lively love of life and personal freedom, and a haughty and hearty disdain for things pretentious or solemn has prevailed. Through assimilation and generations it comes forth for the world to see on March 17, when the many sons and daughters of Erin celebrate the success of their freedom seeking pioneers.
As discussed above, many of those pioneers came to America, and they or their children came to Texas. They played an important part in the formation of Texas and throughout its history made important contributions. Philip Fry, Editorial Assistant for the Texas Historical Association's Handbook of Texas, a seminal Texas history book originally edited by noted Texas historian Eugene Barker, wrote in volume III, whose Editor-in-Chief was Eldon S. Branda:
...the story of the Irish in Texas is in many ways coincident with the founding of the Republic and the development of the State.
James Michener, the award winning historical novelist, and respected historian, attests to this in the beginning of his book, Texas:
Of the various national groups that settled Texas, and there were more than 20 -German, Czechs,
Poles, Wends, - the one which gave the area its basic character came from Ireland.
What you will be witnessing this and every March 17th are the sons, daughters, and descendants of those pioneers, and today's contributors to Texas history, celebrating a proud heritage. A heritage shared by many Texans who can trace some or all their lineage to those Irish pioneers seeking freedom. A freedom that has been long sought and hard fought. The search and fight has covered centuries, continents, and countries. Freedom has been an Irish ideal, an American attribute and a Texas tradition. That is why there are Irish-American-Texans proud to be all three!!!
This book was written for all Irish American Texans including: my children; Michael Patrick, Erin Bridget, Sean Christian, Shannon Lael, Shane Patrick; and for those children at one time in my care: Casey Russell; Kyle Jonathan; Joseph Francis; Amy Therese; Danny, Kathy, and Joyce; and the 2,864,844 Texans who stood up and were counted to be Irish by birth or descent in the 1990 Census. It is also written for my grandchidren: Lucy, Jack, Elise, Bridget, Christian, Emma, Ciera, Max, Miguel and Isabel (my apologies for any added after writing this) and for my siblings:Moya, Jackie and Bob, and their children: Patrick, Sinead, Dela, Mark, Bryan, Elizabeth, Anika, Jack - and all their children.
It is also written for the other Celts among us, the Scotch, Welsh, Bretons, Cornish, and Manx; especially those with a Celtic name and no understanding of Celtic culture and traditions save an innate Celtic curiosity. Another group for whom these pages are offered are those individuals very interested in Texas History and all its aspects of which I am one - offering the Celtic Connection to Texas History.
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