Speaking on “A Genius for Politics? Irish Immigrants and the Battle to Expand American Democracy, 1830-60,” Sean Farrell, Ph.D., a professor of history at Northern Illinois University, will present the inaugural Le Moyne College Eileen Patricia McMahon Zogby '67 Irish Lecture on Thursday, Feb. 18 at 3 p.m.
The talk is co-hosted by Le Moyne College’s Irish literature program, the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS) and the Irish Embassy. The lecture will be virtual; register for the event at this link.
As part of the program, Daniel Mulhall, the Irish Ambassador to the United States, will be a respondent to the lecture.
Historians long have celebrated the Irish American proclivity for politics, a talent reflected in their mid- to late nineteenth century rise to prominence within the Democratic Party. But Irish immigrants had a broader and more decisive impact on American politics than hitherto understood. Trained for politics in the prefamine Irish countryside and in Daniel O’Connell’s national crusade for Catholic Emancipation, they were well positioned to make an impact in American politics, a largely English-speaking population that understood the value of numbers. They started doing so in the 1830s, taking advantage of liberal voting rights in western states such as Illinois, where non-citizens could vote until 1848. Both the Democratic and Whig parties appealed to Irish immigrant voters in the late 1830s and early 1840s, and a number of Irish Americans won local office in these years. In many ways, it was Irish American political success as much as anti-Catholic sentiment that generated the anti-Irish (and anti-immigrant) policies and rhetoric of the Whigs and the Know Nothings in the 1840s and 1850s.
This lecture will focus on the stories of Irish and Irish-American canal workers, who fought and voted in communities from Maryland to Illinois. Examining the political lives of these largely working-class Irish immigrants underlines the fact that struggles over the right to vote and efforts to disenfranchise immigrant populations have a long history in the United States
Dr. Sean Farrell is Professor of History at Northern Illinois University. A former President of the American Conference for Irish Studies, he is the author of a number of works on religion and politics in nineteenth-century Ireland, including the prize-winning Rituals and Riots: Sectarian Violence and Political Culture in Modern Ulster, 1784-1886 (Lexington, 2000). His latest book, co-authored with Mathieu Billings, is The Irish in Illinois (Carbondale, 2021).
The Eileen Patricia McMahon Zogby '67 Irish Lecture focuses on topics related to Irish literature and history and the Irish immigrant experience in America. Eileen passed away in 2020 and a generous gift from her husband, James Zogby Ph.D., ’67, named the annual lecture series in her memory. Read more about Eileen Zogby here.
Dr. Zogby will share remarks prior to the lecture, as will Kate Costello-Sullivan, Ph.D., director of Le Moyne’s Irish Literature program and current ACIS president, and Le Moyne Provost Joseph Marina, S.J.