In this eighteenth annual Ernie O’Malley lecture, Dr. Eileen Sullivan discusses the nineteenth-century popular novels that defined Irish American identity and transformed American Catholic culture. The more than thirty novels, spanning the period from the 1830s to the 1870s, were published by Catholic houses in New York, Boston, and Baltimore, all owned by Irish immigrants. The novelists — six men and one woman, immigrants and the sons of Immigrants — included priests, journalists, editors, and professional writers.
Fearing that the Irish would abandon their heritage in the competitive religious environment of America, the novelists sought to make an Irish Catholic identity attractive to them. Through character and plot, they constructed a memory of Ireland to engender pride, portrayed the Church and priests as deserving of love and loyalty, and depicted exemplary working class immigrant women who challenged the reigning domestic ideal. The novels urged the immigrants to insulate themselves socially and culturally from Protestant America by building their own institutions, asserting nevertheless that the Irish would be loyal citizens. They would fight in America’s wars and accept the ideals of religious liberty and church state separation. Since Irish Catholic identity also included attitudes toward the political issues of the day, the novelists advocated positions on slavery, abolition, women’s rights, and Irish nationalism.
Dr. Eileen Sullivan is Lecturer in Political Theory at Rutgers University. She also teaches at the Institute for Retired Professionals at The New School and has recently lectured at the University of Kassel, Germany. In addition to her academic positions, Dr. Sullivan has directed research departments for New York City, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Vera Institute of Justice. Her articles and book chapters have appeared in the American Journal of Irish Studies, the Journal of the History of Ideas, Political Theory, and Handbook of Public Policy Analysis: Theory, Politics and Methods. Her book, The Shamrock and the Cross: Irish American Novelists Shape American Catholicism has just been published by the University of Notre Dame Press.
The Ernie O'Malley Lecture Series is endowed by Cormac K. H. O'Malley in honor of his father, Ernie O'Malley.
Introduction by Marion Casey, Clinical Assistant Professor of Irish Studies and Senior Archivist, Archives of Irish America, NYU.