My Irish great-grandparents came to New England from County Mayo and County Armagh at the time of the great famine. Since my grandparents were all deceased by the 1950’s, books have been a major source of obtaining family knowledge – this essay is meant to illustrate that point and to cover the full history of my Irish immigrants and ancestors  – both in Ireland and America.
I do not intend to present a list of “how to do Irish genealogy” books. But suffice it to say, I could not have succeeded without some basic knowledge.  Three books stand out:
Dwight A. Radford & Kyle J. Betit, Discovering Your Irish Ancestors, Betterway Books, Cincinatti, 2001
James G. Ryan, Irish Records: Sources for Family and Local History, Ancestry, Salt Lake City, 1997
Brian Mitchell, A Guide to Irish Parish Registers, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1988
The first Irish book that I purchased was from Mrs. Kenny at her bookstore in Galway; she sat at the base of the stairs and would tell her customers what books would meet their needs and interests.  For me, the book that told me about the lives of my ancestors as small ordinary farmers is a collection of tales published over many years in the Mayo News:
Gertrude M. Horgan (Ed.), James Berry’s Tales of the West of Ireland, Colin Smyth, Gerrards Cross, England, 1988
To discover what drove people from Ireland, I had to find out about the potato famine of the 1840’s.  For me, three books are tops: the first tells about the misery in Ireland (Mayo was especially hard hit), the second tells of the terrible life on the famine ships, and the last tells about the thousands of Irish deaths resulting from disease spreading among crowded ships waiting to dock at Grosse Ile, the Canadian “Ellis Island”(it was much cheaper to go to Canada than to the US); these coffin ships  took passengers back after delivering timber to England).
Cormac O’Grada, Black ‘47 and Beyond:The Great Irish Famine, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1999
James J. Mangan, Gerard Keegan’s Journey to a New World, Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1991
Marianna O’Gallagher, Grosse Ile: Gateway to Canada, 1832-1937, Carraig Books, Quebec, 1984
Looking for more information about the parish and townland my relatives came from, I explored local publications. While visiting there, I bought a Louisburgh history book, but the big surprise was to learn of the periodic publications of the local parish An Coinneal (“the candle”) .  It has been published since 1959 and has over 100 pages in each of 25 issues including frequent articles by my cousin Una O’Malley of Kinnadoohy.  The Ways of Old tell about farm life in Ireland, and the Louisburgh-Clinton Connection gives details of chain migration between one town in Ireland (Louisburgh) and another in Massachusetts (Clinton).
John Lyons, Louisburgh: A History, Louisburgh Traders Association, Louisburgh, 1995
Kilgeever Parish, An Coinneal, Louisburgh, 25 issues, 1959-2009
Olive Sharkey, Ways of Old: Traditional Life in Ireland, O’Brien Press, Dublin 1985
Edward M. Gill, The Louisburgh-Clinton Connection, Trafford Publishing, Victoria,BC, 2006
Now to learn about immigrants lives in America, I have picked 5 books.  The Paddy Camps tell us about the work and living conditions in a growing New England mill town.  Erin’s Daughters tells about the lives of immigrant women in the 19th century (often domestic workers, making important contributions to the family by sending money back to Ireland).   Voices of the Irish Immigrant – Information Wanted Ads in the New York Truth Teller  -- people seeking to find family members (brothers, husbands, wives, etc) who have been long missing.  Inventing Irish America, which tells the story of Irish assimilation in Worcester, MA., Finally, Irish Rebel recalls the story of John Devoy, a newspaperman who devoted his life to raising money in America to support revolutionary activities in Ireland.
Brian C. Mitchell, The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821-61, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1988
Hasia R. Diner, Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the 19th Century, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1983
Diane Fitzpatrick Haberstroh and Laura Murphy DeGrazia, Voices of the Irish Immigrant: Information Wanted Ads in the Truth Teller, 1825-1844, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, New York, 2005
Timothy J. Meagher, Inventing Irish America: Generation: Class and Ethnic Identity in a New England City, 1880-1928, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, 2001
Terry Golway, Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s fight for Ireland’s Freedom, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 1998
Two books indicate what the immigrants left behind. The Transformation of Ireland gives a decade by decade history of 20th century Ireland leading up to the Celtic Tiger economy. Matt Cooper,  an experienced reporter, tells us what happened to end the boom and ruin the economy
Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, The Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY 2004
Matt Cooper, Who Really Runs Ireland: The story of the elite who led Ireland from Bust to Boom and back again,Penguin Books, London, 2010
Finally, I like to read novels to get an idea of community life and values.  I particularly have enjoyed the works of Irish writers John B. Keane and John McGahern.  But for these purposes I recommend the following:
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes, Simon & Shuster, New York, 1996                           This great book tells of his life in Limerick and New York.
James Michael Curley,  I’d do it again!, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1957         This book tells Boston Mayor Curley’s  story (after Edwin O’Connor’s successful book: The Last Hurrah)
And a couple of non-fiction books about living in modern pre-boom Ireland:
Thomas Lynch, Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2005 This Michigan undertaker tells of nice sabbaticals at his great grandfather’s West Clare home.
Niall Williams and Christine Breen, O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare. Soho Press, New York, 1987            This young couple met at Trinity College,married, worked in New York City, and then moved to her great grandfather’s cottage in the West of Ireland.
I’m sure that others could come up with a similar list of Irish family history books .    I would appreciate your comments and suggestions of other books that you have found useful and that I should study. 

This article was prompted by the contribution “Not by Records Alone” by Tom K. Rice that appeared in the October 2011 issue of The Septs where he present an excellent bibliography on Irish-American issues.

My comments apply to an Irish Catholic family, for those who have Scotch-Irish ancestors, I recommend Senator James Webb’s (D-VA) book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, Broadway Books, New York, 2004

This article was published by The Septs, journal of the Irish Genealogical Society International, 2012



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