Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Booknotes: The Forgotten Irish

New Arrival:
The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America by Damian Shiels (The Hist Pr Ireland, 2017).

The Forgotten Irish is something of a companion work to Damian Shiels's earlier book The Irish in the American Civil War (2014). Though the title doesn't make it explicit, this study is also deeply connected to the American Civil War. From the description: "The research for this book has its origins in the pension records of the Civil War, which included birth and baptismal certs, medical records, and letters and private correspondence between family members. The treasure trove of material made available by the widows and dependent files comes, however, at a cost. In every instance, the file only exists due to the death of a soldier or sailor. From that as its starting point, colored by sadness, the author has crafted the stories of 35 Irish families whose lives were emblematic of the nature of the Irish emigrant experience."

The family accounts are organized in the book using four themes. With the emphasis on the families of soldiers, the first two sections ('Wives and Parents' and 'Community and Society') utilize pension records to examine family emigration, financial interdependence, and both domestic and international connections. Social ills such as "indigence, alcoholism, domestic violence, and bigamy" are also highlighted by these sources. The last two sections, 'A Life in Letters' and 'A Death in Letters,' offer insights into the lives of Irish soldiers through their correspondence (frequently reproduced in the text). The final section examines how those at home dealt with the news of a loved one's death.

Also, check out the author's excellent website Irish in the American Civil War: Exploring Irish Emigration & Irish Involvement in the American Civil War.

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