The portrayal of the Irish Diaspora in major films, tales or other literary works bears a sense of resemblance, whether the work is factual or fictitious. This follows a number of stereotypes connected with it. While some hold true, others are mere speculations founded on negative ethnicity and racism.
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One cannot neglect at this point, the creation of characters in the Irish Diaspora, as holding some of the values that make sense in their ancestral homes. These include a seeming sense of celebrating lawlessness and violence motivated by a struggle to overturn the social order. The Irish are identified through certain things as being Catholics, a tendency that opposes anything to do with modernity as well as certain things like the celebration of rites as those of marriages.
There are different art works used in the defense of these arguments. These include a movie such as John Ford’s “The Quiet Man” produced in 1957, McDonald’s book “All Souls”, among others such as Peter Carey’s “The True History of the Kelly Gang”. As the paper unfolds, ‘Irishness’, defined by poverty, is more than just a matter of genealogy.
Adverse poverty in the Irish Diaspora
Ford’s “The Quiet Man”
Considering that John Ford is of an Irish origin, his portrayal of the Irish Diaspora can be seen as really appealing to the Irish –American’s, whom they share the same sentiments about their lives in the Diaspora and the ideal life they consider to be like in Ireland.
In this movie adapted from Maurice Walsh’s short story “The Green Rushes”, Ford seems to be giving a sentimental and rather nostalgic tribute to Ireland considering the manner in which he romanticizes everything in the film to achieve his agenda. Comparing the life in the Diaspora with the actual life in Ireland makes the viewers share a sentiment with the main character in the film, Sean Thornton, testifying that he regards Ireland as his heaven while he suffers in the Diaspora.
Based on this movie, it is clear that overt poverty characterizes the life of the Irish in Diaspora exposing the Irish immigrants to living life in ways that they would otherwise have avoided if they lived in their home country. For instance, Sean Thornton in this movie is compelled to become a boxer where he kills an opponent unintentionally while involved in a pay fight to sustain his life in Pittsburg. He decides to hang his gloves and return to Ireland to live a peaceful life without having to fight anyone for a living.
Ford exposes the capitalistic nature of most of the host countries and more so the USA, where Irish immigrants find themselves in difficult situations that force them to employ life threatening measures to ensure that they survive.
Even though this aspect of violence seems to reappear after returning to Ireland, it is clear that Ford intents to contrast the situations as they are in Pittsburg to those in Ireland for the simple reason of preferring the rather traditional setting to the more industrialized capitalistic scenarios in the host country.
In his portrayal of Ireland, Ford creates a meeting point between the real and the unreal through the manner he romanticizes scenery and the people involved. Sean prefers to purchase the “wee humble cottage “and settle down, which is better than the harsh conditions exposed to workers in the mines of Pittsburg.
He says “steel and pig iron furnaces so hot a man forgets his fear of hell”. This clearly portrays the conditions as they are in the Irish Diaspora, which to some extend tends to justify the manner in which they become violent and often getting involved in drug trafficking to sustain themselves. The same conditions stand out in McDonald’s “All Souls: A family story from Southie”
Drug trafficking, prostitution and lawlessness makes the order of the day in this ghetto (McDonald 3). This further emphasizes the portrayal of the Irish Diaspora as the ‘other” as far as class is concerned. Most people live in conditions characterized by adverse poverty and brutality, as seen in situations such as those that his mother faces of having to witness the deaths of four of his kids.
The Irish in the Diaspora is condemned to living the worst nightmare as portrayed in this rather honest description of the situations as brought forth by McDonald.
Peter Carey’s “True History of the Kelly Gang” emphasizes on the effect that poverty has on the Irish in the Diaspora. This stands out in the description of the circumstances that surround Ned Kelly’s life that end up forcing him into crime. His father, an Irish, is taken to Australia and dies in prison because of the many brushes that he had with the police. He dies while his son is at the age of twelve leaving behind only the mother to cater for the children.
She does this through operating a ‘shebeen’ and having a number of partners who help her feed the children. She ends up getting involved with the bushranger Harry Power, who introduces Ned to crime. The sense that extreme violence because of poverty characterizes the Irish Diaspora is evident in this case.
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Kerby A. Miller in his book “Emigrants and Exiles” points out that rather than the Irish in the Diaspora accepting that they have put themselves into the harsh lifestyle they live in, points out that a majority consider themselves as exiles having been forced out of their own country involuntarily by the British and landlords. This in Ford’s “The Quiet Man” stands out in the manner in which Sean considers his life in Pittsburg as a condemnation by circumstances to leave a miserable life.
Ned Kelly’s father; Red Kelly is condemned to live in Victoria being forced against his will to separate with his family. Rather than considering their emigration as an opportunity to live in more developed host countries, Miller portrays a manner in which these Irish divorced themselves from these acts of ambitious emigration and portray a deep-rooted homesickness for their beloved country.
Miller argues that the nostalgic nature, feeling of alienation and embrace of nationalism among the Irish in Diaspora is deeply rooted in their traditional Irish Catholicism which make them tend to delineate themselves from having had emigrated for selfish gains but consider themselves as involuntary victims of circumstances(11).
There are incidences whereby the catholic Irish immigrants are targeted in violence and xenophobia when they settled in other territories where they were considered as bringing unnecessary competition among the natives.
Since most of the immigrants were not educated and found themselves competing for manual jobs with natives, this caused friction, which made their lives more difficult. The recruitment of the Irish into the army en masse exposed them to grave danger and a huge number of them faced their death during the American civil war. In this case, the Irish-Americans considered themselves as being treated as second-class citizens considering that they could have a better life in their home country.
However, the life in the Irish Diaspora seems to promise less to the Irish. Ford in “The Quiet Man” romanticizes the beauty of the country of his origin to emphasize the fact despite the Irish –Americans’ suffering in the Diaspora, there was pretty good things happening at home and one just required to give up their lifestyles in the Diaspora and trace their roots in their beautiful home country.
Stevens says “While most of the United States disdained sheer volume of Irish manpower pouring into the country during this time, one American institution welcomed them with open arms: the United States Army. Facing two looming conflicts, with Great Britain in the North and Mexico in the South, American military planners needed to fill its ranks quickly” (35) giving an insight of how the Irish in the Diaspora were exposed to grave dangers in the Mexican war since they were only used for the simple reason that they were immigrants.
Ford, in the end of the film ends the conflict that shapes the plot of the story by bringing about a sense of tranquility. This restores the sense of paradise –like picturesque that he gives the setting that is in the rural town of Innisfree through the photography and the use of color.
McDonald, Patrick. All souls: A family story From Southie. New York: Beacon publishers.
Miller, Kerby. Emigrants and Exiles. USA: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Stevens, Peter. Rogue’s March: Riley and the St. Patrick’s Battalion. New York: Brassey’s Publishers .1999.
- The 1900 massive migration of the Irish community to Canada resulted from the then poverty prevailing in the Irish homeland.
- Ireland as heaven and Diaspora as heaven seems ironical because suffering is and has been the talk of the day for the people of Ireland.
- Approximately 2 million Irish people left their mother country within decade between 1840-1850 with the number increasing day by day as those who had settled send for their friends and relatives.
- Severe hunger, political prejudice, religious subordination, and wars dominated the Irish people arousing their anger as the government turned them a deaf ear as they called for its intervention.
- The Irish continued with their poverty-stricken life even after migrating to Canada.
- Competition of jobs, resources, as well as settlement areas
- The Irish people might consider returning to their motherland following the persistent problems in Canada.