Celtic Roots: Stories, Songs and Traditions from Across the Sea

BACKGROUND: Immigration and Finn McCoul

Immigration and the Irish

Image of Immigrants looking at the Statue of LibertyThe majority of Americans trace their family origins to a country other than the United States. Many immigrants came to this country seeking greater freedom or an opportunity for a better life. Some came against their will and were forced to provide labor that helped build the nation. Immigrants brought with them a pride in their heritage, and distinctive cultural traditions and values.

So who is an "American"? We all are! As former President Jimmy Carter said, "We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams."

The Irish, who contribute a large piece to this national mosaic, began arriving in America during the Colonial Period. They continued coming, in increasingly large numbers, over the next centuries. As many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. In time, the sum total of Irish-Americans exceeded the entire population of Ireland and New York City boasted more Irishmen than Dublin, Ireland!

For many Irish immigrants, life in the United States was hard. They experienced a limited choice of affordable housing, discrimination in the work force, relegation to the most menial and dangerous jobs, religious conflict and persecution, and ethnic stereotyping and slurs. Similar difficulties have been experienced by subsequent waves of newcomers to the United States.

The Irish established other patterns followed by later immigrant groups, as well. Many Irish-Americans sent financial support to families remaining in the homeland and brought additional family members to the United States over time.

The Irish contributed to the "American culture" in many ways. They became political and religious leaders. They used their drive and charm (and their "way with words") to achieve special success in journalism, entertainment and sports. Popular perceptions of the fierce Irish temper, introduced such terms as "Donneybrook" and "Fighting Irish" to the American language.

The Irish who entered the United States from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries were changed by America, just as they changed this nation. They achieved lives that would not have been possible in Ireland, supporting their families and bringing a better life to their fellow Irish in the United States and in Ireland.

A Giant of a Man

Image of Finn MacCoulFionn mac Cumhail (Finn MacCoul, Finn MacCool) was the greatest leader of the Fianna; the military elite of ancient Ireland responsible for guarding the High King. The Fianna were founded in 300 B.C. by the High King Fiachadh (fee-a-kuh). Until Fionn mac Cumhail implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna had a reputation of being a somewhat unruly bunch of men who considered themselves, to some small degree, above the law, due to their position of power. Fionn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people; to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice that others may aspire to. The tales of the Fianna are argued to be the basis of those of the Knights of the Round Table of England, with Arthur as their leader as Fionn was leader of the Fianna. He was also father of the great poet Oisín (o-sheen).

One of the most celebrated characters in Irish mythology, he became the leading warrior of the Fianna, the band of fierce Leinster warriors.

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