New book shines a light on Irish America


A NEW book from regular contributor to The Irish Voice, John Joe McGinley, looks at the lives, achievements and legacy of some of the most flamboyant and influential Irish American politicians.

The Irish have long played a prominent role in American politics this was highlighted when shortly before the Easter Rising of 1916, Cecil Spring Rice, the British ambassador in Washington, reported back to the British Foreign Office that: “The best politicians in the country are Irish, and the professional Irish politician is against us.”

It had been a long difficult road, but the Irish American political establishment was well-rooted in American society. It was confident in its ability and after many hard years of struggle, it was now determined to have its voice listened to.

The influence of Irishmen and women in American politics was nothing new, they had played a pivotal role in the US political system even before the foundation of the United States of America.

The first wave of Irish emigrants, in the 18th and early 19th century were predominantly of the Protestant faith. They sought religious freedom and had embraced their new home, using their ingenuity and work ethic to enjoy economic
success, which in turn led to involvement in all levels of the American political system.

This was apparent, when in July of 1776, 56 men came together to pledge their ‘lives, fortunes and sacred honour’ to form a new country where ‘all men are created equal’ and entitled to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’
Among the brave citizens who signed what could have been a death warrant, were at least eight of Irish blood and three who had been born in Ireland—James Smith, Matthew Thornton and George Taylor.

James Smith was born in Dublin 1719 and moved to America at an early age with his family, eventually settling in Pennsylvania. He studied law and emerged as a leading lawyer of his day. He rose to prominence with his legal opinions that denied the constitutional power and moral right of Great Britain over the colonies in America. He also urged, as Jonathan Swift would also do in Ireland, an end to the import of British goods. He signed the Declaration of Independence when he was 57 years old and went on to serve as a Colonel of the Pennsylvania militia and a member of the Continental Congress. The unit he commanded had so many Irish recruits that one General quipped that that it should more properly be designated as ‘the Line of Ireland.’

Matthew Thornton was born in County Limerick in 1714 and emigrated with his family as a four-year-old child in the passage of five ships carrying 120 Irish families from the Bann Valley. A prominent physician, he more than once stepped away from his lucrative medical practice to serve the people of his community. Prior to joining the Continental Congress, he had previously volunteered as an Army Surgeon during the French and Indian War.
He signed the Declaration on behalf of New Hampshire when he was 62 and served as a Colonel of the New Hampshire Militia, 1775-1783.

George Taylor from County Antrim was born in 1716 and he emigrated to America when he was 20 years old. He came to the United States as a “redemptioner” (indentured servant) who was first employed in the backbreaking task of stoking coal into a blast furnace at an Iron foundry. As would be typical of succeeding generations of Irish immigrants, Taylor through his own efforts and hard work prospered, eventually becoming a foundry master himself.
He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774-1776, and of the Continental Congress, 1776-1777.
Amidst the gentleman farmers and professionals of the Continental Congress, Irish American George Taylor was a self-made working man. His Durham furnace in Pennsylvania was a major supplier of shot and shell for George Washington’s army.

It could be said that there were Irish fingerprints all over the declaration of independence. The Secretary of the Continental Congress who incorporate the final revisions to Jefferson’s Declaration was an immigrant from County Derry, Charles Thomson. A County Tyrone man printed the Declaration, John Dunlap and it was first read in public by Lieutenant Colonel John Nixon, the son of an immigrant from Wexford.

While the stories of the major players like JFK, Joe Biden and others such as Tip O’Neil are well known, others who were just as influential deserve their stories told. Irish American men and women whose lives impacted not only on the history of America but also the world.

The Irish in Power is the story of some of America’s most flamboyant and influential Irish American politicians. It tells the tales of the men and women whose ancestors left Ireland in poverty and hunger who then climbed the greasy pole of political power and helped forge a superpower.

Irish people have been instrumental in the creation of the United States of America. Half of all US Presidents have been of Irish descent and the men who ruled the major cities of the eastern seaboard in the 1920s and 30s were proud Irishmen.

It also took an Irishwoman to smash the glass ceiling and become the first female mayor of a major American city.
The Irish in Power pulls no punches. It is not a romanticised story of Irish people making good in America, it is an honest look at the virtues and flaws of the Irish Americans elected to power in their new home.

The Irish in Power is available now from and Amazon in paperback and kindle