By Ray O’Hanlon
The long and short of it — literally — is that there is no way of calculating the current number of Irish Americans based on the forms for Census 2000. Long and short versions of the form were distributed by the Census Bureau. One in six households received the long form, everyone else got the short version.
Back in 1990, it was possible to put down one’s ethnic root of choice on the census form. It was this inclusion that produced the famed figure of 44 million Irish Americans. Presumably, that figure has risen in the last 10 years along with the general population although given recent patterns of immigration, the relative number of Irish Americans may well have gone down in proportion to the total population.
On the other hand, given all the attention to the renaissance of all things Irish in the last decade, there’s no telling how many more Americans would have rooted deep into their genealogical sock drawer in search of an Irish ancestor if the ethnic root question had been reprised. As it stands, this year’s census concentrates on breaking down the backgrounds of Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders. Fine. But given the interest so many Americans have in their pre-American roots, it probably would not have been too much trouble adding a question again for Euro-Americans.
And it’s not just the Euros who are feeling left out this year. African-American respondents have no place to go after simply describing themselves as "Black, African Am., or Negro." It would have been fascinating to discover how many African Americans feel a kinship with Ireland.
Newsday columnist Sheryl McCarthy, who is black, is but one who is frustrated. Under the headline "The Census Asks a Few Pathetic Questions," she wrote that she was toying with the idea of also checking white for her likely Irish ancestry.
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"I have no concrete proof of the latter, but my surname is Irish, which says something," she wrote. "I also went to see ‘Riverdance,’ sat though an endless production of ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’. . . have read ‘Trinity,’ a two-volume biography of Eugene O’Neill and a book about the Great Famine, watched ‘The Irish in America’ on PBS, and paid good money to see ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ and ‘The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.’ If that doesn’t qualify me as part Irish and therefore multiracial, I don’t know what would." Problem is, if Sheryl ticked off white as well as black, as she can do, there is no sub-question asking which ethnic background she prefers.
Into the middle of all this ethnocentric debate came a report last week in the journal Nature. According to researchers at Trinity College Dublin, the Irish are largely the same people in genetic terms as the Basques of Spain.
People are fascinated by this kind of stuff and a couple more questions on the census form would have been welcome. As it is, 44-million-plus Basque Irish Scots-Irish African Americans simply have to bide their wee until 2010. Pity!
George & George?
Give it to George Pataki. George W. Bush might pass on the man for veep but it won’t be for the want of effort on the part of the Empire State’s governor. As a potential vote getter in November, Pataki now stands tall on several issues and with several constituencies where W. potentially falls flat.
Pataki is a Catholic and, if on the ticket, could absorb some of the ongoing Bob Jones fallout. Pataki’s gun-control proposals are a match for any Democrat ,whereas anyone who invited W. over for a coffee and bun would do well to pat down the man for hidden howitzers. And with regard to Irish-American concerns, Pataki, Irish on his mother’s side, has a record that continues to grow, not least with his budgetary allocation of $3 million for a Famine memorial in NYC.
If Irish Americans really are a crucial swing vote in November, W. can’t easily ignore Pataki, particularly given the fact that "Al Alone" Al Gore turned up at the Irish American Presidential Forum, a move which made W.’s absence loom all the larger.
"IF" has expressed concern in the past over Conor Cruise O’Brien’s marbles. Said marbles were rolling all over the floor again in a column he penned for the Irish Independent from New York recently. Cruiser was on a pet topic: Irish Americans and their support, real or perceived, for the IRA. Under a heading "Americans turning their backs on men of violence," Cruiser told his readers that on the last St. Patrick’s Day he had spent in New York, five years ago, he had been invited to attend the parade but had declined. "In those days, as frequently since about 1980, the parade was marked by a fairly strong IRA presence and influence.
"The Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Catholic body which always runs the parade, had close ties with Noraid then, a body whose principal function is to raise funds for Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political front."
But happily for Cruiser, those bad old days in New York are on the wane, not least because Kevin Cahill was grand marshal of this year’s parade.
"Dr. Cahill," continued Cruiser, "is a mild constitutional nationalist with no links to Sinn Fein-IRA. He has shown himself well disposed to me personally. . . . On the face of it, Dr. Cahill’s election as grand marshal would appear to signal a weakening in the once-powerful influence of Sinn Fein-IRA over the AOH and consequently the parade. I am not sure to what to attribute this apparent weakening."
Well, of course it might be something to do with the huge outpouring of public outrage over recent arch-Provo grand marshals such as Cardinal O’Connor, Dr. John Lahey, Bill Flynn and, oh yes, the highly suspect Maureen O’Hara. Then again, it might be MI6 penetrating the parade committee.
Be that as it may, "IF" was happy for Cruiser that he was able to view this year’s rather snowy parade from the comfort of Cahill’s Fifth Avenue digs, the American Irish Historical Society. Of course, Cruiser must have checked the guest book at the front door. Had he done so, he would have noticed that Dr. Cahill has invited all sorts of people to the society’s rooms, not least one Gerard Adams of Sinn Féin.