Should Andrew Jackson be considered Irish-American? The answer is a resounding yes, but with an invisible asterisk, to be sure, to be sure. Why? Would you call a fisherman a “fish”? He may smell of fish, but that is because he kills them.
A Twitter battle between myself and Northern Ireland crime writer Adrian McKinty flared up recently. Actually it was more of a slaughter as I was blindsided by his profanity-laced insults, roaring rhetoric and theatrical hysterics that would make even the sainted martyrs blush with embarrassment.
McKinty had posted a comment about an article in the New York Times called Donald Trump, Joe Biden and the Vote of the Irish. His critical analysis (he went to Oxford, so he should know how to analyze and cite text as deftly as he calls strangers “stupid” on Twitter) included the comments, “this article gets it all wrong JFK was not the first Irish American president.”
Eager to see the “paper of record” make a mistake, I read the article and found that it never said JFK was the first Irish American president. At all. Ever.
When I pointed this out to McKinty, you would have thought I threatened to cut off his genitalia and set them alight on a bonfire in Portadown. He took it as an opportunity to put himself on the cross and proclaim everyone has Irish-American history wrong. Real Irish-American history is Presbyterian. That old Papist version of Irish-American history has gotten it wrong all these long years (even as no one had argued that point but him).
Religious sectarianism may be something that is familiar to McKinty in Northern Ireland, but in the states it’s a bit old-world (we prefer to get our dander up over racism and sexism). Americans do not take kindly to having history rammed down our throats with a cross like an Ian Paisley speech on the streets of Belfast. Our history is not solely about religion. Religion is a mere aspect of history, not a deciding factor.
Loyalty to Ireland – My main contention, and the contention of millions of Americans is; How can people call themselves Irish if their sole purpose is to solidify a union with colonial Britain? It’s even in the name of their organizations such as the Ulster Unionist Party, Protestant Unionist Party and the modern Democratic Unionist Party, parties that have proudly sought to undermine the Republic of Ireland and strengthen ties to England, who had oppressed Ireland for hundreds of years. As another person on the thread (@planetcarnival) mentioned, “It’s sophistry to define descendants of Ulster Scots as Irish Americans.”
No one disputes that Presbyterians from Scotland were “planted” in Northern Ireland centuries ago by the English crown after Irish Gaelic Lord Hugh O’Neal was defeated in the Nine Years’ War. The Scots were planted, as in given land in Ireland, to shift power from Irish-speaking natives to a group of people loyal to the colonial English crown.
There is no religious or ethnicity test for being Irish-American. I would contend you are Irish-American if you see yourself as Irish-American. That’s all it takes.
But if you are invested in dividing Ireland, via religion and colonialism, yet call yourself Irish, what should we say?
It’s a little bit like if Andrew Jackson calling himself a Native American, (the same Andrew Jackson who signed the Indian Removal Act, which forcibly relocated most Native American tribes to outlier territories, which resulted in widespread death and disease).
Yes Andrew Jackson was the first Irish-American president (John F. Kennedy was the first Irish Catholic president). But let Jackson have an invisible asterisk like Roger Maris, who hit 61 home runs to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record, though it took him eight more games.
Hint, there never was an asterisk, it was implied.
Eamon Loingsigh is the author of historical novel Divide the Dawn.