Episode 8: The Wild Boy (The Sex Life of Andy Ashling)

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The year is indelibly stamped in Irish history by the events in Dublin during the Easter Rising, a rebellion against the British government. The nationalist Sinn Fein believed that the Irish volunteers fighting in the World War should not have been so engaged anywhere until the battle for their own national independence had been won. The Sinn Fein were joined in rebellion by an Irish Citizens Army, formed to protect strikers during the lockout.

The rebellion centered on the capture of the General Post Office, from the steps of which one of the rebel leaders, Patrick Pearse, read a proclamation declaring an Irish republic. The rebellion lasted only six days before being put down by the British. The British moved swiftly against the rebels, and court martial trials of key figures in the rising were followed by executions that roused the passions of the Irish populace.

James Connolly was one of those executed; another who was sentenced to die, Eamon De Valera, was spared because of his American citizenship, a consequence of his New York birth. As a result of the Easter Rising, Sinn Fein became the political force of revolutionary nationalists, eventually replacing the Irish Party and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In de Valera was elected president of Sinn Fein. In , with the British army taxed heavily by the war, the United Kingdom decided to extend conscription to Ireland, which had been exempted until some form of Home Rule could be enacted.

However, in an underground military force made up of the Irish Republican Army and, under Michael Collins, the Irish Republican Brotherhood began a guerrilla war against the British government. The objective was to prove to the British that they were not capable of governing Ireland, and in this the guerrillas enjoyed the wide support of the populace. The British retaliated by sending additional forces, the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans, the latter so named for the colors of their uniforms, who were responsible for atrocities against the general populace as well as against the rebels.

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Late in the Government of Ireland Act ended the hope of a united independent Ireland by acceding to the Ulster resistance to Home Rule, partitioning the country into north and south, and establishing parliaments in Dublin and in Belfast. These two bodies were empowered to exert control in local matters, but the United Kingdom Parliament could still interfere and held supreme authority. The following year, in the face of continued agitation in the southern counties, the United Kingdom offered a treaty stipulating dominion status similar to that of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

It amounted to near independence for the southern counties, though with sworn allegiance to the king and continued separation for Northern Ireland. A team of negotiators, including Michael Collins, agreed to the offer, but de Valera and the Republicans rejected it because a Free State was not a republic. They further rejected the oath of allegiance to the king required by the terms of the treaty. The Irish Parliament accepted the treaty, as did a majority of the Irish people. Conflict over the two positions led to a civil war of largely guerrilla actions.

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The loss of the dream of an Irish republic was a terrible blow to the revolutionaries, for whom the division of the country was of lesser importance. The division of north and south remained in place, with Northern Ireland still a part of the United Kingdom until such time as its Parliament should demand a change.

In November the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement by which the British allowed the Irish government some sway over the affairs of Northern Ireland in exchange for Irish cooperation in rooting out terrorists. The terrorism, mostly directed against the British army in Northern Ireland, continued, and long years of violence ensued.

Whitman born May 31 on Long Island, N. Whitman and family live in various places in Brooklyn, including the vicinity of the Brooklyn Navy Yard located very near the heaviest concentration of Irish in Brooklyn. The great Irish famine migration begins, bringing Irish in record numbers to the United States. Whitman, now editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle , adopts the Free Soil position supported by Irish workers; Whitman recommends books by William Carlton to Eagle readers and editorializes on the problems of Irish laborers and their attempts to unionize.

Whitman writes sketch of Irish drayman for the New Orleans Daily Crescent ; back in New York later this year Whitman has his head "read" by a phrenologist and becomes an advocate of this pseudoscience, which contributed to notions of national characteristics. Whitman writes an unpublished account of the plight of Irish women seeking new positions as servants through an emigrant agency.

Whitman may have written "Poem of Apparitions in Boston," later known as "A Boston Ballad," in this year at the time of the trial in Boston of fugitive slave Anthony Burns; an attempt by abolitionists to rescue Burns leads to the death of Irishman James Batchelder. Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass ; this and succeeding editions of Leaves contain references to the Irish and to New York employment, activities, and events that included many Irish.


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Whitman goes to Washington, D. The Fenians invade Canada for a second time the first was in ; John Boyle O'Reilly, just escaped from an English prison, accompanies invasion as a reporter for the Boston Pilot. Rolleston for a German translation. Whitman meets Abraham Bram Stoker; Stoker has admired Whitman's poetry since and had written to him in Although the events of are not especially memorable in American history, the year offers a good starting place for a consideration of relationships between Walt Whitman and the Irish.

Indeed, his earliest published utterances on them were filled with the kind of venom most often associated with nativism. Unfortunately, the alteration was not so public as had been his earlier attack, appearing as it did in private correspondence rather than, as before, in a public newspaper. In truth, it must be allowed that his warming toward the Irish may have been somewhat influenced since Whitman was susceptible to such influences by a show of appreciation for his work coming at about this time from a group of writers and scholars in Dublin.


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  8. Certainly he was influenced by his deep love for particular Irish friends, some of whom were born in Ireland and others born in America. There is, in fact, reason enough to believe he welcomed the thought that his early belief in the democratic impulses of the Irish immigrants was vindicated by those changes.

    Some of those who came after the uprising, men like Thomas Addis Emmett and William James Mac Nevin, were by their culture and refinement considerably more aristocratic than their revolutionary activities would indicate. In subsequent decades Catholic Irish immigrants were increasingly among the poor who gathered in neighborhoods on the fringes of middle-class enclaves.

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    Here the drainage or sewerage is usually imperfect and the whole soil is thus ripe for diarrhea or cholera. Edgar Allan Poe described an Irish squatter camp in the southern portion of the site where Central Park was later built. One result of this, as the Times noted, was contamination of the city water supply drawn from shallow wells. When cholera struck the worst neighborhoods of the city in and as the result of the contaminated water, the Irish who lived there were believed to be the cause of the contagion.

    Whitman seems not to have been completely immune to this line of reasoning. Though he was in the safer regions of Brooklyn and Long Island while the epidemic raged in , he later worked it into one of his fiction pieces, presenting the disease in such a way as to somewhat uphold the belief that epidemics can function as a means of moral cleansing. It is the story of Philip Marsh, a man who commits murder and escapes the law before punishment can be meted out.

    Askers embody themselves in me, and I am embodied in them, I project my hat and sit shamefaced and beg. In the s when he was fashioning the all-encompassing poetic voice he believed America needed, Whitman experimented by assuming a fluid, flexible persona. The edition of Leaves of Grass , however, contained a direct reference to these immigrants that subtly reminded them that for all their troubles in America, they were still better off here than at home.

    As the immigrants were forced into ever tighter precincts the Irish neighborhoods of the midcentury became the worst slums of the city. In , however, by which time the United States had absorbed, subsequent to the famine, some 2. They had moved ahead in the workforce to become tailors, shoemakers, metalworkers, and masons, while still filling those roles they had earlier claimed as carters, coachmen, housemaids, longshoremen, and ferrymen.

    Most had been within his family structure. Thomas Jefferson Whitman, or Jeff, the brother to whom he had felt closest since their six-month sojourn in New Orleans in , had moved to St.


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    5. Louis with his wife and two daughters. Leaves of Grass had seen its fourth edition in , and he continued to work on poems to be added to the next edition.

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      In the same year he would produce Passage to India , the title poem of which is arguably the last of his great poems. Since the publication of some of his poems in England in , he had become a focus of attention for a number of prominent figures there, among them a female admirer, Anne Gilchrist, who sent an impassioned marriage proposal he did not accept. Although he had lived in Washington, D. New York, then as now, had a tendency to believe itself the center of the world, but Whitman would have been quite conscious of the fact that the District of Columbia had been provided for the first time with a form of territorial government.

      Of more immediate interest to the vacationing Whitman would have been some New York events of that summer: work on the bridge between the cities of Brooklyn and New York entered the second of its fourteen years; more than a hundred people were killed when a boiler exploded aboard the Westfield , a Staten Island ferry; and at least fifty people were killed in a riot involving Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants.

      All of these events would have impressed Walt Whitman, but we have his comments on only one, the Irish riot. Just three months earlier he had been declared dead by the New York World , which ran a lengthy obituary in the mistaken belief that he had been killed by a railroad train in Croton, New York.

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      When not with her, Walt told Pete, he was riding the ferry and visiting Coney Island. To Pete he wrote: There was quite a brush in N. Orangemen, originally members of an Ulster Protestant Society in Ireland dating to , were, in the United States, members of an ethnic organization whose principal activity was its annual celebration of the Battle of the Boyne.

      The observance had been given an extra boost by the fact that in May President Grant had declared the government would no longer tolerate the Irish Catholic Fenian Brotherhood functioning as a kind of separate government within the United States. On July 12 they had a procession up Eighth Avenue to a park located at Ninetieth Street, where a picnic and dance were to be held. The Metropolitan Police were notified, but by the time they reached the park a shower of stones was falling on the Orange-men.

      A general melee followed, with clubs, sticks, and anything that could serve as a weapon being brought to bear. The militia were called, but by the time they arrived the injured were scattered about the streets.

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      Groups from both sides of the combat tried to crowd into horsecars to escape, and as the fighting continued it brought wreckage to the cars and animals as well as to innocent passengers. At the time, the New York Irish were as closely linked to the powerful Tweed Ring as any politically motivated ethnic group could hope to be. William M. Connolly was the city comptroller.

      The Irish had been in America long enough to be able to see some of their number move up into the ranks of the well-to-do, and some even became Republicans. For example, in Edward Gleason, superintendent of the Union League Club, a highly respectable Republican political group, was able to build a house on th Street near Fifth Avenue.

      Labor activism among Irish immigrants throughout the midcentury had focused mainly on improved wages, and this limited objective hampered any strides toward overall improvement of working conditions. In addition, Irish workers originally impeded their own progress by forming rival groups and secret societies whose memberships were determined by place of origin in Ireland. Benevolent societies, forerunners of organized labor unions, had political and religious as well as occupational roots. A partial victory was claimed by reading aloud letters from contractors who had agreed to the demanded wage, among them Messrs.

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      While Whitman makes no mention of this, note the Irish names of the contractors, who may have been Americans born to immigrant parents and who are indicative of entrepreneurial advancement possible in a labor-dominated economy that was beginning to break down, creating the need for unions. Craft workers, among whom the prefamine Irish immigrants numbered highly, were essential to the working class that developed in New York from the s to the mid-nineteenth century.

      In his Eagle article Whitman warmly supported the organization of a benevolent society but denounced the attempt to regulate wages, which he saw as similar to tariffs, fair trade laws, and other such restrictions on business, to all of which he was opposed. He examined the case of the workers, however, and found it worthy of attention, pointing out that they labored from sunrise to dark for sixty-four and a half cents and were docked exorbitantly for being only minutes late.

      Let our philanthropists not go to oppressed England and starving Ireland for samples of scanty comfort. The following day the editor reported that several of those in the association had called upon him and made him realize he had not done its members justice, for they were in fact ready to receive any work when available.

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