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David Brundage’s Irish Nationalists in America employs no sleight of hand in its title. It is a short, well-crafted new survey of Irish nationalists in the United States from the late 18th century to the close of the 20th that is more than the sum of its parts.
For many of us, the ongoing carnage in Syria is a self-evident humanitarian crisis. We do not need to be convinced that the children drowning at sea, the women and men, young and old, begging for entry into any country that will accept them are worthy of our help.
Until about 15 years ago the complex history of the links between the north of Ireland and colonial America was something of a brackish backwater in 18th-century Atlantic studies. Admittedly, the internal history of Ulster Presbyterianism had already come alive, thanks to the work of David Hayton on the early 18th century, and of David Miller and Ian McBride on the final decades.
Across the 17th century, more than 350,000 English people went to America. Yet many, if not most of those who went brought with them a keen sense of their bringing ‘Englishness’ with them, rather than transforming into ‘Americans’. Emigrants travelled to the New World for a variety of reasons.
Ireland’s protracted struggle for freedom from British rule has long occupied an important place in American imaginations. Few historians, however, have treated America’s sympathy for Ireland as a matter of formal state-to-state diplomacy.
The nineteenth-century German political theorist, Heinrich von Treitschke, concluded that it was war 'which turns a people into a nation.' His opinion has been reiterated by scholars over the years, many of whom concur with Michael Howard's assertion that from 'the very beginning, the principle of nationalism was almost indissolubly linked, both in t