As of the 2000 Census, some 30.5 million Americans traced their ancestry to Ireland. Descendents of Irish immigrants makes up 10.8% of the population. Before 1820, most of the Irish immigrants to the U.S. were Scots-Irish Presbyterians from Ulster. Five million immigrants from Ireland came to the U.S. after 1820, three-quarters of them Catholic. More than one million Irish people emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. to avoid the effects of the Great Potato Famine of 1845 – 1850. Most of the Irish immigrants were unskilled and poorly educated. They were subject to widespread discrimination. However, by the late 19th, century many Irish immigrants and their children had become skilled workers and their wealth and influence increased.
Irish Americans played significant roles in the revolutions that created the Irish Free State in 1921. (Eamon de Valera, the Irish revolutionary leader and the first prime minister of Ireland, was born in New York and at least initially, was a U.S. citizen.) Irish Americans also participated in the founding of the Republic of Ireland in 1945. The recent peace process in Northern Ireland was brokered by George Mitchell, former Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate.
Irish Americans have played a significant role in American cultural and political life. They have been the dominant force in the American Catholic Church. They have made important contributions to American politics, literature, music and journalism.
Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs of New York City. The area was first settled by the Dutch in 1636 and named “Breucklen” after a city in Holland. The Battle of Long Island, in which the British defeated the Americans and took control of New York, was fought in Brooklyn. Ferry service to Manhattan began in 1814 and the Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883. These events fed dramatic increases in the population of the city. Brooklyn became a borough of New York City in 1898.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that is not caused by a germ or a virus but by the chemical and psychological reaction of the individual to the drug. An alcoholic will structure his or her life around easy access to alcohol. The compulsion to drink influences and usually controls an alcoholic’s choice of associates and activities. A person in the grip of alcoholism, like Johnny Nolan in the film, is helpless to prevent drinking from interfering with his responsibilities to work and to family. Some alcoholics are bingers, with intermittent periods of sobriety. Some alcoholics drink regularly. Others pull themselves together for certain periods of time (sometimes years) and stop drinking, only to return to the drug later. True alcoholism is always progressive, with death from alcohol poisoning, physical deterioration and resulting illness, or alcohol-induced accident, being the end result. Sustained recovery from alcoholism (abstinence from drinking) is most successfully achieved through Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step programs.
Alcoholism weakens and destroys the body. Alcoholics are particularly susceptible to pneumonia, the illness that killed Johnny Nolan. This was a more severe problem before the advent of antibiotics than it is today.
Attendance at an open AA meeting is an excellent extra-credit activity. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Tell the kids to ask permission to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety.