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Heroes, victims or villains? Irish Presentations and Representations in Latin America and the Caribbean

Morelia, Mexico, 15-18 July 2009

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John Finerty: An Irish-American in Mexico

Cowan, Mimi (Boston College, USA)

John Finerty was born in Galway in 1846, the son of a Republican newspaper editor. Under threat of arrest after making nationalist speeches, Finerty emigrated to the United States at age 18 and eventually settled in Chicago, where he became a respected journalist and a vocal supporter of Irish nationalism. In 1877 and 1879, Finerty travelled to Mexico, first as part of a delegation of American businessmen seeking to improve industrial relations between the two countries, and, on his subsequent trip, as a solo traveler, all the while wiring articles back to the Chicago Times. These articles contained his observances of and experiences in the southern neighbor of his adopted country and in 1904 Finerty used these articles and his personal notes on the two trips to create Mexican Flash Lights – A Narrative of Travel, Adventure, and Observation in Mexico, Old and New. Although Finerty was known as an Irishman when he was in Chicago, his travels to Mexico allowed him to assert his identity as an American. His writings on Mexico reveal an Irishman who thoroughly accepted American notions of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine, key ideologies that defined the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico throughout the nineteenth century. It is through Finerty’s discussion of the Mexican “other” that he was able to construct his identity as an American. Furthermore, Finerty’s life and writings suggest a complication to the standard historiographical view of the Irish in the United States. Like many other American Irish, he settled in an urban centre, but immigration was not a one-way street for Finerty. He was accustomed to mobility and travel and had long since shed any provincialism he may have once had. He was keenly aware of and consciously promoted the Americas as a place constituted of many different kinds of peoples, an ideological precursor to multiculturalism. This paper suggests that by studying Irish immigrants who travelled and lived throughout the Americas, we can gain a better understanding of the ways in which they viewed themselves, Ireland, and their adopted homes and how they were able to use available ideologies to assert their chosen identities.


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