In the latest entry on his "Outposts" blog at nytimes.com, former New York Times reporter Timothy Egan tells a potentially interesting tale about the Irish of Butte, Mont. Apparently "the city had a higher percentage of Irish than any other in America -- including Boston."
But Egan, the Times's former Pacific Northwest correspondent, also uses "Outposts" as a convenient tree-stand from which to target prominent conservatives, and he used a ten-year old conversation to slam unnamed Fox News hosts (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity?) and revere JFK. (In February Egan called Rush Limbaugh "talk radio's leading gasbag.")
It is only when the Irish forget about the underdog, as the keeper of the graves said, that they stray. In the 1930s, there was Father Charles Coughlin, a virulent anti-Semite who had a radio audience larger than that of Rush Limbaugh's today. He used his microphone for hate. In the 1950s, another man with a link to Ireland, Senator Joseph McCarthy, twined ignorance and fear to make a mockery of congressional inquiry. Today, there are television bullies with Irish surnames on Fox, backing more tax cuts for hedge fund managers, and doing everything they can to keep the poorest of Americans from getting health care.
I'd rather think of Grace Kelly, or George M. Cohan, or Bill Murray, or Bing Crosby (briefly, a college roommate of my grandfather's at Gonzaga in Spokane). Or John F. Kennedy, despite his many demons. Like many Irish-Americans of my age, I grew up in classrooms with just two pictures on the wall: the Pope, and President Kennedy.