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Sean MacKillop

Tim Morans Seminar

Who We Are


In the year 1905 Shamus MacCarthy made the same decision as

millions of other Irish men and women before him and packed his bags
for a better life in America. At the young age of 22, Shamus spent his
life farming various vegetables on the outskirts of Derry with his
parents, who could not yet afford the trip to the new world. After
experiencing crippling poverty at the hands of British landlords, who
pushed his family onto less fruitful lands and failed to care when their
potato crops died, he chose to listen to the inspiring words of his
Catholic priest (1) who praised America as a sort of heaven on earth
and immigrate to the United States. Ireland had lost over 2 billion
citizens from 1841 to 1851 so the move was almost a no brainer (2).
After a long voyage across the pacific he arrived in Canada, where he
obtained false citizenship papers and jumped on a train to Ontario.
Since money was short in his family, this method of entering the
country was much cheaper, and McCarthy certainly wasnt alone (3).
Along the way, Shamus picked up a copy of the Ford Manual from a
newspaper stand and was mesmerized by the idea of life working for
Ford Motor Company. MacCarthys older brother Sean, three years his
senior, had already begun a life in New York as a shipyard laborer and
was expecting Shamus to come live with him, yet to Shamus this

reality posed by the manual was too enticing to pass up. Excited about
this chance at a middle class life where comfort and a good economic
standing seemed guaranteed, MacCarthy hopped off the train at
Detroit to join the large community of Irish and Scottish already living
there. When he settled in, Shamus was taken aback by the change of
pace from his simple farming life, as well as the racial exclusion that
was so common for the early 1900s. The image of America at this time
in other countries was blown out of proportion that almost all
immigrants pulled the trigger without contemplating the learning curve
ahead of them, and while most Irish immigrants ended up eventually
integrating into American society, the journey to get to that point was
full of racial stereotyping, stark lifestyle changes, and harsh working
The sun rises on a typical day for Shamus, he is awoken to the
sound of Mrs. Bohans rooster, right on time, he thought (3). Without
any time for breakfast, he whips up a quick sandwich for lunch and
gets dressed. With his lunch in hand, Shamus walks outside and takes
a deep breath. His house is situated in the middle of a primarily Irish
occupied neighborhood in Corktown (5), on the South Western side of
the city. The sky smells of coal and industry, but he loves it all the
same. As he strolls down the street, Shamus sees a fence with the
phrase Go home paddy (1) painted in red crudely on the side, he
paused to contemplate how someone could really hate an entire group

of people without really knowing them. It was instances like this that
made Shamus feel the pangs of homesickness deep in his belly.
Coming from a home that embraced him was hard and occasionally
Shamus would get names yelled at him, but the excitement of a brand
new life was enough to help him push cultural comments to the side.
At the end of his
street, he gives a wave to the OBrian family working in the Pingree
Potato patch, the day was hot and he knew they would need some
form of support to get through the work they had ahead of them. The
Pingree Potato Patches were a varied assortment of vacant lots that
had been converted to potato farms by order of the mayor, Hazen S.
Pingree (6) . Although MacCarthys social skills are limited from living
his entire life on a farm, the other Irish men and women consider him a
brother, and he enjoys their company.
Finally at work, Shamus clocks in and sets his things down in his
locker. The smell on the assembly floor is musty and he has developed
a raspy cough that seems to mimic those of all the other workers in his
section. When hired to work at Ford, Shamus was placed in the area
designated to axel alignment. Along with three other men, he spends
hours using a wrench to screw in bolts that lock the axels onto the
frame (7). Its tiring work and by the end of the day his fingers are cut
up and sore, yet the comradery gained through hard factory work is
unlike any other and after a few short weeks Shamus felt like a part of

a whole new family. The pay is a whopping 5 dollars a day and Shamus
never complains but sometimes silently wishes he were treated less
like a cog in a machine and more like a human being (8).
The whistle blows and all the men emit sighs, the workday is
over. As the workers funnel out of the factory, Shamus meets up with
some friends he had made from his hometown. They all walk together
to OMalleys pub together to have a couple well-deserved beers with
the other Irish workers. The air inside the pub is strikingly similar to the
musk of the motor plant, and it gives Shamus comfort. The framed
pictures of green hills, and crested chapels help enforce the mood of
the Irish community it inhabits. Shamus had never been to a bar in
Ireland but he knew the deeper meaning of a meeting place like it and
appreciated the opportunity to sit and relax with men who were going
through some of the same struggles he was (9). After an hour of fruitful
conversation with his comrades, their drinks are interrupted by a
commotion on the other side of the bar; a man with a bloodied face
and broken arm has just shuffled into the establishment and fallen on
the floor. At the sight of the disheveled man, all the workers set down
their drinks and rush outside just in time to see a car speed off down
the street, a man leans out the window and yells GO HOME! just as
the Model T pulls around the corner.
Shamuss choice to locate in the Motor city instead of a place
already densely populated with Irish seemed like the wrong decision at

times but the chance to be a part of an entirely new community of

people using a new way of seeing to achieve a new cultural identity
was, in the end, a life changing experience for McCarthy. The work in
the Ford Factory wasnt easy and he had to get used to the idea of
people in his own community pre-judging his immigrated presence as
unwanted, but with a heart as kind as Shamuss it was easy. Using
who he used to be as a guide for how to develop who he was to
become actually proved to be a helpful tool in discovering who we
are and ended up giving Shamus a life far more comfortable than that
of 20th century Ireland.

Works Cited
1. Quinn, Peter. How the Irish Stayed Irish. 9th ed. Vol. 174. New
York: America, 1996. Print.
2. "A CHECK TO IRISH EMIGRATION." Detroit Free Press. N.p., 29
May 1901. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.
3. "Immigrants From Europe.: A CONSTANT PASSING THROUGH
UNDESERVING OF WELCOME." Detroit Free Press n.d.: D1.
Proquest. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.
4. "Rooster's Crowing Is Not Objected To in "Corktown"" Detroit Free
Press 18 Sept. 1906: n. pag. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.
5. Lanagan, Sheila. "Detroits Oldest Neighborhood, Corktown, Was
Settled by Irish Emigrants in the 1800s." N.p.,
12 Feb. 2015. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.

Lough, Alexandra W. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology: Hazen S.

Pingree and the Detroit Model of Urban Reform Pingree and Detroit Urban Reform. 75
Vol. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 01/2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.


Operation of Putting Together Popular Car." Detroit Free Press 24
Oct. 1915: n. pag. Proquest. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.
28 Sept.
1922: n. pag. Proquest. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.

Powers, Madelon. "Bar Culture." Encyclopedia of American Urban History. Ed. David
Goldfield. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2007. 65-67. Gale Virtual
Reference Library. Web. 11 Oct. 2016.