Irish & Italians, rivals & allies: A St. Patrick's Day appreciation of how, over time, two New York City immigrant populations learned to get along

Mar 17, 2016 525

by Paul Moses

When the nation's foreign-born population peaked in 1890 at nearly 15%, New York's Irish were angry that so many Italian immigrants were crowding into the city. The reason for their anger was that Italian newcomers were willing to work for less money and longer hours than the already-established Irish. As the economy soured in the 1890s, fights between crews of Irish and Italian laborers became so frequent that the Brooklyn Eagle headlined an editorial, "Can't They Be Separated?"

St. Patrick's Day is a perfect time to remember that these two immigrant groups — who did as much as any others to create the city we know and love — eventually came together and even intermarried on a large scale. As the Irish got to know the Italians, it turned out they quite liked each other. That was the case even for bushy-mustached Terence Powderly, a son of Irish immigrants who used his roles as a powerful union leader and then as U.S. immigration commissioner at the turn of the century to try to keep Italians out.

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