Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: The Irish in Early Virginia 1600-1860

 A slight intermission from our usual material to give a little shout out for comrade Kevin Donleavy and his new book on Irish America.

     Much has been written about Irish America in the north of the US; there is less about the Irish in the south, and even less about the Irish in the state of Virginia. Kevin Donleavy's new book, "The Irish in Early Virginia 1600-1860" the only one on the subject, explores new ground that will be of interest to both Virginians and Irish everywhere.
    The book is 200 some pages, and in it Kevin covers quite a bit of ground. Among the highlights are:
   Irish slaves and indentured servants who were transported to the colony. Like their African-American counterparts, they endured harsh transatlantic crossings, cruel overseers, and were hunted down when they tried to escape. The presence of Irish slaves in VA is little known- less known than those in the Caribbean, whose story is told in the classic "To Hell or Barbados." Virginia, Kevin shows, was equally hellish for the thousands of Irish that were enslaved there. This is a field of research that hopefully others will be inspired to look further into.
    It also tells of the many United Irishmen and political exiles who settled in VA, and their contributions to the state. Men like John Neilson, who designed parts of James Madison's and Thomas Jefferson's homes, John Burke, John Glendy, the United Irishman and Protestant minister who gave a wildly popular oration for George Washington, and many others. True to his revolutionary sensibilities, Jefferson kept contacts among the Irish rebels and his various acts or statements of sympathy is an interesting dynamic to both the man and Virginia's history.  
   The book also tells the story of the Irish railroad workers who built the railways in the Shenendoah mountains. This grueling and historic task is the subject of a larger research enterprise of Kevin's called the "Clann Mhor Project" and you can read about it here:

   There are also of course lighter moments, and the background to the 90+ places with Irish names or history is covered. Printed by Pocohontas Press, the book is very nicely formatted as well. Casual readers will not be bored, and researchers will not be left wanting.

    In conclusion, a unique and highly informative addition to Irish American history.

The price is $12.95 including shipping; make checks payable to

Kevin Donleavy
105 Minor Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903

Message from Kevin Donleavy:

"Here is a note about Kevin Donleavy's new book. The title is The Irish in Early Virginia 1600-1860, and the book is aimed at the general reader. This little 200-page paperbound work is the first and only study of those Irish, and also the first to clarify the strong revolutionary link between Thomas Jefferson and Ireland.

Kevin is offering this new production to U.S. friends and sympathizers for $12.95, and there will be no postage cost to you. You can simply send your cheque or a money order (made to his name) thusly:

Kevin Donleavy
105 Minor Road
Charlottesville, Va. 22903

Your copy will be shipped to you the day I get your order.

You will read of some lighter items in this history. There were several Irish exiles who were known for keeping black bears and owls in their Charlottesville houses, and the new Irish in Winchester Va. saw their first elephant in 1808 in that fair town.

But how to account for the Irish who came to Va? Historian Kerby Miller calculated that some 7 million Irish came to N. America over the past four hundred years, and perhaps 20,000 of them came to Va. Why ? The most telling reason is the awful slaughter in Ireland over the centuries by the ferocious soldiery of the English ruling class. In the 1500s, some ten thousand died; in the 1600s, 504,000 perished; and in the late 1700s, about thirty thousand were killed. Loads of those who became emigrants and exiles would have known of and feared such horrors. Political oppression produced appalling economic deprivation and poverty.

In Va., there are some ninety or so scattered places with Irish names, such as Lynchburg, Kinsale, Doylesville, Foley Hill, Dungannon, and Casey Hollow. These names are found on modern maps and gazetteers.

Enough. I hope to hear from you soon, and I sincerely hope you enjoy this wee book.


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