The Irish American actress and comedienne Anne Meara died this week at the age of 85. The Brooklyn-born Meara was a familiar face to generations of comedy fans, from "Archie Bunker’s Place" right up to "Sex and the City" and "The King of Queens."
It is an interesting time to look back on the career of Meara, who regularly used her Irish roots for comedic inspiration. Just last week, I wrote about a kerfuffle that has broken out over an upcoming ABC sitcom entitled "The Real O’Neals." The show is said to depict a “typical Irish Catholic” family.
However, based on the trailer, what we actually see is a highly dysfunctional clan, including one son who doesn’t know how to break it to his religiously devout parents that he’s gay.
Some angry Catholics and Christians have already called for ABC’s parent company, Disney, to drop the show. Even though not a single episode of "The Real O’Neals" has aired. Time will tell if "The Real O’Neals" is actually a thoughtful exploration of faith in the 21st century or a lame attempt to shock audiences by mocking Irish American life.
What we should do is take a moment and realize that this ain’t exactly the first time folks have mined ethnic and religious material to get a laugh. Meara and her husband, fellow TV star Jerry Stiller, appeared over 30 times on the "Ed Sullivan Show" as a fictional married couple. The names of their characters? Hershey Horowitz and Mary Elizabeth Doyle.
Not exactly subtle, huh?
The trouble is, whatever "The Real O’Neals" is really like, much more attention is always paid to those who shout that the sky is falling and that things are only getting worse and worse.
This is especially true when a presidential election is on horizon.
And we know immigration, patriotism and religion are once again going to get a lot of people hot and bothered in the run-up to 2016.
Let me try to comfort the hot and bothered. If America survived Irish immigration, then I think we’re going to be just fine.
Last month, The New York Times published a fascinating little item about a “Race-Walking Riot” that broke out in New York City in 1879.
You read that right. Not a “race riot.” A “race walking riot.”
It seems that, for a while, one of the hottest spectator sports in the U.S. was something called “pedestrianism.” Basically walking really far and really fast.
The top walker of the day was one Daniel O’Leary, an Irish American. But in March of 1879, O’Leary was challenged by Charles Rowell, a Brit.
Patriotic Irish Americans wanted no part of their beloved O’Leary losing his championship title to a Brit. Locals stoked ethnic and nationalistic tensions as the race approached.
Interest ran so high that fans who could not get into the race destroyed property and rioted until they were beaten back – literally – by police. (For the record, when the week-long race was over, the Brit Lowell was the victor.)
This was something of a replay of the equally-bizarre Astor Place Riots of 1849, when pro-Irish and pro-Brit New Yorkers fought and died over – no joke – Shakespearean actors.
Meanwhile, a decade after the race-walking riots, another spasm of violence shook the Irish American community, as outlined in a fascinating new book called "Blood Runs Green: The Murder that Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago" by Gillian O’Brien.
In May of 1889, the badly-beaten corpse of Cork native H.P. Cronin was discovered. Cronin was a respected doctor with deep ties to the Irish American community.
The investigation into the Cronin’s murder revealed deep rifts in the Irish community, especially among members of Clan na Gael, the revolutionary organization which raised lots of money and may or may not have used those funds to wage a terrorist war against Britain in the name of Irish independence.
Imagine if a different immigrant group today was raising funds and waging a terrorist war on American soil, against an American ally?
Of course, there are some people who think that’s what Barack Obama does every day. Which is why the 2016 presidential race is going to be filled with anger and rage about America’s future.
Well, take a look at where we’ve been. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)