Immigrants arriving to New York, at Ellis Island.Library of Congress

From the Great Hunger to America's Civil War to "No Irish Need Apply" - the history of the Irish in America and their truth which inspired an Irish American novelist's romantic history tales.

My grandmother told colorful stories of Irish folklore, the three-leaf clover, and the mist-covered hills of Kentucky that her Irish grandfather had brought his bride to.

My Mom urged me to dig deeper into my education about Ireland, beyond what I was taught in school. She wanted me to go beyond the rich heritage, the bright and colorful wit of an Irishman’s blarney, or the St. Patrick's Day of drinking and merrymaking, into the undertow of truth. To how the Irish came to this country during the Great Hunger, how they did much of the work that the slaves were too valuable to do and what our Irish ancestry represented to every American.

Gran didn’t want to talk about that. It was a piece of her Irish heritage she didn’t mention. They did hard labor building railroads, worked in the coal mines, and performed life-threatening jobs, like dredging out snake-infested swampland for pennies.

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That was an Irishman’s life back in the 1840s and ’50s. It must have been hard for the Irish to find hope, let alone survival in their new country. That their American dream wasn't extinguished when they witnessed countless signs reading; “No Irish Need Apply.”

A newspaper illustration of a "No Irish Need Apply" sign in a shop window.

Ireland’s Great Famine caused a massive wave of Irish emigration to America. The Irish were seeking freedom from British tyranny. Many of the Irish songs, like “The Wearin’ of the Green”, speak of the Irish plight. I write about this in "Swept into Destiny", the first book of my Destiny four-book series.

Most refugees arrived in America destitute, almost 650,000 in New York alone! Sadly, 60 percent of children born to Irish immigrants in Boston died before the age of six. So, like Ben McConnell in "Swept into Destiny", was there any wonder he rounded up more hands than he needed for a crew of Irishmen to walk to Tennessee and accept a job that could mean death by a poisonous snake?

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I am glad the Irish weren’t turned away at Ellis Island! I might not be here if they had been. But in the 1850s and 60s, there was little help for the plight of the Irish immigrant. Because of Irishman’s poor status, The Civil War Conscription Law forced the Irish to fight in a war that others could pay their way out of fighting! You will learn about this in my book, "Swept into Destiny."

Ironically, I learned another piece of history about the Irish perseverance traveling with my Dad and his World War II regiment, the old 34th Infantry Division based out of Gettysburg, to Gettysburg National Military Park.

If you ever get a chance to visit there, you will cherish the experience. Beautiful monuments pepper the hills; don’t miss the films that show a three-wall panorama view of those three days of battles at Gettysburg.

What captured my attention and left a lasting impact on me was a huge Celtic cross, dedicated to the Irish Brigade. My first thoughts were, “How dare the North hire the Irish to fight their battles against the South.”

Not so! In the back of "Swept into Destiny," I write:

"The Irish immigrants served bravely in the Civil War and in both armies. Still, they were repeated targets for public and military discrimination. However, they refused to give up. Persevering through unimaginable barriers due to their nationality and poverty, they doggedly pursued their belief in America and faith in Jesus Christ and overcame."

Below is some of the inscription on the Celtic Cross:

“Their heroic Civil War exploits could not be ignored. On July 2, 1888, a monument standing19’6” was dedicated to the Irish Brigade and gently graces a hill at Gettysburg. It is a Celtic cross supported by a granite base. On the front of the cross are the numbers of the three New York regiments and a harp flanked by eagles. At the foot of the cross is an Irish wolfhound, a symbol of honor and fidelity.”

A Confederate soldier carved this cross on northern soil. It is a fitting symbol of the Irish people’s love for their new country and honors well the words of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” You will read more about the Irish Brigade through Ben’s eyes, as well as the battles in "Swept into Destiny."

The Irish Brigade

This Celtic cross in Gettysburg speaks to me of the Irishman’s heart during the 1860s and says more than words. The symbolism of the cross tells me the Irish didn’t look to a man, nor a country, but to their loving Savior, Christ Jesus, for their hope and salvation.

I write faith-based historical romance novels, to tell the truth about our Christian-American heritage. The Irish immigrant and other immigrants who came into this country believing in the American dream, falling flat on their faces, spat the dirt from their mouths and got up to fight the unseen again; “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…the rulers of the darkness of this age...” Ephesians 6:12

My novels all hold factual truths wrapped around a beautiful love story, filled with intrigue and Christian principles. Because love for our American heritage is the core of what makes Americans who we are.

You will be blessed to know that the Irish spunk was in the midst of this staunch determination for making one nation under God, indivisible. You will see this theme throughout my epic series, which climaxes with World War 2 and the exploits of the rifle division of my father’s regiment.

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The Irish perseverance is an example for future generations to edify, for this type of perseverance displays our American grit. The Irish immigrants came off the boat with nothing. They had to work for every piece of bread they ate. They overcame their status not by bellyaching about their plight but proving through their exploits that with Jesus, nothing is impossible to achieve.

Yes, I believe they overcame adversity through their infallible faith in Jesus Christ. I want this and future generations to see the true history of America through my characters. Yes, life is fleeting. No nation is a utopia of freedom. Only Jesus holds the key to Liberty and Truth. “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” 2 Corinthians 3:17  Ben’s legacy follows on throughout the four-book series.

I include a small preview of each book:

Ben McConnell in "Swept into Destiny" is a proud Irish immigrant who is determined not to give up in spite of hunger and deprivation that haunt his steps. He has a distaste for the English and rich landowners of Ireland and America. He clings to this hope. The three mustard seeds his father brought from Ireland, and he claims Matthew 17:20 “…if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing is impossible.” Maggie Gatlan is English and a rich Southern belle. She’s a rebel disguised in frilly clothes and prefers riding astride rather than side saddle. She refuses to allow her countrymen to dictate to her conscience. Ben’s and Maggie’s journeys delve deeply into the truth about faith and devotion.

In Book 2, "Destiny’s Whirlwind," Collina McConnell doesn’t understand Ben MConnell’s passion toward their estate. Her father wasn’t materialistic. Just what was the mystery behind his legacy for Shushan? The parable of the sower in Luke 8:5 takes on new meaning when Collina’s life choices become as interchangeable as the rocky and thorny soil beneath her shoes. All she has to hold onto is her father’s mustard seed of faith. She realizes that Rough Rider Franklin Long was placed in her life at such a time as this. War is declared and he leaves. Will he return from the wave-tossed shores of Cuba to resolve his battles? Or remain in the dark reaches of his past?

Book 3, "Destiny of Heart" Ruby McConnell leaves her kindred for the prairies of Colorado with her devoted husband and her seven-month-old child. She is nicknamed by friends and foes alike as “a holy roller.” She clings to the Word of God for strength and hope. Confusion and uncertainty hover around her skirt like the dust storms, rattlesnakes, and droughts, consuming her energy and attempting to weaken her resolve. The Great War and the Great Depression change not only the nation’s borders but hers… Was her husband right about Buck Briggs, is he God’s choice and their last hope?

Book 4, "Waltz with Destiny" releasing spring 2019. The offspring of the Great Depression who’d peddled papers and sold apples on street corners, awaken into a new era. Gaily they glide into the eloquent ballrooms across the nation mirroring the starlight and the splendors of the Aztecs. But across the ocean, Hitler is awakening his youth to the idea of a “Master Race.” As the lash of Hitler’s Third Reich falls upon Europe, the world looks to America and shakes their heads. These boys are as unlike their notable fathers of World War I as a lion is to a kitten. These kids can’t deliver the world from Hitler’s new world order. Not these playboys in their baggy Zoot Suits, these “Mama’s Boys.” Guys like Eric Erhardt remember, “The outside world all thought that Americans were too soft, and not much more than playboys, and we wouldn’t be able to fight—man, did we show them!”  

Next article: Gallop across Ireland’s countryside with me in the age-old sport of foxhunting! Until then: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand!” (traditional Gaelic blessing)

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* Catherine Brakefield is the award-winning author of the faith-based historical romance Wilted Dandelions. Her new Destiny series begins with Swept into Destiny. The second of her four-book Destiny series Destiny’s Whirlwind released this past spring. Destiny of Heart will release October 30.

She has written two pictorial history books: Images of AmericaThe Lapeer Area, and Images of AmericaEastern Lapeer County.

Her short stories have been published in Guidepost BooksBaker BooksRevell; CrossRiver Publishers; Bethany House.

She enjoys swimming and horseback riding. She lives in Addison Township, Michigan, with her husband and their Arabian horses. Her children grown and married, she and Edward are the blessed recipients of two handsome grandsons and two beautiful granddaughters!

You can find out more about Catherine through her Facebook page or LinkedIn. You can also purchase her books on Amazon and read more at Good Reads.