Not all Irish immigrants to the US were considered the same. So which Irish are you? Shanty or lace curtain; narrow back or donkey; Mick or Paddy?

The Irish in America did not come in one size fits all. While they might have all been equal off the Famine boat, they soon moved in different classes after they arrived.

All Irish started as shanty Irish, a term for a one-room cabin really. Five Points in New York and South Boston teemed with them.

Shanty meant rough, uncouth, and usually a drinker.

Then came lace curtain Irish when they managed to move out of Five Points and move uptown or even more prosperous, to Long Island or upstate. Then you became lace curtains, so-called because you could afford them for your windows.

In Boston, the Kennedy clan would have made it to lace curtains in quick march fashion. Many of their contemporaries stayed behind in the shanty.

It was a real divide. Lace curtain went to the best schools (Catholic, of course) and would have been on nodding terms with powerful potentates, like an archbishop.

They vacationed at places like Hyannisport or Rockaway. If they did really well, a summer home was in the offing.

Shanty Irish stayed put except for the frequent visits to the shebeen or little pub.

They made their living by hand, raised large families and barely were acknowledged by the princes of the church.

Strangely, as the years have gone by, the shanty background has been romanticized and many folks prefer to say they’re shanty Irish first.

Lace curtain carried with it a whiff of derision, folks trying to be to like the WASPS or people perceived as their betters.

Then there is the narrow back/donkey standoff.

Easily enough explained, narrow backs were sons of emigrants who never worked as hard as their fathers and had an easy time of it - hence the narrow back.

Donkeys were the Irish off the boat, working as hard as ever but sometimes held in contempt.

As for Micks and Paddy's, very little difference, Paddy was a derogatory term in Britain mainly. Micks were usually in America and the name didn't carry the same negativity as Paddy. Harp is another long-forgotten insult.

* Originally published in 2016. Updated in March 2024.