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Forgetting Ireland

Forgetting Ireland

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Uncovering a Family’s Secret History

Author Bridget Connelly

Minnesota Historical Society Press (May 4, 2021)


Forgetting Ireland is both a history and mystery, a story of western Ireland's Connemara coast and of Graceville, a small town in western Minnesota. In 1880, at the height of Ireland's second famine, a ship of paupers was sent from Galway to take up land granted them by a Catholic bishop in Minnesota. There they encountered the worst winter in the state's history and nearly froze to death in shanties on the prairie. National and international newspapers featured their plight as the welfare scandal of the year, and priests and politicians traded accusations as to who was responsible. The immigrants were at last removed from the colony; their name became the town's shorthand for lying, drunken failures.

By chance more than a century later, Bridget Connelly, who grew up in Graceville, discovers her Connemara past. As Connelly uncovers the deliberately suppressed history of her family's emigration, she exposes an old scandal that surrounded the settling of the land around Graceville, one that pitted Masons, Protestants, Germans, and Yankees against Irish Catholics -- and one that set lace-curtain Irish against the Connemara paupers.She also learns of an archbishop who was, according to farmer lore, 'worse than Jesse James'. In this compelling combination of history and memoir, Connelly tells stories of an epochal blizzard, a famous Irish bard, an infamous Irish woman pirate, feuding frontier communities, and an archbishop's questionable legacy. She also learns why her family tried so hard to forget Ireland.

(Originally published in hardcover, 03/17/2003)

Author information

Bridget Connelly is a scholar of folklore and comparative literature and Emeritus Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. Her previous book, Arab Folk Epic and Identity, was awarded the Chicago Folklore Prize and the Arberry Prize in Arabic Literature. She has received numerous awards for her work, including two Fulbright Fellowships and a Mellon grant.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“Bridget Connelly has a folklorist’s ear for language, and she brings her characters to life as effectively as any novelist. But there is a page-turning suspense as well in the plot of this history. And there is, finally, confession and redemption—the admission and then the embrace of a denied past. Bridget Connelly is a born writer, and this is the book she was born to write.”
Jack Miles, author of God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God

“What a dazzling accomplishment: meticulous scholarly research that elucidates a family mystery so compelling that I kept reading into the small hours to reach the last page. Forgetting Ireland is the kind of book that startles with its depth, its insight, its sheer compassion, all told in a down-to-earth voice that makes me feel that I've joined Bridget Connelly and her relations for a long and satisfying visit.”
Mary Clearman Blew, author of All but the Waltz

“A wonderful book! Forgetting Ireland a fascinating account of a small Irish-American community on the Minnesota prairie, settled in the 1880s by immigrants from the Far West of Ireland. Yet it is also the story of how these immigrants, from feelings of shame and desires to be ‘respectable,’ first ‘forgot’ and then, generations later, recovered their memories of Ireland and of their immigrant origins—rescuing the true meaning of their ancestors’ experience from the ‘history’ that had been foisted on them by the powerful and their professional apologists. And that story is immensely relevant to the descendants of Irish immigrants everywhere. I loved it and I urge every American of Irish descent, and every student of Irish-American history, to read it.”
Kerby Miller, author of Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America

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Family Tree Magazine

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 260 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9781681341460

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