The Irish-American Reign Fades: Maureen Dowd is the Last of a Dying Breed

Maureen Dowd is the last of the great Irish figures in American life.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

She's the last of the breed. The last great celebrated Irish-American. Indeed, as I read this profile of Maureen Dowd, it occurred to me that our lovely New York Times columnist might just be the only Irish-American still shaping American public life.

This must be said with an important qualification—that on any given, happy day Pete Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, Alice McDermott and other lovely writers of Irish descent can still deliver to your local Barnes & Noble a book of exceptional grace and poetry and wit. Maureen has not yet conquered the literary form.

Nor shall we forget Joe Biden, holding the coat for President Barack Obama. Or Ted Kennedy, raging in the dying light.

But that long marvelous strain of Erin's sons and daughters, running back two centuries, who once ruled the City Halls and statehouses, put out fires and caught crooks, fought wars, ruled the newsrooms and lit up the stages and silver screens, has come to its end. The melting pot did its work. Surely, there are some who will turn the Pogues up loud today (You're the measure of my dreams...) wear green ties and lift a glass of Knappogue Castle. But the Irish Catholic identity of our younger days, as the children or grandchildren of immigrants, taught by the nuns, singing "Galway Bay," cursing the Brits and revering Robert Emmet, is gone.

No more Jimmy Cagney or Grace Kelly. No Eugene O'Neill. No Tip or Jack. No Mary McGrory, God bless her. And damn few Maureens.

The late Pat Moynihan predicted it. He noted back in 1963 how Irish identity was declining amid prosperity and respectability. (A warning to African-Americans there.) Even as the Irish took the top jobs, the base was eroding. On the day that JFK died, "the President of the United States, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate, the Chairman of the National Committee were all Irish, all Catholic, all Democrats," Moynihan noted. "It will not come again."

And it didn't. There was a chance, I suppose, before Ireland joined Europe and became the (now clawless) Celtic Tiger, that continuing waves of immigration would refresh Irishness in America. It didn't happen. The Australians, imagine, have a bigger profile in Hollywood today.

Joe Biden is still around, by virtue of starting out as a youngster. And there's a lovely scene in this profile of Maureen and her sister Peggy in which Joe, sharing a touch of Irish wit after making peace with his old foe Dowd, explains that Barack Obama "travels light," and of Maureen savoring the felicity of the phrase.

And a marvelous photo of Maureen, the fair colleen, age 2, dressed for St. Patrick's Day.

It was all so much blarney. And I miss it. Maureen is the last. And it will not come again.

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