Real Lace: America’s Irish Rich

Rating: ★★★★★

 Real Lace by Stephen Birmingham

Real LacePublished in 1973, this book is getting on a bit, however, as a thoughtful social history of some fascinating families, it deserves to be better known. The generation that emigrated from starving Ireland in the 1800’s often arrived in America alone and penniless, facing slums, more poverty, prejudice and disillusionment, but at least spoke English.

Some of them went on to make decent money, and in another generation or two, into prominent business, social and political fortunes. The book focuses on the way these families married into one another, much the same way royal families of an earlier age did, with the intent on keeping wealth and the family business intact.
Of course they were Democrats, and Catholic, and here was a little gem concerning donations..’Though the Democratic Party might not, strictly speaking, be considered a charity, there are ways to contribute $10,000 to the Democratic Party, which is not tax-deductible, he can make a gift of $100,000 to the Church, which is. The Church then, quietly and without fanfare, can transfer $10,000 to the party, keeping the $90,000 for itself.'(p248). Prehaps not in the same league as the sale of indulgences, but a cosy arrangement nonetheless?
I suppose because they can afford to do what the rest of us dream, the seriously rich always fascinate, and America’s Irish Rich were more colourful and fascinating than most. ‘Alistair Cooke’s America’, my introduction to all written things American, began the Irish immigrant story, this was the book that fleshed it out.

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