Beyond O’hara: Irish Identity in the South

In Strange Kin Kieran Quinlan explores the relationship between Ireland and the American South. Many, such as my self, automatically jump to Scarlett O’hara in Gone With the Wind or find trouble associating the two regions when asked to find such similarities. Quinlan opens by exploring the negative perception of southern states to the world by recounting his own journey to begin studying in Nashville and the words of caution he received from friends and strangers. Most white southerners (or white Americans for that matter) believe their lineage to be strictly English despite the vast history of southern Irishmen. Along with a rather large population of Irish descendants living in the south, Quilan argues that the societal similarities should not be ignored writing:

” It might be Kept in mind, too, that the part of Ireland that has been independent of British rule sense the 1920s has also maintained extremely close economic and cultural ties with its larger neighbor. Like the South vis-a-vis the United States, the Irish Republic remains in many ways just another region of the United Kingdom. Large numbers of Irish men and Women seek employment in London or Liverpool, almost as readily as Southerner might move to New York or Los Angeles for the same purposes.” (Quilan 7)

This dependence on other, larger cities creates a vacuum of resources and shifts the blame from government and those in power to those most in need. This is not to omit the prejudices and racist actions of the south, but to draw parallel to the structures that may make such issues prevalent. 

The idea of white identity in the south is an interesting dichotomy between representation and accountability. In episode 1 of season 4 of the podcast “About South,” Dr. Gavan Lennon explores the relationship from the perspective of someone from northern Ireland. The concept of white southerners picking and choosing if they’re from Ireland or England creates a “I am oppressed and I’m noble” (21:30) feeling according to Dr. Caison. Although there is a rich history of overlap between the two cultures, the act of choosing the history one wants is toxic when trying to absolve one’s white privilege in America.   

A closer parallel Lennon and Quinlan mention would be between the Irish and Ingenious Americans. Quinlan writes that in 1847 Choctaw Indians in Oklahoma sent relief to “the starving Irish.. in memory of their own similar plight on the trail of tears” (Quinlan 10). This act bonded the two nations forever and shared solidarity with each others struggles since. Today, millions of Irish have donated to relief funds to help the Navajo Nation during COVID-19 (Godin). 


Caison, Gina, narrator. ““North & South Elsewhere.” About South, season 4, episode 1, 2019,

Godin, Mélissa. “Irish Send Money to Native American Community Hit By COVID-19, Returning Historic Favor.” Time, Time, Apr. 2020,

Quinlan, Kieran. Introduction. Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South, by Quinland Louisiana State University Press, 2005, pp. 1-18

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