In a recent press conference opposing the acceptance of Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS terror, the Rhode Island GOP drew a contrast between the past acceptance of Irish refugees of the Potato Famine and the current, ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. Arguing that Syrians fleeing ISIS were different, Rep. Mike Chippendale said, “‘the United States of America is an extremely compassionate nation’ but added this is a different time than when the Irish came to the country because of a potato famine” according to a Projo report on the press conference.
As the great-great-grandson of an Irish-American terrorist, I feel the need to correct the historical record.
William Crossin, my mother’s mother’s mother’s father, died in summer of 1912. His funeral procession was a well-attended public spectacle, as reported in the July 6, 1912 edition of The Gaelic American (here I pull from The Gaelic American as quoted in a 1982 undergrad paper by Denise M. Hennessey, my mother):
It was “one of the most remarkable tributes of respect for the dead ever seen in Philadelphia. No popular public man was ever more honored in the number and quality of those who accompanied his remains to their last resting place. And they were all men and women who knew him personally.”*
He was burried [sic] from the Church of the Annunciation, located at Tenth and Dickinson Streets, Philadelphia which church “was filled to capacity.”
“A dense mass of people thronged Morris Street and the neighboring blocks, and it required a detachment of police to keep the space in front of the house clear”
Six pallbearers carried Crossin’s coffin:
John T. Keating
John L. Gannon
A procession of honorary pallbearers included the dignitaries from all over the United States. Fifteen nuns were also among those in the procession and it was noted that, “Crossin had always been a great friend of the sisters and made many a collection for charitable enterprises in which they were engaged.”
“A long line of carriages followed the hearse to the church, all the side streets on both sides of the route had a double line of waiting carriages and more than 2,000 members of the Clan-na-Gael wearing badges marched on foot.
A high mass of Requiem was celebrated at his parish church and a host of priests assisted his Pastor, Rev. P. Daily. In his sermon Fr. Daily attested to Crossin’s good character when he said, “No man can point the finger of scorn at William Crossin. He was a good Catholic, a practical Catholic in the strictest sense of the word. His performance of his religious duties was not perfunctory. His faith was strong and his fervor was like that of the Irish missionaries who carried the light of the Gospel to the peoples of central and western Europe in the Middle Ages when Ireland earned the proud title of the Island of the Saints. He was filled with the spirit which animated those men. His life was simple and pure. He was a model husband and father, a good citizen who won the respect of his neighbors and of all who came in contact with him. He was loyal to the land of his adoption, and to his motherland he gave a devotion that was without the slightest taint of selfishness Men might differ with him but all respected his sincerity and singleness of purpose.”
“The procession of carriages going to the grave sight stretched as far as the eye could see.”
“Outside and on the way to the cemetary [sic] great satisfaction was expressed at this kindly and eloquent tribute to the dead. One of the professional men at the funeral, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, said that he had never met a man of finer intellect, of more upright character or stronger personality than William Crossin. Had Crossin had the advantage of a college training, the man believed Crossin would have become one of the foremost men of America.” [William Crossin was a horse-cart driver in South Philadelphia]
My mother had mixed feelings about her great-grandfather, as do I (my grandmother did not, according to family legend. When my mom came home to tell her parents what she had researched at night school, my grandfather gleefully exclaimed, “Good, Denise! Dig for the dirt! I want to know everything her [my grandmother’s] side of the family did!” My grandmother replied–I imagine between sips of milky black tea and puffs of a Camel cigarette–that, “If any relative of mine blew something up, they must have had a goddamned good reason”).