A visiting fellow from Franklin & Marshall College Pennsylvania, Professor Van Gosse spent one month at the Trinity Long Room Hub in autumn/winter 2023 where he spoke about the complex relationship between African Americans and Irish Americans within the wider diasporic context of the United States. Through his research project, he wanted to take a deeper look at how the Irish understood the United States’ system of white supremacy and race, and how they viewed the “Jim Crow era”.

Writing in the latest issue of History Ireland, Professor Gosse said:

“What I found is deeply paradoxical.  On the one hand, an unembarrassed racism pervaded Irish public discourse.  The n-word featured in Oireachtas speeches and newspapers into the 1980s. And yet, much of Irish society found overt racism repugnant, un-Christian, “not Irish.””

Professor Gosse also goes on to say that the fraught relationship between African American and Irish Americans in the United States was not widely known or present in coverage of Irish affairs in the US. “African Americans, however, knew Irish Americans as notoriously racist”, says Professor Gosse, adding that “in 1921, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote the head of the Catholic Board for Mission Work Among the Colored People “there can be no doubt of the hostility of a large proportion of Irish Americans towards Negroes….I have found very few of them who have expressed the slightest sympathy for the Negro.””

In the article, Professor Gosse also details how “in the Oireachtas, demeaning allusions to Black people were rife”, with the An Leas-Cheann Comhairle ruling in an 1966 debate “that "`n____s’ is not a disorderly word.””

In the newspapers however, “America’s racial terror was uniformly presented as barbaric”, notes Professor Gosse pointing to regular coverage of the brutality of lynchings throughout the 1930s.

From a political perspective, Professor Gosse outlines how Fine Gael leader W.T. Cosgrave was alone in linking Irish and Black freedom struggles.  “Cosgrave’s acknowledging Black humanity was exceptional”, says Professor Gosse.

In later decades movements such as the campaigns to end apartheid in South Africa allowed the Irish “to forget how they had once championed whiteness.”

Concluding his article, Professor Gosse whose fellowship coincided with numerous protests against immigrants in Ireland and the so-called “Dublin riots”, said “as protests escalate in the Republic against immigrant “others,” it would be well to consider this history. Whether in the U.S. or Ireland, we all need to reckon with the legacies of racial exclusion.”

Professor Van Gosse’s Fellowship at the Trinity Long room Hub was in collaboration with Professor Daniel Geary from Trinity’s School of Histories and Humanities. His research project was titled "The Black and Green in US Politics, 1877-1965.

Listen to his fellow in focus podcast here

Read more about his fellowship here