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The Irish in Illinois

The Irish in Illinois

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Mathieu W. Billings and Sean Farrell


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
27 illustrations


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About the Book

The first statewide history of the Irish in the Prairie State
Today over a million people in Illinois claim Irish ancestry and celebrate their love for Ireland. In this concise narrative history, authors Mathieu W. Billings and Sean Farrell bring together both familiar and unheralded stories of the Irish in Illinois, highlighting the critical roles these immigrants and their descendants played in the settlement and the making of the Prairie State. Short biographies and twenty-eight photographs vividly illustrate the significance and diversity of Irish contributions to Illinois.

Billings and Farrell remind us of the countless ways Irish men and women have shaped the history and culture of the state. They fought in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and two world wars; built the state’s infrastructure and worked in its factories; taught Illinois children and served the poor. Irish political leaders helped to draw up the state’s first constitution, served in city, county, and state offices, and created a machine that dominated twentieth-century politics in Chicago and the state.

This lively history adds to our understanding of the history of the Irish in the state over the past two hundred fifty years. Illinoisans and Midwesterners celebrating their connections to Ireland will treasure this rich and important account of the state’s history.


Mathieu W. Billings is a faculty associate in the history and political science department at the University of Indianapolis.
Sean Farrell is a professor of history at Northern Illinois University. He is the author of Rituals and Riots: Sectarian Violence and Political Culture in Ulster, 1784–1886 and a coeditor of Shadows of the Gunmen: Violence and Culture in Modern Ireland.


"The Irish in Illinois will be useful. . .for future scholars, who will be encouraged to follow up on many of the authors’ suggestions in their discussion of various topics of the need and opportunity for more research. The book presents a very effective narrative of the experience of the Irish in Illinois over a very long time. . .It stands upon a firm foundation, but also offers guidance for future investigation."William H. Mulligan, Jr., Irish Literary Supplement

"The Irish in Illinois is a model of meticulously detailed, informed and informative scholarship. Thoroughly 'reader friendly' in organization and presentation, [this book] is an extraordinary and unreservedly recommended addition to... collections in general, and Illinois History supplemental curriculum studies lists in particular."—Wisconsin Bookwatch

“A concise and comprehensive history of the Irish in a state where they have had an enormous impact. The richly illustrated engaging narrative is accompanied by a range of vignettes that help the story come alive. This is an absorbing book for the lay reader, as well as a useful text for students of Illinois history.”—James R. Barrett, author of The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City
“Mathieu W. Billings and Sean Farrell have done a magnificent job of combining primary research with a wealth of secondary material to produce an erudite and absorbing portrait of the Irish in Illinois from the mid-eighteenth to the early twenty-first century. The Irish in Illinois is a comprehensive and engaging book that should be read by everyone with an interest in Irish America, Illinois, or Chicago.”—Gillian O'Brien, author of Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded Age Chicago

“This is an engaging account of the Irish and Illinois history. While Chicago predominates, Billings and Farrell have crafted a compelling story of the Irish role in shaping the region since European exploration and settlement of the state.”—Eileen M. McMahon, author of What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Parish Community and Race Relations, 1916–1970

“This is a concise but very smart and rich history of the Irish in Illinois. It is particularly insightful in its treatment of the Illinois Irish in the early nineteenth century as well as their experiences downstate throughout the two or more centuries of their settlement in the state. It makes a fresh and critically important contribution not just to the history of Illinois or to the story of the Irish there but to our understanding of the broader history of the Irish in America.”—Timothy Meagher, author of Inventing Irish America

“This well-researched and well-written book highlights the richness and the diversity of Irish immigrants and Irish American life in Illinois from the colonial era to the present. Billings and Farrell have provided a comprehensive analysis of the large Irish American community in Chicago but also have shown us the significance of the Irish outside the Windy City. It will be a role model for other state studies of the Irish in America.”—David T. Gleeson, author of The Irish in the South, 1815–1877