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Irish Titan, Irish Toilers
Joseph Banigan and Nineteenth-Century New England Labor
Scott Molloy

Revisiting New England

New Hampshire
2008 • 288 pp. 26 b&w illus. 6 x 9"
Labor Studies / New England History

$29.95 Paperback, 978-1-58465-691-3

"With the good sense, keen judgment, and undeniable wit for which he is so well known, University of Rhode Island labor historian Scott Molloy has written a fascinating book on a previously underappreciated figure in 19th-century New England."The Providence Sunday Journal

Scrutinizes the life and times of Joseph Banigan, one of New England’s, and America’s, most successful nineteenth-century industrialists

In 1847 Joseph Banigan, an Irish Potato Famine refugee, established himself in Rhode Island as an entrepreneur. This was a time when “No Irish Need Apply” signs abounded and discrimination against the Irish and other immigrants—institutionalized in the constitution of his adopted state—hindered voting and other human rights. Bucking this trend and belying his humble origins, Banigan succeeded spectacularly in the emerging local rubber footwear industry, becoming the president of the United States Rubber Company—one of the nation’s major cartels, and New England’s first Irish-Catholic millionaire. Backed by primary and secondary research on two continents, Molloy’s inquiry into Bannigan’s notoriety and success singularly codifies and elucidates the Irish-American experience during this critical period in American labor history.

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Reviews / Endorsements

"This remarkably rich history of 19th-century workers and one particularly successful entrepreneur, Joseph Banigan, is . . . solid. Molloy carries us through the struggles of Irish immigrants and their role in the burgeoning labor movement, along with Banigans's rise to riches and his subsequent fame as a philanthropist. Irish Titan, Irish Toilers is expertly researched and imminently readable." The Providence Phoenix

"[Joseph] Banigan's story is set within the larger framework of the history of the Irish in nineteenth-century Rhode Island."
Rhode Island History

"Molloy utilizes an impressive range of newspapers, court cases, business records, and other sources to provide not only an excellent biography but also an illuminating examination of Irish Americans in late-nineteenth-century Rhode Island."—The New England Quarterly

Irish Titan, Irish Toilers is a superlative labour history of Rhode Island at a formative stage in the industrialization of America. Its mid-century experience was fueled by an endless stream of impoverished Irish immigrants who often violently resisted discrimination and who kept alive memories of childhood pain and grievance for a distant time and place.
“From the ‘Bannikan’ cabin in county Monaghan to the Banigan mansion in Wayland Square, Providence, Scott Molloy uses Joseph Banigan's story and the Woonsocket Rubber Company as sounding boards for the story of Irish immigration into this nineteenth-century cauldron of political struggle and labor resistance. His authority and scholarship as a labor historian is, if anything, enhanced by the book’s racy, action-packed narrative of riots, strikes, ethnic prejudice, political chicanery, enterprise, initiative, and above all, in the end, American success and achievement. It's a story well told and well worth the reading.”—Professor Patrick Duffy, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

Irish Titan, Irish Toilers is an inventive look at politics, culture, and identity in 19th century America. Scott Molloy’s book is, simultaneously, a biography, an ethnography, an industrial study, a labor history, and a foray into identity politics. His protagonist, Joseph Banigan (1839-98), embodies the fluidity of Gilded Age America, but also its limits. Molloy follows Banigan from his Famine Irish immigrant roots to his emergence as a Rhode Island-based rubber industry monopolist.
Molloy’s nuanced monograph challenges assumptions about social identity and invites us to consider how reputation, respectability, and manliness are constricted. He reconstructs a complex social milieu in which an Irish Catholic industrialist found himself in the midst of a dispute with the Knights of Labor, on organization comprised of large numbers of Irish Catholic workers in a state in which both were viewed with suspicion by entrenched Yankee elites. Molloy takes us inside a world in which paternalism has given way to hard-hearted industrial labor, the ethos of producerism is crumbling before market forces, the Catholic Church battles unions for workers’ souls, and shared ethnicity bifurcates along class lines.”—Robert E. Weir, author of
Beyond Labor’s Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor and Knights Unhorsed: Internal Conflict in a Gilded Age Social Movement

SCOTT MOLLOY is an award-winning Professor at the Labor Research Center, University of Rhode Island. He previously drove a bus, was a union activist, and was Chief of Staff to a United States Congresswoman. A prolific writer, Molloy’s most recent book is Trolley Wars: Streetcar Workers on the Line (UNH, 2007).

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:02:03 -0500