Firefighters: Edzo’s Irish Jig
Irish heritage, Kelly style: Cue the bagpipes, please.
Our own IAFF president Ed Kelly (how Irish is that?) is doing a wee bit of facebook’in today as he waxes poetic on firefighters and Irishness:
“Dating back to early America; job opportunities for Irish immigrants were usually limited to dangerous professions such as police and firefighters. With that, the Irish took pride in their work and incorporated their traditions into their work.”
Early America had neither police nor career firefighters, paid firefighters are a mid-19th century innovation.
And early Irish immigrants were destined for much more arduous and dangerous work: the meanest and lowest forms of manual labor and construction.
They dug the famous Erie Canal and generally did the jobs no one else would do.
Irish immigrants arrived destitute, powerless and at the bottom of the economic ladder until they were discovered as a rich source of votes by city political machines like New York’s Tammany Hall.
Allied with Tammany, the Irish acquired political power and from that came patronage-inspired jobs like firefighting and police work.
Ironically, if policing was dangerous, and it was, the danger was likely from getting your head bashed in by hoodlums who assaulted citizens with seeming impunity through much of the 19th-century, a bit of “make work” by the Irish (gangs) and for the Irish (cops.)
Then they often turned on each other.
So the rise of the Irish in firefighting (and labor) is a fact distinctly political, oddly lost on Ed Kelly as he dreams of pipes and drums.