Eye On Life Magazine

Lifestyle * Literary

Eye on Life Magazine is a Lifestyle and Literary Magazine.  Enjoy articles on gardening, kitchen cooking, poetry, vintage decor, and more.

An Irish Enclave, 1956

       South Side of Chicago, 
           long before Barack Obama

 

On bungalow porches 

and out in backyards,

on hot summer evenings 

old men lower themselves

into green canvas chairs,

smoke and sip beer,

laugh and relive 

Easter, 1916

and plot what they’ll do

when the niggers pour in

and eddy all over

the dregs of their city.

  

Donal Mahoney

 

In 1956 African-American families were advancing, neighborhood by neighborhood, toward Chicago Lawn, where lower middle class European  immigrants lived.  One result is the poem above written by Donal Mahoney, who was an adolescent living there back then. He recalls how rumor of a “black” family moving in saw Irish immigrants, armed with baseball bats and accompanied by other ethnic immigrants, marching down the street in search of blacks who were not there.  But for Mahoney, the irony lies in the fact these Irish immigrants—the very ones who celebrate the Easter Rising of 1916 against the British—saw nothing wrong with trying to stop black people from moving into “their” neighborhood. Mahoney knew men like these and what they talked about. He thinks they disliked the British occupying Ireland more than the idea of blacks moving into their neighborhood, but he’s not certain what they would have done if told the British would get out of Northern Ireland if blacks could move into Chicago Lawn. Today Chicago Lawn, Mahoney understands,has many Hispanic immigrants who appear to be living in peace. Some whites remain.  Whites did not “flee” the neighborhood as much as their children were able to move to better neighborhoods as a result of higher education and white-collar employment. But for Mahoney, the adage still applies, emotionally at least, that you can “take the boy out of the neighborhood but not the neighborhood out of the boy.”