Thus, we have an historical problem: the accepted view is that in the nineteenth century, the Irish in the United States were a city people, while the statistically established fact is that in Canada they were a rural people. One would suggest that the American pattern is the norm and the Canadian is something of a regional deviation: that the Irish in Canada behaved differently from the Irish in the United States requires no explanation, just acceptance.
That will not do.
will argue that there is here a genuine clash of historical interpretation and that the Canadian version is probably more accurate than the American. One should discount such facile arguments as the following:
Concerning the first of these explanations, it is true that there were disproportionately fewer Catholics than Protestants among the Irish in Canada-in the case of Ontario, roughly one third of the Irish were Catholic-but the size of the
Total Irish Catholic group in Canada certainly is large enough to permit it to be studied as a separate sub group. Taking the full range of nineteenth century Canadian census data into account, one finds an aggregate of several million data points on persons of Irish Catholic background: this group may legitimately be compared and contrasted with the Irish Catholics in the United States.
The argument that the Irish Catholics who came to Canada were in some ways not real Irishmen, because they settled under the crown, is doubly spurious. In the first place, no one has yet shown that the political outlook of the bulk of the Irish Catholics to migrants to America was different from that of those who came to Canada. Indeed, the standard study of nineteenth century Irish Catholic activism, Thomas N. Brown's Irish American Nationalism (1966) argues that the Irish American society, not the result of a set of strong beliefs brought from the homeland. Second, and more important, even if Irish Catholic migrants to America tended to be "republican" and those who arrived in Canada tended to be "loyalist", that point would be irrelevant unless one could illustrate the link between loyalty to the British crown and settlement in a rural area. Certainly, the idea that republicanism is not compatible with success in a rural environment would have come as a shock to the more radical members of the Irish Land League and to successive governments of the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland.
As for the third suggestion, that the Irish Catholics who migrated to the United States were in some way culturally and technologically disadvantaged as compared to those who migrated to Canada, I can find no evidence of this. Any such argument must come down to an assertion that among the Catholic migrants to North America, Canada received those who were able to adapt to forms of agricultural technology unknown in the home country, who had the character to cope with the isolation of life in the countryside, in addition to having the tenacity to amass enough resources to enter commercial farming. Manifestly, this is hard to accept. Yet unless one is willing to argue that the difference was simply the difference between winners and losers, and unless one can specify the reasons for such settlement patterns, one may legitimately compare the two groups and look for specific cases in the New World for their apparent divergence.