The Irish American Myth of the Frontier West


Quintelli-Neary, Marguerite


Ph.D University of Delaware; D/English Winthrop University

This is the first research monograph to study the interstices between native Irish folklore and the emerging myth of the American West during the last frontier period (1860 – 1890). It begins with by tracing the role of Irish pioneers and their contributions to the westward migration and then examines the many parallel developments between the myths of Ireland and those that would come to define the American West. Dr Quintelli-Neary ,for instance, discusses the adoption of traditional Irish music for Custer’s 7th Cavalry (“the Garry Owen”) as well as the Texas Rangers ; this reaffirms not only the presence of the Irish but validates an incorporation of their culture in a blending western population.

By examining the trends of American western mythology through the exploits of four major icons who are Irish by origin, association or appropriation the author demonstrates how their adventures serve to enrich a mythology that Americanizes them, while retaining such traditional Celtic features as a cattle raid, the elopement and pursuit motif, the formation of vigilance groups and the establishment of non traditional roles for female heroes. A study of the historical lives of Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane, Belle Starr and Jesse James as filtered through the generous imaginings of pseudo biographers, journalists, pulp fiction writers demonstrates how little factual history is retained in the American consciousness while the mythology is strengthened and enlarged by images perpetuated through fiction and film.

Finally, the final loop of retooled mythology makes its way back to Ireland where it is accepted in popular culture (music, fiction, film and dress) and takes on the form of championing self government, liberty, opportunity, and an idyllic agrarian culture.

1.Establishing Boundaries
2.At Home on the Range: Fionn MacCumhaill and Billy the Kid
3.Calamitous Persona: Martha Jane Cannary’s Role in the Irish American Frontier
4.The Original Starr Wars, or Tales of a Southern Belle and a Bandit Queen
5.The “Irishness” of Jesse James
6.Enabling the Myth


Western American History, Irish American Studies, American Folklore Studies, 19th C America, Irish Studies
Release Date: 
Cloth: 193314646-X; EAN 978-1-933146-1
Trim Size: 
6 x 9

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