Publication: Griffintown: Identity & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood

June 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

At long last, my book, Griffintown: Identity & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood, is out from UBC Press.  It is available in hardcover at present, though the paperback is coming in the fall.

fullsizeoutput_4cfI am particularly pleased with the cover and design of the book.  The artwork on the cover come from my good friend and co-conspirator in Griff, G. Scott MacLeod.  He and I have worked on The Death and Life of Griffintown: 21 Stories over the past few years.

Griffintown has long fascinated me not so much for the history of the neighbourhood, but the conscious effort by a group of former residents to reclaim it, starting in the late 1990s.  I identified three men who were central to this process, all of whom have left this mortal coil in recent years: The Rev. Fr. Tom McEntee, Don Pidgeon, and Denis Delaney.  These men worked very hard to make the rest of Montreal remember what was then an abandoned, decrepit, sad-sack inner-city neighbourhood.  That Griff is known historically for its Irishness is a tribute to these men and many other former residents, most notably Sharon Doyle Driedger and David O’Neill, who worked tirelessly over the late 1990s and 2000s to reclaim their former home.  The re-Irishification of Griffintown is the central story in my book.  But I also look at the construction of Irish identity there over the 20th century, and the ways in which the Irish there performed every-day memory work to claim and re-claim their Irishness as they confronted their exclusion from Anglo-Montreal due to their poverty and Catholicism.

The Irish of Griffintown were fighters, they were insistent on claiming Home, even as that home disintegrated around them, due to deindustrialization and the infrastructural onslaught wrought by the Ville de Montréal, the Canadian National Railway, and the Corporation for Expo ’67.  But, at the same time, they also left, seeking more commodious accommodations in newer neighbourhoods in the sud-ouest of the city, and NDG.

That these former residents could reclaim this abandoned, forgotten neighbourhood as their own speaks to the power of these people.  These people were working- and middle- class men and women, ordinary folk from all walks of life, who were determined their Home not be forgotten.  They re-cast Griff in their memories without the help of the state, without the help, to a large degree, of institutional Montreal.

I cannot over-state the impressive feat of these ex-Griffintowners.  It has been a lot of fun to both study this process and work with and talk with many of those involved in this symbolic re-creation of Griff, drawing on an imagined history of Ireland and their own Irishness in the diaspora.  And I am mostly relieved that the book is, finally, out.

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