It often comes as a surprise to learn that most contemporary Americans who think of themselves as “Irish” are, in fact, Protestant, not Catholic. While commentators generally agree that these Protestant Irish-Americans are descended mainly from the Irish who settled in the United States prior to the Famine, the story of how they became the Protestants they are is—this article argues—more complicated than first appears. To understand that story, however, one must correct for two historiographical biases. The first has to do with the presumed religiosity of the so-called “Scotch-Irish” in the pre-Famine period; the second involves taking “being Irish” into account in the post-Famine period only with dealing with Catholics, not Protestants. Once these biases are corrected, however, it becomes possible to develop an argument that simultaneously does two things: it provides a new perspective on the contribution made by the Irish (generally) to the rise of the Methodists and Baptists in the early nineteenth century, and it helps us to understand why so many American Protestants continue to retain an Irish identity despite the fact that their link to Ireland is now almost two centuries in the past.
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