Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Irish struggle in Alabama

At the Alabama Bound book festival at the Birmingham Public Library this past weekend, I met Kieran Quinlan, a native of Ireland long resident in Birmingham, Ala., and author of the new book Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South. We got to talking about Charles Stewart Parnell, who considered settling in Alabama in the 1870s alongside his brother, a successful Alabama peach farmer, but opted to go home and lead the fight for Irish independence instead.

This much is recounted in my book Alabama Curiosities, but Kieran told me something I didn't know. Parnell seriously considered investing in the Birmingham, Ala., steel industry, and changed his plans only when the train on which he was a passenger derailed outside the city. The superstitious Parnell took this as an ill omen, and back to Ireland he went.

There's an alternate-history scenario for you: A train outside Birmingham, Ala., fails to derail, so Charles Stewart Parnell settles in the American South, and the history of three nations (Ireland, Great Britain, the United States) is potentially quite different.

Thanks, Kieran!


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