Who's Your Paddy?

Racial Expectations and the Struggle for Irish American Identity

320 pages

16 halftones

December, 2013

ISBN: 9780814785034



Also available in



Part of the Nation of Nations series


Jennifer Nugent Duffy is Associate Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut.

All books by Jennifer Nugent Duffy

After all the green beer has been poured and the ubiquitous shamrocks fade away, what does it mean to be Irish American besides St. Patrick’s Day? Who’s Your Paddy traces the evolution of “Irish” as a race-based identity in the U.S. from the 19th century to the present day. Exploring how the Irish have been and continue to be socialized around race, Jennifer Nugent Duffy argues that Irish identity must be understood within the context of generational tensions between different waves of Irish immigrants as well as the Irish community’s interaction with other racial minorities.
Using historic and ethnographic research, Duffy sifts through the many racial, class, and gendered dimensions of Irish-American identity by examining three distinct Irish cohorts in Greater New York:  assimilated descendants of nineteenth-century immigrants; “white flighters” who immigrated to postwar America and fled places like the Bronx for white suburbs like Yonkers in the 1960s and 1970s; and the newer, largely undocumented migrants who began to arrive in the 1990s. What results is a portrait of Irishness as a dynamic, complex force in the history of American racial consciousness, pertinent not only to contemporary immigration debates but also to the larger questions of what it means to belong, what it means to be American.


  • "Artfully knitting together the local and the national, Duffy's book is a clear-sighted account of the racial protocols of Irishness. Through ethnographic fieldwork and dexterous theorization, she richly illuminates numerous (sometimes contradictory) dimensions of the experience of being Irish-American and the ideological norms and social practices of one ethnic group's 'race-based tradition.'  This book is a significant addition to the literature on Irishness in America." 

    —Diane Negra, University College Dublin

  • "The basis of Nugent Duffy's book is that she divided the Irish into 'Good Paddies' and 'Bad Paddies' . . . but really finds there is little difference between them."

    —Niall O'Dowd, IrishCentral.com

  • "Duffy makes excellent use of Irish testimonials gathered from extensive ethnographic fieldwork that she intertwines throughout her book; the result is a compelling narrative. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

    —J.M. O'Leary, CHOICE

  • “Jennifer Nugent Duffy’s impressive ambition is to address often-overlooked differences in perspective among the Irish in America and examine the disagreements that result.  Duffy’s account configures a three-cornered fight featuring Irish American ethnics, an intermediate group of Irish immigrants from the 1950s, and the more recent arrivals of the last thirty years.  With salient distinctions that follow up on earlier accounts of immigrant-ethnic tensions in Irish America during the 1990s, the author attributes such antipathies to two superstructural factors: the international rise of neoliberalism and the whiteness-studies notion of Irish American ethnicity as a ‘race-based tradition.’”

    The Journal of American History