The area was something of a shantytown for a while; the book’s dramatic photographs illustrate it well. Famines in Ireland brought in wave after wave of immigrants in the middle 19th century, all of a type: strong backs, allegiance to church and family, an eagerness to consort with their own kind, and in Buffalo they found a home. (Some of them organized a military invasion of Canada in 1866 to influence Britain to separate itself from Ireland, and although the Fenian Raid did not work out according to plan, many of the troops from out of town stayed in Buffalo)
The book serves as a scholarly history. The casual reader should not be frightened, but, boy, is this well-researched. Self-published books by admitted amateurs tend not to be this deep in their methodology and their presentation of facts and quotes. Similarly, the conclusions drawn, the sweeping ones to indicate observations and trends, are well-developed. How the Irish pulled it off, better than perhaps the Poles or the Italians in Buffalo; the overarching role of the Catholic Church; the celebrities the First Ward developed, from mayors to boxing champions, are explained expertly.
Of course, the author has some skin in this game; we are learning about his people. That, however, is often the undoing of a book such as this, filling the story with explanation, apology and rationalization. Not here.
The many photographs are compelling. The characters tend to be intriguing and fascinating. A few objections can be made about writing style; nonetheless it is a sensational book, one that covers vaguely familiar ground with sensitivity and detail by the shovelful. One need not be Irish, Catholic or from the part of the world known as the First Ward to sink into the lives described here. This is a splendidly done book.
Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident and can be contacted at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.
• WHAT: "Against the Grain: the History of Buffalo's First Ward"
• BY: Timothy Bohen
• GRADE: A