SHU Panel Explores Irish-Americans in Law Enforcement, Military
Kearny Deputy Chief of Police George King and Major Thomas Roughneen of the National Guard were speakers.
On Thursday night, Seton Hall University held the second event in its Irish Studies five-part discussion series on Irish life in America. While Seton Hall has several Irish Studies classes, it hasn't seemed to quench the thirst of students for more. The event's organizer, Maura Harrington, says that the classes are often enrolled to capacity.
"Students who are Irish and students who aren't are interested in learning about the Irish culture in general and Irish contributions to American life. So this semester the Irish club on campus [Pirates of Irish Persuasion & Extraction, or PIPE] decided to sponsor a discussion series on the Irish experience in America," said Harrington.
Thursday's discussion was centered around the theme of Irish-Americans in law enforcement and the military and featured presentations by George King, Kearny's Deputy Chief of Police, and Tom Roughneen, a Seton Hall law graduate and a major in the U.S. Army National Guard.
Dep. Chief King spoke with passion about his family's heritage and long history on the police force. His father, a police officer, had mixed emotions when King told him during his senior year of college that he too wanted to be a policeman and made him promise to graduate. King made good on that pledge, graduating from Rutgers after completing his training but before beginning to walk his beat.
When he was asked to speak at SHU, King began to think about the correlation between the Irish and the police force.
"What happened? Why did we gravitate towards law enforcement?" reflected King. "If you look back at the history of law enforcement and the history of the Irish immigrating here, you see a lot of reasons."
According to King, the formation of the New York and Boston police departments, as we know them today, began in the 1840s. "What was happening in Ireland at that same time? You had the [Great Potato] Famine," said King. He noted that the large influx of Irish coming through New York harbor were looked down upon and took menial jobs. As they began to incorporate themselves into society and have voting power, they started to organize politically. Politicians began to look towards the Irish as a voting bloc and to offer them civil service jobs, which resulted in many Irishmen becoming part of the police force.
"I think it's a little bit more though," said King. He cited a sense of community, family and the lesson that "you don't just take, you give," as reasons why he got into police service. King noted that his father is Scottish and his mother is Irish. They immigrated to the U.S. around the same time and became citizens. King realized that his Scottish father had felt the same sense of civic responsibility about entering the police force.
"We all go into it very idealistically thinking you can change the world, and you realize down the road that you can't, but you know you do some good," said King, who also mentioned that his son recently expressed his intention to follow in his elders' footsteps.
Maj. Roughneen continued the session, expressing support for the growing Irish Studies program at Seton Hall. He spoke about the Fighting 69th, an infantry regiment made up entirely of Irish Americans, who have led the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade since the Civil War. He noted that his parents are "diehard American and Irish patriots," and the move to be in the Armed Forces came naturally to him and his brothers, though neither parent had served. He and another army officer then showed videos about the Armed Forces for the remainder of their presentation.