It is difficult to overstate the importance of Irish Americans in U.S. history. This is not only because of the significant contributions they have made in their own right but also because as the first mass immigrants from a culture viewed as alien and threatening by "native" Americans, the Irish led the way for subsequent immigrants to the United States from all over the world. Holding on to a Catholic, anti-English identity and politics of their own, Irish Americans nevertheless found ways to express that identity in the context of a Protestant American culture rooted in English history and values. The Roman Catholic Church that the Irish helped make the United States' largest and most formidable religious organization has sheltered immigrants from many other parts of the world and continues to help new waves of immigrants find a place in the United States today. The Irish American political machines helped shape the American party system, and Irish Americans were largely responsible for the rise of the American labor movement as well. Irish Americans were the first Americans who learned to be loyal Americans while holding on to values and identities rooted in their country of origin. Dolan has described the full range of the extraordinary Irish contribution to American culture and life.
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