Book Review: 'El Proyecto Macnamara': The Maverick Irish Priest and the Race to Seize California 1844-1846


by John Fox

Salins: Irish Academic - Marrion /Portland, Or.: International Specialized Book Servies, 2015. Pp. xx, 276. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 1908928735

An Irish Colony in California

Irish historian Fox tells a remarkable tale, one certainly new to most Americans, even those who pursue history, a proposal by the Irish priest Eugene Macnamara (1814-1852) to establish an Irish colony in Mexico under British aegis. 

This is a complex tale, spanning several decades and three continents. It has a remarkable cast, including such notables as James K. Polk, Lord Palmerston, Mexican presidents and strongmen Mariano Paredes and Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, historian George Bancroft, Pope Pius IX, and John C. Frémont, not to mention many others. There’s smuggling, religious discrimination, the Potato Famine, revolution and civil war in Mexico, and colonial oppression, as well as the domestic politics of several countries. 

The crux of the story is how in 1845 Fr. Macnamara secured from Mexico a land grant to thousands of square miles of California’s central valley, which was to be settled by 15,000 impoverished Irish immigrants. This plan was fraught with global implications, and as Fox demonstrates, entered into President Polk’s decision for the conquest of California, and of course had a role in the U.S.-Mexican War, while Fr. Macnamara went off to try his project in Chile.   

While perhaps a mite obscure for the casual reader, this is essential reading for those seriously interested in the American expansion.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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