Monday, 27 December 2010 15:25

The Irish Roots of fictional Irish American detective Jimmy McNulty

Written by  Darren McGettigan
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Fictional Irish American detective, Jimmy McNulty, of the Baltimore, Maryland police department and the hit US TV crime drama the Wire, has been one of the most original Irish American characters of recent years.

Known for his difficult personality, fondness for Jameson Whiskey and 'live' Irish wake held to the tune of the Pogues song 'The Body of an American' in Kavanaugh's Irish Bar, Jimmy McNulty was the lead character through five series of HBO's the Wire, where he was not only the scourge of the criminals of Baltimore but also his superiors and colleagues in his own police department.

In Ireland, the McNulty family are a well known Donegal surname. The surname means literally 'Son of the Ulsterman' and in late medieval and early modern times the McNulty family were highly respected as hereditary doctors to the O'Donnell lords of Tír Chonaill. However, in earlier medieval times the McNultys, then known as the McDunlevy family, were actually kings of the Ulaid, the original Ulstermen, governing a kingdom which covered a vast area east of the River Bann and Lough Neagh, roughly the modern Irish counties of Antrim and Down. However, around the year 1200 AD the McNultys and the Ulaid were conquered by the Anglo-Norman conquistador baron John de Courcey. De Courcey established the earldom of Ulster on the ruins of the kingdom of the Ulaid and the McNulty family fled to west Ulster. Here the family took up the study of medicine and became hereditary doctors to the O'Donnells. The McNultys held this respected position until the collapse of the O'Donnell lordship which occurred from 1602-1610.

Had Jimmy McNulty been a real person his ancestors might have emigrated to Baltimore in the USA in the nineteenth century to escape poverty or perhaps even the Great Famine of the 1840s. Many Irish who emigrated to the east coast of the USA found employment in the police departments of the great American cities. Here they made a huge contribution to the social life of their adopted country. As such Jimmy McNulty is just the fictional representative of a real and highly valued aspect of Irish American life and culture.

Last modified on Monday, 27 December 2010 17:59
Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an historian, author and genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.