Irish Immigration to America
Irish immigration to America was a major contributor to the evolution of the country and helped shape many aspects of its modern culture and prosperity. Irish immigrants and their descendants were essential to the economic expansion of the United States, offering their hands in the
building of railroads, infrastructure, bustling cities, and the earliest skyscrapers. They manned factories, toiled in mines, endured extreme weather conditions, and worked day and night just to make a living.
The Irish built roads to expand cities and towns, manufactured products and supplies for consumers and development, burgeoned communities and homegrown neighborhoods, and fought in American wars by the thousands. The modern diversity of culture, heritage and personality enjoyed in the U.S. would be hard to appreciate without recognizing contributions made by millions of Irish immigrants and their descendants.
By 1790, almost half a million people of Irish birth or ancestry were living in the U.S. – roughly one-sixth of the white population at that time. Many of the first Irish immigrants crossed the sea to escape the harsh penal laws and taxation of their home country, bringing their life savings and a knowledge of the English language with them. Colonial settlers from Ireland often came to be known as ‘Scots-Irish’ for their ancestry, and settled mostly in the uplands of interior America, particularly in the Appalachian Mountain region. Their descendants would have a lot of influence on American culture through folk, western, and country music as well as strong religious customs and sporting interests such as stock car racing (in the 20th century). During the 1800s, the Great Famine of Ireland would see thousands of Irish immigrants arriving every year in search of basic needs and better quality of life.
From 1820 to 1860, as many as two million Irish immigrants crossed the ocean to start a new life on the seemingly boundless expanses of the North American continent. As they ran from starvation and poverty, Irish immigrants found themselves crammed onto ships rife with disease, with little food to eat and in poor hygienic conditions. An untold number of them would die during the journey on what came to be known as coffin ships.
For many of those who made it, awaiting them was a life of poverty and hard work. Irish immigrants of the mid-1800s settled in great numbers across the Northeast, particularly in seaboard cities such as Boston, New York, Providence, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. They had difficulty integrating with American society as many of them spoke little English and were often viewed with suspicion and hostility for their Catholic faith by a Protestant majority population. For the best chance of survival in the face of poverty, the Irish established ethnic communities where they supported and protected each other in a new and regularly hostile land. Many Irish immigrants, lacking education and literacy, were forced to accept long hours and low pay at hard labor jobs, where they built structures, roads, bridges, and railroads. The Irish helped fulfill massive infrastructural projects such as the Union Pacific Railroad at minimal cost and
impressive speed. They worked in factories, mines, quarries and other dangerous industries where consideration of well-being was not on a list of priorities. Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War by the thousands, oftentimes being enlisted into the army the moment they
arrived from Ireland, with as many as 150,000 Union Army soldiers having been born in Ireland.
Even as the Great Famine subsided, Irish immigrants continued to stream onto American shores —although under slightly better conditions and with greater hopes and expectations. Many of them, lured by dreams of land, gold and freedom, took part in westward expansion and settled across the South, Midwest, and the Western United States. By the turn of the century, the number of Irish immigrants arriving had long since leveled off. Many immigrants and their descendants found work as policemen, firefighters, blacksmiths, masons and other skilled positions, while more pursued well-to-do careers in politics, government, and entrepreneurship following successful educations.
Today, as many as 55 million Americans identify as having Irish ancestry with as many as 27 million more believed to be of Scots-Irish descent. From 1820 until now, roughly five million Irish immigrants have come to America. In that time, the United States has experienced an exciting integration of Irish culture and character that can be seen all over the country. Holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day offer one of the most popular special occasions, with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York considered one of the biggest parades in the world. Unique ethnic neighborhoods across the Eastern Seaboard and other major cities boast medleys of culture, religion, and personality with distinct Irish heritage. Some of the biggest names in comedy claim Irish heritage, such as Jackie Gleason, George Carlin, Chris Farley, Conan O’Brien, Bill Murray and Will Ferrell, while musicians such as Bing Crosby, Kurt Cobain, Justin Timberlake and many more also claim to be of Irish descent. Would you like awesome celtic gifts for someone you love?