Irish Immigration

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Editors: Lawrence W. Baker , Sonia Benson , James L. Outman , Rebecca Valentine , and Roger Matuz
Date: 2004
From: U.S. Immigration and Migration Reference Library(Vol. 1: Vol. 1: Almanac. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Topic overview; Culture overview
Length: 9,632 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1240L

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Irish Immigration

Irish Americans made up about 11 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, with a reported population of 30.5 million. They were the fourth largest ancestral group in the United States, after German Americans, Hispanic or Latino Americans, and African Americans. Irish Americans have spread throughout the United States and have long been assimilated (absorbed) in the mainstream culture. It is difficult, therefore, to imagine that 150 years ago, Irish Catholic immigrants faced severe discrimination (unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices) when they arrived in the country. Many of the early immigrants suffered wretched living conditions and performed backbreaking work for low wages in the hope that their children would have a better life. Some historians have observed that the experience of the 4.5 million Irish immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth century was typical of the American immigrant experience in general. The American Immigration Law Foundation, for example, asserts that "Irish immigration to America represented the first mass immigration to the United States and set the stage for all future immigrating ethnic minorities."

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Historical background of Ireland

The story of Irish migration to the United States stems from Ireland's long-standing and bitter conflict with England, which ruled Ireland off and on from the twelfth century until the twentieth century. The Irish were a Gaelic culture, predominantly consisting of Celts (pronounced KELTS), a tall red-haired population that had come to Ireland from Europe sometime around the fifth century B.C.E. Ireland has been Christian since the fifth century C.E., when several missionaries, St. Patrick notably among them, set up churches and monasteries throughout the land. The island was divided into five provinces, Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Meath (North Leinster), and Munster. Each had its own king or lord. Ireland was taken over by British invaders in the twelfth century, but the invaders tended to settle in among the Irish and lose their ties to England. England had only nominal (in name, but not in fact) rule in Ireland for several centuries.

In the 1530s Englsih King Henry VIII (1491–1547) broke with the Roman Catholic Church and placed himself at the head of the Church of England. Most Irish people continued to believe that the pope, not King Henry, was the head of their church. This division was to become a major focus of conflict between the two peoples, as England's national church became Protestant and much of Ireland remained Catholic. The British monarchs, beginning in the early sixteenth century, wanted a stable and loyal Protestant population in Ireland and began taking large tracts of land away from Irish Catholic owners and distributing them to English nobles and settlers, especially in Northern Ireland. The Irish fought these new English colonists, sometimes successfully. But in 1601 they lost the Battle of Kinsale and their attempts to stop the British colonization of Ulster were squashed. After the defeat, the English sent wave after wave of settlers, mainly Scottish Presbyterians, into Ulster.

Civil war broke out in England in the early 1640s as the result of a struggle for power between England's King Charles I (1600–1649) and its Parliament. In 1641, just prior to the war, the Irish had mounted a ferocious attack on the thirty-year-old Protestant colony at Ulster, killing an estimated ten to fifteen thousand people. The English were unable to respond because of their civil war, which ended in 1649 with the beheading of the king. Protestant parliamentarian

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uimr_01_img0125 Irish Immigration: Fact Focus

  • In 1691 the British enacted the first of the Penal Laws in Ireland, which prohibited Irish Catholics from receiving an education, entering a profession, purchasing land, voting, holding public office, owning any kind of weapon, or owning a horse of greater value than five pounds. The Penal Laws remained in effect until 1829, ensuring that Irish Catholics were impoverished and powerless to rebel against their oppressors.
  • Starting in 1845 a mysterious disease killed Ireland's potato crop. Because the tenant farmers of Ireland had little besides potatoes to eat, within just a few years an estimated 1.5 million people died of starvation or related diseases.
  • In 1847, as the potato famine raged, Parliament legislated that the Irish poor were the responsibility of the landowners. After that, when landlords evicted the tenant farmers from their land, they either paid to have them placed in workhouses or sent them off to the New World. An estimated two and a half million Irish Catholics entered the workhouses during the potato blight, while an estimated one to one and a half million obtained inexpensive one-way passage on rickety ships heading for the New World.
  • Irish Catholic immigrants in the United States tended not to move inland to the rural areas but stayed in East Coast cities and towns.
  • By the 1840s nativist organizations were gaining strength. The American Party, later known as the Know-Nothing Party, claimed that immigrants—primarily the Irish and Roman Catholics—were threatening to destroy American values and democracy.
  • As the Irish American population grew in the northeastern cities, its growing numbers gave it increasing voting capacity. Urban Irish Americans across the country organized into political machines made up of precincts working under a boss whose power depended on his ability to deliver up the district's votes. Because they manipulated the voting system by granting favors, political machines always had some criminal element, but the extent varied greatly.
  • In 1850, 75 percent of Irish women in the United States were domestics. Second-generation Irish American women, anxious to escape the household-help business, were determined to get an education. At the turn of the century, Irish American women stayed in school longer than Irish American men.
  • The St. Patrick's Day parade is a U.S. tradition, not an Irish one. The first parade is said to have taken place in Boston in 1737. In Ireland St. Patrick's Day is a holy day, and until 1995 there were no St. Patrick's Day parades in Ireland.
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uimr_01_img0126 Irish Immigration: Words to Know

The way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into American culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.
A Catholic clergyman of a higher ranking than a priest, who has the authority to ordain priests and usually has the responsibility of governing the diocese, a district established by the church.
pronounced KEL-tick; Relating to an ancient race of European people—the Celts whose descendants live today in Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Wales, and Brittany, a part of France. Celtic also refers to the language spoken by these people.
Chain migration:
A process of immigration in which a person or persons from one location in the Old World migrates to a location in the New World and then brings over more people from their home. The relatives come, settling close to the first immigrant. They write to more people back home and send money when possible for their close ones to join them. In many cases, an entire neighborhood within a U.S. city, town, or farming region has been populated by people from one village or neighborhood in the old country.
Small, close-knit communities in rural Ireland.
Unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices.
Leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there. "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland." "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States."
Relating to a group of people who are not from the majority culture in the country in which they live, and who keep their own culture, language, and institutions.
People who have been sent away from their homeland.
The language spoken in Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland, and on the Isle of Man.
Arising from common people, rather than politicians, corporations, or others in power.
To travel to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States." "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland."
The historic change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of services on an organized and mass-produced basis.
Laissez faire:
French for "let it be"; A belief that the government should not interfere in the economy more than absolutely necessary.
Mass migration:
A time in history when thousands—or even millions—of people from one country in the Old World immigrated to the New World within a relatively short period of time.
To move from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders.
Nationalist movement:
Struggle for independence from the rule of another country.
A set of beliefs that centers around favoring the interests of people who are native-born to a country as opposed to its immigrants.
Remembering one's home with longing; homesickness.
Enforced isolation from the public to prevent the spread of an infectious disease.
Local church community.
Oriented toward common people, or democratic.
Institutions in which people in desperate poverty went to reside, and in which they worked for food and other aid.

and army commander Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) took power and immediately rushed off to Ireland. Cromwell's army of twelve thousand men attacked the city of Drogheda in northeast Ireland, killing more than three thousand people there. From Drogheda Cromwell attacked Wexford, killing hundreds more. Other towns simply surrendered to him when they learned of the massacres.

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As the leader of the new Republic of England, Cromwell decided to pay his soldiers for their part in the civil war by granting them land in Ireland. Irish landowners were exiled (sent away) from Munster and Leinster to be resettled on inferior land while their land was given to English Protestants. Cromwell, who hated Catholicism, expelled one thousand priests from Ireland and severely limited land ownership among the Irish Catholics.

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The Penal Laws

In 1689 English political conflicts erupted into battle on Irish soil. The English King James (1633–1701), a Catholic, lost his throne to his Protestant brother-in-law, William of Orange (1650–1702), who had the support of English Protestants and Parliament. James fled to Ireland, where he could count on the help of the Catholics. There he and William fought the Battle of the Boyne. James lost the battle and with it, the English throne; and William became William III, king of England. England revenged itself by forcing Ireland to enter the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, which included the first of the Penal Laws. Under these laws, no Irish Catholic could receive an education, enter a profession, purchase land, vote, hold public office, own any kind of weapon, or own a horse of greater value than five pounds. Many Irish converted to the Church of England because the consequences of remaining Catholic were so severe. Irish Catholics as a whole had been reduced to poverty and had little political power to help themselves.

Many of the Protestant colonists in Ireland came to regard themselves as Irish and resented Britain's rule. In 1783 they forced the establishment of an independent Irish Parliament, but it was short lived. In 1800, after more conflicts, the Act of Union was passed, which created the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland," a union of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland to be ruled by one parliament in London. In the United Kingdom, Ireland would have representation in Parliament, but Irish government representatives could not pass laws on their own. The Penal Laws remained in effect for a time but were finally repealed in 1829, but only after a major political struggle with England.

The rural population of Ireland tended to live in small, close-knit villages called clachans (pronounced CLAH-kens), which often farmed their holdings of land as a community. People in a clachan lived and worked very closely together and helped each other through hard times. Most Irish Catholics were, by the nineteenth century, living in extreme poverty, particularly in rural areas. About 95 percent of Irish land was owned by British Protestants, who rented it out in small parcels. Ireland had undergone a tremendous population explosion and had not yet become industrialized (made the change from a farm-based economy to an economic system based on the manufacturing of goods and distribution of

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[Image not available for copyright reasons]

services on an organized and mass-produced basis). There was not enough land or work to provide for the large population. Thus, the rented land parcels became smaller and smaller, with tenants leasing to subtenants who usually ended up with less than 5-acre lots. The tenant farmers did not have modern equipment or the money to buy it. Their lots could support only a tiny garden to feed their families—perhaps 1.5 acres to feed a family for the year. With this lack of space, equipment, and capital, most of the clachans had come to rely on only one food source for survival—the potato. An acre of potatoes produced more food and was more reliable than any other crop, and although a diet of only potatoes is not balanced, the nutritional value was enough to sustain a family.

The potato famine

In 1845 about three to four million of Ireland's eight million people were rural poor. Although they were responsiblePage 254  |  Top of Article for growing Ireland's abundant export crops, the tenants were forced to deliver everything they grew to their landlords to pay their rent. This food—meat and grains—was shipped out of Ireland to be sold in foreign ports. Potatoes barely sustained the Irish farmers throughout the year.

In 1845 a mysterious disease, a fungus called Phytophthora infestans, hit Europe's potato crops, destroying about one-third of Ireland's potatoes. It was clear that many of the poor would starve unless they got help. That year the British prime minister had corn shipped in from the United States. With this aid, although many suffered terribly, no one died of starvation in 1845. Ireland's other crops prospered and continued to be shipped out of the country, even though the food was so badly needed by the very people who had grown it. There was a strong faction in the Parliament in London that believed in a "laissez faire" (let it be) approach to economy and government. They strongly opposed government interference in the economy. Some of these people believed that economic booms and crises, even a famine, were God's way of shaping the world. British politicians voiced their feelings that the Irish were a lazy people and might become dependent on relief, if it were offered.

In the summer of 1846 the potato crop in the Irish fields looked healthy and abundant. Some relief operations had been underway to feed the Irish people in case of another crop failure, but the British shut them down as the new crops came in. At the end of the growing season, though, the blight struck again; all the potatoes of Ireland blackened and rotted. There was no food left and no relief operations were in place. People began to starve by October. As the unusually cold winter of 1846 to 1847 began, tens of thousands of people starved to death or, weakened from malnutrition, died of infectious diseases like cholera and typhus that raged through the land. The misery in some of the rural areas of Ireland is hard to imagine today. Whole families could be found dead together, having starved in their homes. The government belatedly set up jobs digging roads to employ some of the starving farmers. But men lucky enough to get one of the road jobs frequently died from hunger before they received their first wages. The churches quit using coffins to bury the dead because they could not afford to pay for so many of them if they were going to try to help the living. This was "Black '47," the

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Starving peasants clamor at the gates of a workhouse during the potato famine. Reproduced by permission of © Hulton Getty/Liaison Agency. Starving peasants clamor at the gates of a workhouse during the potato famine. Reproduced by permission of © Hulton Getty/Liaison Agency.

very worst season of starvation in the potato famine. Because of a lack of seed potatoes (the plant that bears the seeds) after Black '47 to plant more crops, the famine continued through 1849 and would claim an estimated one to one and a half million lives. It was the worst famine in history up to the twentieth century. In places like Skibberreen, in County Cork, and many other rural areas on the western seaboard of Ireland, the signs of death and dying were visible at every corner.

Irish peasants generally rented their land on six-month leases. When they failed to pay their rent in the famine years, the landlords frequently evicted them (terminated their rent agreement and forced them to move away from the rented land), often burning down their homes to make sure they left. In 1847 Parliament legislated that the Irish poor were the responsibility of the landowners. Under this provision, the landlords continued to evict their starving tenants, and then generally took one of two methods to take care of them, neither of which was humane. The first was to crowd them into one of the

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An Irish family, evicted from their home in Glenbeigh, Ireland, in 1888. Reproduced by permission of © Sean Sexton/Corbis. An Irish family, evicted from their home in Glenbeigh, Ireland, in 1888. Reproduced by permission of © Sean Sexton/Corbis.

173 poorly run, disease-infested workhouses, also called poorhouses, that had been built around the Irish countryside for this purpose. A poor person had to live within the workhouse to receive aid and was required to exchange labor for food. It is estimated that two and a half million people entered the workhouses, and approximately two hundred thousand died in them, during the potato blight. The other choice, which may have been cheaper for the landlord, was to purchase an inexpensive ticket for the tenant on a rickety ship heading for Canada. An estimated one to one and a half million Irish Catholics left Ireland during the potato famine, with their passage paid by the landlord or with money they scraped together themselves.

Passage to America

Many of the hundreds of thousands of desperate passengers who emigrated from Ireland during the famine years found cheap passage to Canada and went there with the intentionPage 257  |  Top of Article of traveling from Canada to the United States. The ships they boarded were called "coffin ships" because so many people died during the voyage from infectious disease. The dead were thrown overboard. For the living, the conditions aboard were often nightmarish. The ships were generally old timber ships not meant for passengers at all, and the ship owners would overload the ship with too many passengers. Roger Daniels, in Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, estimates that in the worst famine year, 1847, about seventeen thousand people died while at sea and another twenty thousand died after landing due to diseases picked up onboard. Other estimates of the death toll are even higher.

Once in Canada, the ships were generally quarantined (subject to enforced isolation from the public to prevent the spread of infectious disease) at an island near Montreal called Grosse Isle. The island was quickly overwhelmed by the huge number of immigrants, many of whom were near death and carrying disease. According to Terry Golway in The Irish in America, as many as fifteen thousand people may have died on Grosse Isle in their flight from the potato famine. Other Irish people made their way to the ports of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York.

The first Irish Catholic migrations to America

Irish immigration to North America had begun well before the potato famine. There were Irish among the colonial settlers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Others continued to arrive after the United States was formed in 1783. The mass migrations (times in history when thousands, or even millions, of people from one country in the Old World immigrated to the New World within a relatively short period of time) did not begin, though, until the early nineteenth century. Between 1815 and 1845, the grim condition of the Irish economy, a population explosion in the country, and the poor treatment of the Catholics initiated mass migration. It is estimated that about 1 million Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States in that pre-famine period. In 1840 Irish immigrants made up about one-half ofPage 258  |  Top of Article all immigrants to the United States. Another 1.5 million Irish Catholic immigrants arrived in the United States in the potato famine years. Another 2.6 million came from 1860 to the present. When discussing the Irish immigration to the United States it is necessary to distinguish between the Catholic and Protestant Irish immigrants because their experiences differed significantly. Irish Protestants (many were the Scotch-Irish who had been colonists in Northern Ireland; see chapter 6 on the Scots and Scotch-Irish) faced less discrimination and tended to come to the new country with job skills and with some money to get started. This chapter deals mainly with the millions of Irish Catholic immigrants who came to the United States.

The early Irish Catholic immigrants

The early nineteenth-century Irish Catholic immigrants were mostly male and usually poor, illiterate, and unskilled. Whether it was because they lacked the funds to travel further or to buy land or because the famine had given them a strong distaste for farming, these immigrants tended not to move inland to the rural areas. Many made their way from Canada down to New England and New York. They stayed mainly in the East and South, in cities such as Baltimore, Maryland; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Charleston, South Carolina. The Irish immigrants who made it away from the eastern seaboard, especially those who made it to the West Coast, did not have the same experiences as the majority that remained in the East. Out West, they tended to assimilate more quickly and find more success and less discrimination.

When they arrived in the New World, the young Irish immigrants got to work in low-paying, heavy-labor jobs quickly. As soon as it was possible, they sent their earnings back to Ireland to bring their families over to the United States. This pattern of migration is called chain migration and has been practiced by many groups of immigrants since the Irish. Chain migration works in this way: An individual or group of immigrants goes to a new land and gets established with a job and a place to live. He or she then helps to bring over friends and family, who come, get established near the earlier immigrants, and then help bring their own kin and friends over. The earlier

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St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. Archbishop John Hughes (1797–1864) initiated the building of St. Patrick's in 1858 to replace the original cathedral. Photograph by Irving Underhill. Reproduced by permission of © Corbis. St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. Archbishop John Hughes (1797–1864) initiated the building of St. Patrick's in 1858 to replace the original cathedral. Photograph by Irving Underhill. Reproduced by permission of © Corbis.

immigrants help the new ones to settle, and before long a new community of people who had connections in the old country has arisen in the new country. In cities, whole neighborhoods have formed made up of people from a particular village in the Old World. After the 1850s, the migrations from Ireland were no longer made up of single young males. Most Irish immigrants came over as families. After 1880, slightly more women than men were immigrating.

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The immigrants were not Ireland's poorest people, since the poorest could not afford the passage, but they often arrived without much more than the clothes on their backs. Those coming from rural Ireland especially were not used to the industrial society or big cities, but they adapted. The Irish tended to live in tenement houses (apartment buildings in cities that were poorly made and lacking in safety and sanitation features), because that was all they could afford. They often lived very close together, as they had done in their clachans at home. Houses built for one family often housed several Irish families. The conditions in the city tenements and slums were often unhealthy, with poor sewage and no running water. To some unsympathetic onlookers, the early Irish immigrants seemed dirty or contemptible.

The transition from the rural parts of Ireland to the city neighborhoods of New York or Philadelphia would have been nearly unthinkable had it not been for the Catholic church parish (local church community), which served almost as an Irish village within the American city. Within the Catholic parish, the Irish immigrants found most of the services required for daily life and a sense of safety and familiarity in the midst of a strange land.

Religious discrimination and nativism

The Irish migration to the United States set the stage for future immigrants: They were met with vicious discrimination. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, there had been relatively few Catholics in the predominantly Protestant United States. When the Irish Catholics began to arrive in great numbers, a movement of anti-Catholicism swept the nation. By the 1830s a large and steady influx of Irish Catholic immigrants, along with German Catholics, had made Catholicism one of the major U.S. religions. Before they came to be accepted as part of the American culture, the Irish Catholics were often attacked.

In the 1830s sensational books were being published in the United States. Usually written in the format of tell-all memoirs, these books told wild and unfounded stories of depraved priests kidnapping and molesting nuns and scandalous behavior taking place within the Catholic church walls. The books, a product of Protestant hostility towardsPage 261  |  Top of Article Catholics and foreigners, were aimed at rousing the community against the newcomers. One of these books was so effective that it inspired an angry anti-Catholic mob to storm a Catholic convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and burn it to the ground. One of the instigators of this violence was the Congregational (a Protestant church) minister Lyman Beecher (1775–1863), the father of abolitionist (person who favored the end of slavery) writer Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896), the author of the 1852 antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

By the 1840s the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant hostilities had become organized by nativist groups (associations that promoted the rights of "natives" as opposed to immigrants; here, natives referred to people who had been in the country longer than the incoming Irish, but not to Native Americans, whose rights were not a concern of the nativists). One of the prime nativist organizations was the American Party, which promoted "traditional American ideals" and claimed that immigrants—primarily the Irish and Roman Catholics—were threatening to destroy American values and democracy. The American Party raised fears of a conspiracy to use the U.S. voting system to elect agents of the pope (the head of the Roman Catholic church) so that the pope could exert political control over the United States, or at least local governments. Members of the American Party came to be known as "Know-Nothings," because they kept the agenda of their organization secret. When asked about their activities, they would answer, "I know nothing about it." Know-Nothings worked to ensure that immigrants could not hold public office. Their campaigns, which worked up anti-immigration feelings, were highly successful in the 1840s and 1850s, with Know-Nothings gaining several political offices during the mid-1800s, including mayor of Philadelphia and control of the Massachusetts legislature.

In 1844 controversy arose in Philadelphia over whether Catholic children in public schools could be allowed to read from the Catholic version of the Bible rather than the King James version and other issues. Violent mob riots erupted with all Catholics being targets, but particularly the Irish. The riots lasted from May through July. People were killed and Catholic churches, schools, and hundreds of homes were burned. During the Philadelphia attacks, some of the anti-Catholic/anti-Irish groups made threats against the Irish in New York. John Hughes (1797–1864), fondly called "Dagger John," the toughPage 262  |  Top of Article Catholic archbishop of New York, let it be known that the Irish would defend the city's churches with whatever force was necessary. There were no attacks in New York.

During the 1850s the nativist groups continued to campaign for office. Their campaigns whipped up sentiments against the Irish Americans to further the nativists' careers, often resulting in violence and destruction. Catholic churches and priests were the most frequent nativist targets.

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uimr_01_img0130 "Dagger John" Hughes, Archbishop of New York

John Hughes (1797–1864) grew up in poverty in County Tyrone, Ireland. Like other Irish Catholics, he bristled in anger at the treatment Irish Catholics received under British rule. His anger grew when his sister died and British laws prohibited the family's priest from entering the cemetery as she was buried. At the age of twenty, Hughes immigrated with his family to the United States. There, determined to become a priest, he got a job as a gardener and stonemason at the Catholic St. Mary's college and seminary (an institution that trains priests) in Maryland. Although he was initially denied admission to the school because he had no formal education, Hughes's obvious leadership abilities won him admission to the seminary in 1820. He was ordained a priest six years later. As soon as he took his first position in Philadelphia, Hughes became an outspoken champion of the Irish immigrants, crusading everywhere against bigotry. Challenged to a debate by Protestant clergyman John Breckinridge (1797–1841), who attacked Catholicism, Hughes stood his ground famously: "I am an American by choice, not by chance. I was born under the scourge of Protestant persecution, of which my fathers in common with our Catholic countrymen have been the victims for ages. I know the value of that civil and religious liberty, which our happy government secures for all" (quoted by Ken Concannon in the Arlington Catholic Herald).

In 1842 Hughes became the bishop of New York. (A bishop is a Catholic clergyman ranking above a priest, who has the authority to ordain priests and usually has the responsibility of governing a diocese, a district established by the church.) An avid proponent of education, he began reforming the public schools, which were teaching Protestant Christianity with a large dose of anti-Catholic prejudice. After helping to secure laws against religious teachings in the public schools, Hughes began to build Catholic school systems. In 1844, when nativists threatened to riot in New York as they had in Philadelphia, he lived up to his nickname "Dagger John." Hughes stationed armed forces around the city's Catholic churches, telling the mayor that if one Catholic church burned, the people in his district would respond with torches of their own. The nativist rally was promptly cancelled.

The potato famine brought tens of thousands of Irish to New York City. As the destitute, ill, and traumatized immigrants crowded into shanty towns (areas where people have erected crude huts to live in) and tenements in New York City, they ushered in a new age of city slums, considered to be the worst New York has ever seen. Gang warfare, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, and drug addiction were rampant. In city slums like Sweeney's Shambles and Five Points, where the poorest Irish resided, the death rate was seven times higher than in other parts of the city. Even many sympathetic reputable Irish Catholics turned away from the Irish slums in disgust. Hughes, who became archbishop (head of the bishops in his province) of New York in 1850, saw the latest Irish immigrants as victims and focused his energy on providing them with spiritual and social assistance. He worked tirelessly to provide aid in all phases of settling new immigrants—work, hospitals, orphanages, banks, groceries, and schools, to name but a few. By the time he died in 1864, the Irish in New York City had made great strides in getting out of the tormented slums and moving into more comfortable and productive American lives.


Irish American people in the mid-nineteenth century worked in every category of jobs, but a large portion werePage 263  |  Top of Article doomed to work as unskilled laborers because so many had come from Ireland with no skills appropriate to an industrial nation and no money to start businesses or farms. The Irish willingness to work for extremely low wages created hostility toward them among other American workers, especially African Americans, who competed against them for unskilled jobs. Prejudice and discrimination against the newcomers were widespread and harsh. The popular magazine Harper's Weekly featured regular cartoons that ridiculed "Paddy" and "Bridget" (common Irish names) as drunken, disorderly, ignorant brutes. Signs stating "No Irish need apply" were posted everywhere.

Despite the hostility, the United States benefited greatly from the presence of Irish American workers. ThePage 264  |  Top of Article country was, in fact, in great need of labor in the mid- and late-1800s. It had just begun the process of building its extensive systems of canals, railroads, and bridges and expanded its mining industry. There was no motorized equipment to do the job, just picks and shovels. The work was dangerous, the hours were long, and the pay was lousy, but the Irish Americans had come to the country prepared to work hard. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Erie Canal, and New Orleans' New Canal were essentially built by Irish Americans. The Irish, along with large crews of Chinese Americans, also laid much of the railroad track and dug the roads across the United States. Irish women, who arrived in great numbers in the post-famine years, served as domestics (household help) for many American families. Many Irish workers died in construction jobs and in the mines.

Conditions in Irish American slums became intolerable in the mid-1800s. Epidemics of the infectious diseases typhoid, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, and pneumonia claimed thousands of lives. In 1857 some 85 percent of the people admitted to New York City's hospital were Irish immigrants. Infant and child mortality (death rates) were so high among Irish Americans that immigrant children were expected to live no more than fourteen years on the average after arrival in the United States. Gangs rose up in most of the cities and crime was rampant. Many Irish Americans turned to alcohol. When gold was discovered in California in 1849, thousands of Irish Americans joined the rush West. A few struck it rich. The rest returned to the East and Midwest or settled in the cities of the West.

By the time of the American Civil War (1861–65), many Irish Americans were tired of being considered one of the lowest class of citizens in the United States. They organized in a variety of ways to bring about social changes, but by 1863, the frustration level was high. In that year, President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) issued a military draft, requiring young men to join the fighting against the Confederates. African Americans were not required to fight and wealthy men could buy their way out of the draft for three hundred dollars. Irish laborers did not have that kind of money and had no choice but to join. Most Irish Americans were not enthusiastic about fighting for the Union. The emancipation of the slaves from slavery, a major reason for the war, was a difficult

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Kids playing in an alley in the New York City slums. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. Kids playing in an alley in the New York City slums. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

issue for them because they dreaded the competition that the freed slaves would present in the job market. To be compelled to fight for this particular cause—and the unfairness of the draft—enraged them. Demonstrations broke out across the country to protest the draft. On June 12, 1863, when the draftees were publicly named in New York City, a mob of nearly fifty thousand people stormed the east side of the city, burning, looting, and killing. Many of the leaders and participants

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uimr_01_img0132 An American Dream in Butte, Montana

Not every Irish immigrant in the last half of the nineteenth century encountered years of poverty and discrimination when they arrived in the United States. Those who made it west of the Mississippi generally fared better than those who stayed in the East. Butte, Montana, was a tiny outpost in the mountains until the 1870s, when copper was found there. Instrumental in the discovery was Marcus Daly (1841–1900), an Irish immigrant who had been employed by a large mining company to investigate the potential of mining silver there. Daly, finding copper, quietly organized his own company, Anaconda Copper Company, and bought as many mines in the area as he could. Soon, his business was supplying a large portion of the nation's copper and Daly was a very wealthy man. He built up a political machine (a group of neighborhood units, or precincts, that, when working together under a single "boss" or machine, create a large political force) and managed to overwhelm a powerful business rival in the town. From that point, Daly ruled almost as king. Building up the industries around his own company in Butte, Daly was responsible for a tremendous influx of Irish immigrants to Butte. By 1900 there were about twelve thousand Irish people, nearly half the city's population.

Many of the laborers of Daly's time were recent immigrants from Cork, Ireland. In Butte, they worked an eight-hour day and earned nearly twice the hourly rate of other workers in the United States. Butte had the first trade union of the western United States. The trade unions and the self-help organizations there helped new immigrants, widows, and old-timers. Bigotry was not such a factor as it was in most eastern cities. Besides Irish, there were significant Chinese and Jewish populations; in fact, the town's first mayor was Jewish. Immigrants flocked there, usually receiving work and decent treatment when they arrived. The per capita (per person) income in Butte was one of the highest in the United States around the turn of the century. With saloons open twenty-four hours a day to accommodate the different work shifts, Butte was not a place where the timid or the prim would necessarily want to live, but it suited many Irish immigrants. Irish historian and writer Peter Quinn told Maureen Dezell in an interview quoted in her book, Irish America: Coming into Clover, that "if the Irish had ever had the numbers, the strength, and the power to re-create the world, it probably would have looked a lot like Butte."

of the riots were Irish Americans. They targeted black people in particular to vent their rage; African Americans were lynched, drowned, beaten, or otherwise killed. A black orphanPage 267  |  Top of Article asylum and church and hundreds of houses and businesses were burned down in the three-day riot before it was stopped by federal troops.

The Irish would not be at the bottom of the economic spectrum for long. As American cities grew, their governments and services needed manpower and the Irish moved into white-collar municipal positions that were low paying but secure and respectable. In Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and many other cities, Irish Americans occupied an extraordinary share of the city government and administrative jobs, such as clerk, secretary, and inspector. The police and fire departments often had a majority of Irishmen in their ranks. In fact, one-quarter of New York City's police force in 1855 was Irish born.


The Irish living in the cities of the Northeast developed strong social networks within their parishes. Churches formed one bond; social organizations another. Another was the neighborhood saloon (often called a "grog shop"), a popular meeting place for the Irish. There were two thousand Irish saloons in downtown New York City by 1840 and the number grew quickly. In jobs and in politics in the Northeast, the Irish gained a reputation for being both "street-smart" and excellent administrators and organizers.

The political machine

The Irish American community began to make itself known in politics before the mid-nineteenth century, especially in the northeastern cities where its growing numbers gave it increasing voting capacity. Urban Irish Americans across the country organized into unofficial power blocks called "political machines." The machines were made up of neighborhood units, or precincts, that, when working together under a single "boss" and his staff, or the "machine," created a large political force. Each neighborhood had a ward captain (or "heeler") who was in communication with the residents. He could deliver the votes of his area to the leaders of the political machine; in turn, he would elicit favors for the people—jobs, licenses, contracts—from the machine. The political machinesPage 268  |  Top of Article could then promise votes to elected political officials. Because they manipulated the voting system by granting favors, political machines always had some criminal element. The extent of criminal activity, however, greatly varied.

Political machines operated on a grassroots level (in which common people, rather than politicians, corporations, or others in power, raise the issues and initiate the political activities), and almost all of them were affiliated with the Democratic Party. By the mid-1800s, Irish Americans had, in fact, taken over the Democratic Party and city hall in several major cities. They were becoming a voice to be reckoned with in American politics. As a rule, Irish Americans aimed to replace the powerful elite classes in the United States with a more populist (oriented toward common people, or democratic) government and they were responsible for many important features of modern American politics.

New York City's Tammany Hall, the powerful political machine in Manhattan, was one of the most significant political arenas for Irish Americans in the 1800s. William Marcy "Boss" Tweed (1823–1878), an Irish American, became its leader and ruled the city, exercising heavy influence in state and federal politics from his political throne. Tweed and other Irish American politicians used their positions to promote the welfare of other Irish Americans, providing employment (particularly in blue-collar city jobs), food, and services. Sometimes the machine bosses worked within the law, and often they did not. Corruption and fraud were fairly common. Boss Tweed himself was imprisoned in 1873 for illegal activities. Machine boss and Boston mayor James Michael Curley (1874–1958) also spent time in prison. Nevertheless, Curley was responsible for great improvements in the poor and working person's lot in life. He built hospitals, schools, and recreational buildings and brought about expansion of workmen's compensation, shorter working hours, more fair state taxes, and much more.

Links with Irish liberation movement

In the 1870s and 1880s Ireland experienced more crop failures, and another mass migration from Ireland to the United States began. Second- and third-generation Irish Americans raised money for the new immigrants and helped them get set up in

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uimr_01_img0133 Finley Peter Dunne and Mr. Dooley

Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936) grew up in a family of Irish immigrants on Chicago's West Side. He began working as a newspaper writer in 1884, and after working for several dailies, took an editorial job at the Chicago Evening Post. There, he began a column, written in the voice of his narrator and character, Mr. Martin Dooley, a highly opinionated Irish American bar owner who lives and works on the South Side of Chicago in an Irish working-class neighborhood called Bridgeport. In Dunne's column, Dooley spouts off in Irish brogue (accent), naively criticizing the leaders of the country without always appearing to do so. The satire was biting and unmistakable, but the effect was very funny and delighted Dunne's growing readership. Through the naive and bumbling voice of his barkeeper, Dunne took on a number of hot political issues such as foreign policy, racism, and the American legal system.

Chicago, and eventually the whole nation, loved Mr. Dooley. Without offending, Dunne used his narrator to explore the nation's ethnic communities from within, an important step in American journalism. Literary critic Charles Fanning writes in the Heath Anthology of American Literature:

Dunne takes the late-nineteenth-century journalistic phenomenon of urban local color and extends it, through his feeling for place and community, to evoke Bridgeport as the most solidly realized ethnic neighborhood in nineteenth-century American literature.… Place, community, and character are all embodied in the vernacular voice of a sixty-year-old, smiling public-house man, the first such dialect voice to transcend the stereotypes of "stage-Irish" ethnic humor.

A few brief examples of the wisdom of Mr. Dooley, from Dunne's column Mr. Dooley's Opinions, are provided below:

  • A fanatic is a man that does what he thinks th' Lord wud do if He knew th' facts iv [of] th' case.
  • A man that'd expict to thrain lobsters to fly in a year is called a loonytic; but a man that thinks men can be tu-rrned into angels be an iliction is called a rayformer an' remains at large. (Translates: A man that would expect to train lobsters to fly in a year is called a lunatic; but a man that thinks men can be turned into angels by an election is called a reformer and remains at large.)
  • Ye can lead a man up to the university, but ye can't make him think.

their new home. Ties to the old country were invigorated by the newcomers. Irish Americans began to organize in support of the growing nationalist movement (a struggle for independence from the rule of another country) in Ireland, where politician Charles Stewart Parnell (1846–1891) and many other nationalistsPage 270  |  Top of Article were fighting to rid the country of British rule. Irish Americans founded the Land League of America, an organization that raised huge sums of money to help the effort in Ireland. It was later replaced with the Irish National League of America.

Irish American newspapers served to connect the Irish Americans with events in Ireland. Most Irish newspapers in the United States originated in order to advocate the liberation of Ireland from the British. The papers were especially popular with new immigrants in search of news of home, while also serving to remind second-generation immigrants of the troubles in the old country. The papers often raised funds for the Land League and other Irish causes. The first Irish American newspaper was the Shamrock, established in New York in 1810. The Shamrock made New York seethe with Irish nationalism. The Boston Pilot, the Chicago Citizen, Philadelphia's Irish Press, and many others soon followed. There were many outstanding Irish American journalists from the start, as there are today, with Jimmy Breslin (1930–), Anna Quindlen (1953–), Maureen Dowd (1952–), and Eileen McNamara (1952–), as just a few of the well-known examples. There are quite a few Irish American newspapers in circulation in the early twenty-first century. The Irish Echo is the largest and most national. It was founded in 1928 and prints separate Boston and New York editions.

Labor unions

The politics and vocations of many Irish Americans led to their strong involvement and leadership in the labor movement of the 1870s through the 1930s. During the 1880s, the Knights of Labor, led by Irish Americans, became the first national industrial union. It had more than seven hundred thousand members in 1886 and hundreds of thousands were Irish American workers. By 1900 over 50 of the 110 unions in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) had Irish American presidents. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones (1837–1930), a powerful leader of the labor movement, was an Irish immigrant.

Mainstream national politics

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Irish Catholic Americans had taken political offices at almost all

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John F. Fitzgerald (1863–1950) became the mayor of Boston in 1906. He was the first mayor in the United States whose parents had been born in Ireland. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. John F. Fitzgerald (1863–1950) became the mayor of Boston in 1906. He was the first mayor in the United States whose parents had been born in Ireland. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

levels. Being Catholic was still a factor in the predominantly Protestant country, but by 1860, there were 3.5 million Catholics in the country. Although Catholics were still in the minority, Roman Catholicism had become the largest religious denomination in the nation, and it continued to grow. The presidency, however, was thought to be off limits to Catholics. Irish American governor of New York Al Smith (1873–1944), who had gotten his start through affiliations with Tammany

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President John F. Kennedy visiting his ancestral home in Dunganstown, Ireland, in 1963. Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/Corbis. President John F. Kennedy visiting his ancestral home in Dunganstown, Ireland, in 1963. Reproduced by permission of © Bettmann/Corbis.

Hall, became the first Catholic to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1928. He was defeated in the election by Republican Herbert Hoover (1874–1964). As governor, Smith had been responsible for many long-reaching reforms and had won the respect of both parties. Many believe that Catholicism was the reason he lost in the presidential race. During his campaign, he received approximately ten million pieces of hate mail, most directed at his religion.

It was not until 1961 that an Irish Catholic American would become president of the United States. John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) was the great grandson of Bridget Murphy Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy, who fled County Wexford in Ireland during the potato famine. During the Kennedy administration, Irish Catholic Americans filled many of the country's top political positions: speaker of the House of Representatives, majority leader of the Senate, chair of the Democratic National Committee, and president of the AFL-CIO.

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Irish American women

Single Irish women immigrated to the United States in much larger numbers than were common with other nationalities. In fact, at the turn of the twentieth century, about 60 percent of Irish immigrants were single women. The reason for this was the situation in Ireland. The system of inheritance (the passing on of assets from one generation to the next) there provided that only one son could inherit the family farm and only one daughter would receive a dowry. With no jobs and few prospects, a large segment of Ireland's young people simply did not marry. When women did marry, it was often to men who were significantly older than them. Without employment, there was little choice for a young single woman in Ireland but to live with her parents and help out with the household. Many chose to scrape together the money for passage to America. Irish women traveled across the sea with female friends or relatives or arrived alone.

Once in the United States, Irish women almost immediately went out in search of work. They generally became domestic servants. In fact, in 1850, 75 percent of Irish women in the United States were domestics. The pay was very poor and the work was hard, but it was safe—they lived in the homes of their employers and had regular meals—and it was respectable. Americans called Irish domestics "Bridget," a common Irish name, no matter what their names were; this became one of the major stereotypes of Irish women.

From the start, Irish women were active in the social world of the new country. There were, for example, many Irish women in the labor movement. Second-generation Irish American women, anxious to escape the household-help business, were careful to get an education. Historians note that Irish American women stayed in school longer than Irish American men at the turn of the century. They became nurses, nuns, teachers, and secretaries, among other professions. About 80 percent of single Irish American women had jobs.

Irish American population

When Irish independence was declared in 1921, immigration to the United States virtually ceased. Small numbers ofPage 274  |  Top of Article Irish have continued to come to the United States since that time, but the mass migration was over. Ireland lost more of its population to the United States than to any other country. In 1860 there were only five Irish persons left in Ireland for every Irish person in the United States (compared with thirty-three Germans in Germany for every German American, and forty-two British in Britain for every British American).

In 2000 the U.S. Census reported that there were 30,528,492 people claiming Irish ancestry in the country—about ten times the number of Irish people in Ireland and 10.8 percent of the U.S. population. There are about forty-four million people in the country who have some Irish descent. More than half of Irish or part-Irish Americans in the United States today are Protestant, and a good portion of those are the Scotch-Irish (see chapter 6 on Scotch-Irish), leaving about twenty million Irish Catholics. Irish Americans live throughout the nation. The states with the largest populations of Irish Americans are California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois.

Irish Americans today have become part of established mainstream U.S. culture. Most are from families that have been in the United States for many generations; only a small fraction of 1 percent of the Irish American population today is foreign born. There was a rise in the 1980s and 1990s of illegal immigrants from Ireland. Escaping a severe job shortage in Ireland, many sidestepped immigration quotas by acquiring visitor visas (documents allowing foreigners to stay in the United States for a limited period of time) and then stayed beyond the expiration of the visa. Because it was fairly easy for them to blend in, few were caught. In the early twenty-first century Ireland's economy was doing very well, and many of the new or undocumented immigrants could possibly return.

Irish American culture

Although many Irish people immigrated to the United States before or after the potato famine, the involuntary nature of the mass migration that occurred in the 1840s and 1850s left a mark on Irish American culture as a whole. Many Irish immigrants longed for Ireland once they were settled in the New World. They often blamed the British rule for theirPage 275  |  Top of Article exile from their beloved home. Feeling deep loss and nostalgia (remembering one's home with longing; homesickness) for their past, Irish Americans have at times had trouble defining themselves as both Irish and Americans. Though they spoke the language and looked like the dominant culture in the United States, many Irish Americans kept themselves just slightly apart from the mainstream for several generations after immigration. Irish American arts, celebrations, and customs often reflect these tendencies.

Venues of the nineteenth century

As the worst anti-Irish discrimination passed in the nineteenth-century United States, Protestant Anglo America affectionately accepted the Irish but tended to think of Irish Americans in broad stereotypes. One classic stereotype is the sentimental, street-fighting, fast-talking, beer-guzzling, working-class young man of stage and the movies. Irish Americans often played on these stereotypes in their roles in vaudeville shows (nineteenth-century variety shows with comic acts and song and dance); they also dressed up in blackface in minstrel shows and played on African American stereo-types. For comedy, the audiences loved the sound of the Irish accents.

From the Irish American vaudeville acts, the comedy team of Ned Harrigan (1845–1911) and Tony Hart (1855–1891) developed extremely popular shows in the 1870s and 1880s resembling today's musicals. Their Mulligan Guard shows were set in shabby New York City neighborhoods, featuring Harrigan as an Irish saloon keeper and Hart as an African American washerwoman. In his book History of the Musical Stage, 1879–1890: The First Musical Comedies, John Kenrick describes the strong appeal of these musical comedies to a working-class, immigrant-based audience: "The plots focused on such real-life problems as interracial tensions, political corruption and gang violence, but there was always enough clownish humor to keep everyone laughing. Since every class and ethnic group was treated as fair game and often depicted with surprising sympathy, nobody took offense."

At about the same time, Irish Americans loudly rejected the serious theater that was coming from Ireland around the turn of the twentieth century, when the IrishPage 276  |  Top of Article Players brought the dramas of playwrights William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) and John M. Synge (1871–1909) to American stages. In these plays common Irish people were often depicted as dirty, uneducated, and impoverished. Since they had been stereotyped by Americans in this way, the Irish Americans did not want to see it, preferring to indulge in sentimentality (false or extravagant emotion) rather than in harsh realism. The romanticized musical comedies and Hollywood movies to come were more comfortable for mainstream America as well.

George M. Cohan (1878–1942), the song and dance superstar of the first years of the century, was born into an Irish American family and spent his childhood touring the country with the Four Cohans, his family's vaudeville act. Cohan is credited with having taken the Irish step dancing—the jibs, reels, and hornpipes performed in soft shoe or hard shoe—that he had learned from his parents and popularizing it in the song and dance of the American stage. In 1904 he wrote and starred in Little Johnny Jones, which featured the popular tunes "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway." Cohan wrote more than forty musicals, but is most remembered today for his patriotic, sentimental songs, such as "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Harrigan" (about comic Ned Harrigan), and "Over There."

Irish American popular songs at the turn of the century, many of which came from stage shows, were highly sentimental, idealizing dear old Ireland and motherhood, among other things. Songs like "Danny Boy" (with lyrics written by a British attorney, Fred Weatherly [1848–1933]), "My Wild Irish Rose," and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" (written for the musical The Isle O' Dreams [1912] by Chauncey Olcott [1860–1932]) had little to do with Ireland and much to do with the sweet nostalgia of people who had not been there for many decades, if ever.

Film and drama to the 1950s

In 1938 two of the nominations for best actor in the Academy Awards were Irish American actors playing Irish Americans: James Cagney (c. 1899–1986) for Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) and Spencer Tracy (1900–1967) for Boys Town (1938). Both movies worked on themes of Irish AmericanPage 277  |  Top of Article street and parish life. Both movies feature a priest (actor Pat O'Brien [1899–1983] in Angels and Tracy in Boys Town) who is trying to guide youngsters out of the criminal life common in the city streets. The Irish American flavor, with Catholicism, gangsterism, and tough, misguided street kids overcoming the past and turning good, were becoming part of Hollywood's list of classic films as Irish Americans were assimilating into the mainstream. Golway writes that Cagney managed to portray the "menacing urban Irishman, an image that had frightened or repulsed America for nearly a century, while exuding a magnetism and charm that were also particularly urban Irish American. That he did so was a tribute to his magnificent talent, but it was also a sign of the times."

Along with the popular fare, one of the top U.S. playwrights of all time was writing serious drama in the 1930s. Eugene O'Neill (1888–1953) was the son of stage actor James O'Neill, who had grown up in a very poor Irish immigrant home. James had left a Shakespearean stage career to act on the popular stage because he feared the poverty he had known in his childhood. His son, Eugene, rejected the popular plays that had paid his father's salary. Among his many award-winning plays, O'Neill wrote a beloved but very realistic and dark autobiographical play, A Long Day's Journey into Night, in 1939. This is his true story of a family of Irish immigrants in the generations following the migration. This was not drama about the stereotypical Irish pub-keep or the street-fighting tough guy. Although the public did not often view O'Neill as Irish American, he did. O'Neill, as quoted by William Shannon in The American Irish, said that "the critics have missed the most important thing about me and my work, the fact that I am Irish."

In the twentieth century, there have been many great Irish American artists in all genres. They did not form their art around their ancestral roots. Rather, they wrote, painted, or danced in whatever form of modern American expression they chose, as assimilated people generally do.

The New Irish in the United States

For many years, people in Ireland have been rolling their eyes at the Irish American culture, often denying there

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uimr_01_img0136 Holiday: St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick (died c. 460 C.E.) is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in Britain but was captured by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen and taken to Ireland. He escaped after six years there. After leaving Ireland, he spent many years in religious training. Hearing voices that instructed him to go back to Ireland, St. Patrick returned as an ordained priest and began a very successful mission converting the Irish to Christianity. In the legends about St. Patrick, he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity (the union of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in one Godhead) to the Irish people; he is also said to have driven all the snakes out of the land. He died on March 17, and that has long been his feast day in Ireland.

The St. Patrick's Day parade is a U.S. tradition, not an Irish one. The first parade is said by many to have taken place in Boston in 1737, sponsored by the Irish Charitable Society. Soon Philadelphia and New York had parades sponsored by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. (Other people claim the first St. Patrick's Day parade was in 1762 in New York and was staged by Irish soldiers in the English military.) As the potato famine brought in millions of immigrants from Ireland, the parade became more and more popular among Irish Americans, as a show of devotion to Ireland. It has never been a very religious holiday in the United States.

St. Patrick's Day parades today take place in at least one hundred U.S. cities. Some of the biggest parades are in Chicago, Illinois; Boston, Massachusetts; New York City, New York; and Savannah, Georgia. Ireland did not have parades until very recently. There, St. Patrick's Day is a holy day in which Irish families attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon with music and a meal, perhaps Irish bacon and cabbage. In 1995, however, St. Patrick's Day parades were organized in an attempt to draw tourists to Ireland. Dublin now hosts a very large parade.

is any Irishness to it at all. From some corny Bing Crosby (1904–1977) movies to "Danny Boy," green beer, phony Irish pubs in shopping malls, and greeting cards featuring leprechauns (elves of Irish mythology), the American culture has departed from its roots in Ireland, sometimes past the point of recognition. But in the 1980s and 1990s, a new wave of Irish immigrants entered the United States, bringing with them a taste of the vibrant cultural scene taking place in Ireland, called the "New Irish." Interest in the genuine Irish culture revived within the nation. Since travel to and from Ireland

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The St. Patrick's Day Parade making its way past St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on March 17, 2001. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. The St. Patrick's Day Parade making its way past St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on March 17, 2001. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.

has become quick and more affordable, people interested in traditional Irish arts can study them at the source. In the United States, Irish rock bands, movies, and artists have been very popular in the 1990s and twenty-first century. In San Francisco there is now a large annual Celtic Arts Festival.

Traditional Irish music has come into favor in the last few decades. Immigrants to the United States brought with them a variety of forms of traditional music that originated in western Ireland. The musical instruments of traditional Irish music were fiddles, pipes, wooden flutes, whistles, accordions, banjoes, guitars, pianos, drums, and even bones. Along with slower songs and marches, the music included jigs, polkas, reels, flings, and waltzes. For many years, the immigrants gathered in the nation's cities and played together, mixing the variations of the music into new and innovative forms, which then blended with the wide variety of other American music forms. Over the years, Americans lost interest in traditional Irish music, and it has only been since thePage 280  |  Top of Article 1960s that it is being seriously studied and played here again, with a great deal of exchange between Ireland and the United States. Riverdance, the traditional and innovative Irish dancing revue that swept Europe in 1993, came to the United States in 1996, where it has been a huge, money-making smash. Two of its principal dancers and innovators were Irish Americans. Many Irish musicians have been very popular in the United States: the Chieftains, the Pogues, U-2, Sinead O'Connor (1966–), Enya (Eithne Ni Bhraonain, 1961–), the Cranberries, and the Black '47, to name a few.

Movies and literature about Irish people and Ireland have also changed from the idealized or stereotyped images of the past. Among popular films about the Irish conflict with Britain have been Michael Collins (1996), The Crying Game (1992), and In the Name of the Father (1994). Films about Irish life and family include My Left Foot (1989) and The Secret of Roan Innish (1995). A film about nineteenth-century Irish American gangs in the Five Points area and the Bowery in New York is Gangs of New York (2002). A film about immigrating to the United States in the twenty-first century is In America (2002).

For More Information


Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Dezell, Maureen. Irish America: Coming into Clover. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

The Irish in America. Edited by Michael Coffey, with text by Terry Golway. New York: Hyperion, 1997.

Shannon, William. The American Irish. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.

Web Sites

Concannon, Ken. "Dagger John and the Gangs of New York." Arlington Catholic Herald, March 20, 2003. (accessed on February 26, 2004).

Fanning, Charles. "Finley Peter Dunne." In Heath Anthology of American Literature. 4th ed. Edited by Paul Lauter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Page 281  |  Top of Article (accessed on February 26, 2004).

"Immigration, Irish." Library of Congress: American Memory. (accessed on February 26, 2004).

Kenrick, John. "History of the Musical Stage, 1879–1890: The First Musical Comedies." Musicals (accessed on February 26, 2004).

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3436800019