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Irish immigrants

Irish immigrants: Early Irish Immigration

Irish immigrants: Early Nineteenth Century Immigration

Irish immigrants: Irish Immigrants during the U.S. Civil War

Irish immigrants: Immigration During and After the Great Wave

Irish immigrants: Immigration After 1965

Significance: During the early nineteenth century, Ireland was one of the main sources of immigration to the United States. Irish immigrants provided much of the labor for American cities and transportation systems and helped to establish Roman Catholicism in the United States.

The first identifiable wave of Irish migration to the United States began in 1729, when a poor harvest and a depression in the linen trade created economic hardship in Ireland. By 1784, just after the American Revolutionary War, an estimated 400,000 Irish lived in the new United States. During the six decades leading up the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), the Irish became one of the nation’s largest and most recognizable minority groups. Despite a decline in migration from Ireland in the twentieth century, Irish immigrants and their descendants have continued to play an important part in American history.

Profile of Irish immigrants

Countries of origin Ireland, United Kingdom
Primary language English
Primary regions of U.S. settlement All regions
Earliest significant arrivals 1729
Peak immigration period 1830’s-1920’s
Twenty-first century legal residents* 12,379 (1,547 per year)

*Immigrants who obtained legal permanent resident status in the United States.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2008.

Carl L. Bankston III

Further Reading

  • Dolan, Jay P. The Irish Americans: A History. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2008. History of Irish Americans from the early eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries. The author examines Irish American history by focusing on the four themes of politics, religion, labor, and nationalism. 
  • Griffin, William D. The Irish Americans: The Immigrant Experience. New York: Beaux Arts Editions, 2001. Lavishly illustrated history of Irish Americans, with more than two hundred black-andwhite and color paintings and photographs. 
  • Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge, 1996. Influential work that argues that the Irish were an oppressed social class and were even seen as members of a distinct race before the Civil War. Ignatiev maintains that the Irish became recognized as “white” in large part by embracing the antiblack racism of other Americans. 
  • Laxton, Edward. The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America. New York: Henry Holt, 1998. Based on research in Ireland and compilations of stories passed down to Irish immigrant descendants in America, the author tells the histories of Irish immigrants from 1846 to 1851. 
  • Lee, J. J., and Marion R. Casey, eds. Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Massive compilation of articles on the Americanization of the Irish, containing both original research and classic articles on this topic. An excellent resource on Irish settlement in America. 
  • McCarthy, Cal. Green, Blue and Grey: The Irish in the American Civil War. Cork, Ireland: Collins Press, 2009. Detailed history of Irish soldiers fighting on both sides in the Civil War. 
  • Miller, Kerby, and Patricia Mulholland Miller. Journey of Hope: The Story of Irish Immigration to America. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001. Uses letters, journals, and diaries of immigrants to recount the history of Irish immigration and the experiences of Irish immigrants in America. 

See also: Anti-Catholicism; Boston; British immigrants; Civil War, U.S.; European immigrants; Fenian movement; Flanagan, Edward J.; Great Irish Famine; History of immigration, 1783-1891; Know- Nothing Party; Molly Maguires; Philadelphia anti- Irish riots.

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