Irish Immigration

The Plight Of A Country

APRIL 1997

My intention for this page is not necessarily to obtain all there is about Irish immigration, but to chronologize key pieces of Irish history that may spark your interest in the hopes of expanding not only this page but everybody's knowledge who visits this page.

Ray O'Connor

Warwick, Rhode Island U.S.A.













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Between 50,000 and 100,000 people left Ireland as indentured servants, prisoners, rebels and felons.

Most were sentenced by British courts to long terms of banishment and involuntary servitude on sugar plantations in the West Indies or tobacco plantations along banks of the Chesapeake.


1700's, 1800's and 1900's

Seven million men and women immigrated to America from Ireland.



Close to 500,000 Irish immigrated.

They looked for land in Pennsylvania, the Carolina's and in colonial America.

Most were Protestant and came from Ulster. Some were Anglican, Quaker, Methodist and Baptist.

A good number were Presbyterian of Scottish heritage; Scotch-Irish. Names such as Jackson, Wilson and Buchanan.

Most left because of high rents, and were resentful of tithes and taxes.

The Irish funded their voyage as indentured servants.

The men were artisans, bricklayers, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, stonecutters, hatters, weavers, blacksmiths, husbandmen, farmhands and common laborers.

The women were cooks, dressmakers, seamstresses and household servants.



Charles Carroll.

The only Catholic, the wealthiest, and the longest lived (95) of the signers of The Declaration Of Independence.



Ten percent of the population in the U.S. colonies were Irish.

They were active participants in the American Revolution.

John Barry.

First naval commander commissioned by the Continental Congress.

Regarded as the father of the American Navy because of his skill in training young officers.


Post Revolutionary War

Dominick Lynch.

Introduced Chateau Margaux to America.

Introduced grand opera to the U.S.

In 1825, he produced the premier of the American performance of The Barber Of Seville.



The First Federal Census

Of Irish birth: 44,000 people.

Of Irish ancestry: 150,000 people out of a total population of 3 million.

Of Irish Catholic: 35,000 people.


1790's and early 1800's

Catholic Irish emigration grew to a much larger stream.


1800, March 17 (Saint Patrick's Day)

Ground was broken for the first Roman Catholic Church in Boston - The Church of the Holy Cross.


Early 1800's

One million Irish emigrated to the U.S.; half were Catholic.

The Boston Irish Catholics functioned as; blacksmiths, wheelwrights, bakers, tavern-keepers, marketmen, shoemakers, tailors and clothiers.

Nicholas Devereaux established Saint Bonaventure College.



South Boston Iron Works was founded by Cyrus Alger.

The first rifled cannon was produced in 1834.

The first malleable iron cannon was produced in 1836.

An improvement was made upon time fuses for spherical shells.

During the Civil War, the guns they produced sank the Merrimac and the Alabama.



The Irish moved out of the Atlantic seaboard principally as laborers working on riverboats and railroad lines.

Every successive railroad town became a center of Irish strength; Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago.

The Irish were the physical builders of the cities.

Their labor met the need for overgrown colonial towns for better streets and sewers, large water systems and new housing.

An average pay per 15 hour day was 50 cents.


Early to mid 1800's

A major industry in South Boston was the glass industry.

Phoenix Glass Works, American Flint Glass Works, Mount Washington Glass Works.



Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo.

Many Irish hoped that Napoleon would defeat the British and liberate Ireland.

Post war depression.

Prices of Irish farm products declined.

Tenants could not pay rents, tithes and taxes.

Thousands were evicted and thousands more emigrated to escape the prospect of eviction.

Cattle prices rose more rapidly than grain.

Farms turned into grazing fields, therefore the laborers and tenants were evicted.

Lower profit in linen and wool industries which employed hundreds of thousands of cottage workers.

British manufacturers flooded the Irish market with cheap goods, driving rural artists into poverty.


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1800 - 1845

Despite the post war depression, Irelands population increased by 3.5 million.

The growth is attributed to a dependence upon the potato.


1817 - 1825

The Erie Canal was dug mainly by Irish laborers.


1825 - 1830

One hundred and twenty five thousand Irish immigrated to the U.S., and average of 20,000 per year.

Thirty thousand called Massachusetts home.

By 1830 the Irish Catholic Boston population was over 8,000; double 5 years previous.



Seventy five percent of rural Ireland were largely or totally dependent on their annual potato crop.

Three million of the poorest small farmers and laborers were already destitute.



Globe Works Company.

Founded by John Souther.

Specialized, at first, in the manufacturer of railroad engines; turning out 20 - 30 a year.

In 1860, the company manufactured steam excavators which were used in the U.S. and Europe for the construction of railroad lines.



The Irish brought with them few possessions.

They were little in way of world's goods and not much in way of skill.

Some Irish lacked the skills of good farmers and mechinists, as well as the experience as businessmen. Whereas other Irish immigrants were the displaced artisan and the well-to-do farmer. They were persons of some means and prominence. Some Immigrants were merchants, doctors, and schoolmasters.

Ireland was forced to have English as a national language by the British.

This proved beneficial to the immigrants. Other than the English, the Irish were the only immigrant in the U.S. who spoke the language of their new country.


1845, August - 1850

Irish Potato Famine.

Caused by a new fungus; phytophthora infestans.

Five hundred thousand people were evicted because they were unable to pay the rent, or landlords and farmers changing the farm to cattle pastures.

People were dying from typhus, cholera, dysentery and starvation; disease spread rapidly.

1.5 million people died; 20% of the population.

Ireland lost more people because of famine than all of Britain did in any war from 1688 to the present.


1847 (Black '47)

Soup kitchens were feeding 3 million people a day in Ireland.


1845 - 1855

Appeals were made to family in the U.S. for passage.

Two and a half million Irish emigrated; most to the U.S., some to Canada.

In only 10 years, 30% of the population left Ireland.

The Atlantic passage was horrific:

Voyages lasted 5 to 6 weeks, and up to 12 weeks was common.

No adequate water or food was provided.

The ships were littered with rats, lice and disease.

Mortality rates were as high as 40%.

A half a million Irish died en route to North America.



Boston had 850 licensed liquor dealers.


1846 - 1847

European continent experienced one of the most terrible winters in recorded history.


1846 - 1855

The Passenger Acts were established in America.

This not only promoted safer and healthier passage aboard the emigrant ships but ironically promoted more immigration.



The Agnes left with 427 passengers; only 150 survived.



City Point Works

Founded by Harrison Loring.

Originally manufactured marine engines, boilers and paper mill equipment.

By 1857, it became the first permanent iron shipbuilding establishment in New England.

Started with two 1,150 ton iron steamers; the South Carolina and the Massachusetts.

In 1862, the government urged Loring to build as many monitor class ships as could be completed in the shortest time possible; producing the Nahant, the first monitor ever built in New England.



Boston absorbed over 37,000 Irish immigrants, categorized as Irish laborers.

The previous rate was 4,000 - 5,000 a year.

In Boston, one in five people were Irish.



En route to New York, 1,879 emigrants died; 534 babies were born.



A Massachusetts Senate committee said America had become the Botany Bay of all Europe.



Peter Donahue.

Responsible for bringing gas streetlights to San Francisco.

The Irish were the fathers of San Francisco.



Boston had 1,200 liquor dealers, most of whom were Irish.

The saloon (pub) was the poor man's club. A way of getting away of the urbanization and reliving the old country. The Irish were a rural people in Ireland and became a city people in the U.S.

The saloon was also a key center of political activity where; new voters were recruited, prepared newcomers for citizenship, provided forms for naturalization, provided free legal advice and loaned money.


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Mid 1800's

The Irish immigrant was the poorest of all immigrants.

Most Irish immigrants arrived with few skills and little or no capital.

Many were illiterate and some only spoke Gaelic.

Work was found at the bottom of the economy.

Women would work as millworkers, servants, and cooks for the middle class.

Men would work as unskilled factory laborers, miners, lumber men, dockhand, construction workers and ditch-diggers.

The Irish were also builders of roads, streets, canals and railroads; making them responsible for the United States preliminary infrastructure.

The Irish's first home was a shack, or shanty, in the slums in towns such as Paddy Town or Little Dublin.

Epidemic and disease ravished the newly arrived Irish immigrant family.

The infant mortality rate of the Irish was among the highest in the nation.

Irish Labor

American capitalism had no rules or constraints, the Irish were exploited by the Yankees.

A slave was worth more than the Irish.

Labor unrest was driven off by legal authorities.


Most American natives were Protestant.

Whom believed that Irish poverty was a sign of laziness and immortality.

The Protestants were convinced that the Catholic Church was a sworn enemy of America's democratic institutions.

"No Irish Need Apply" was a common sign.



Emigrants ships arriving in New York: 1,712; that is 30 to 40 per day.



The Emigrant Industrial Savings Back of New York opened.

Established by the Irish Emigrant Society.

Opened with 2,300 depositors whose average savings were $238.56.

In 30 years this bank alone sent $30 million in remittances to Ireland.



The Northern Light.

Clipper ship produced in South Boston.

Famous for making the fastest passage from Boston to San Francisco, covering the distance around Cape Horn in only 76 days.



Sailing from Liverpool, England to North America were 947 emigrant vessels.

The average vessel was 890 tons; half the size of the frigate U.S.S. Constitution.



Verne Foster computed that the 31 states and 9 territories of the U.S. had 95 times as much space as Ireland, and 60 times as much space as England.



Seventeen thousand miles of railroad was already built, and 12,000 miles more were under construction.

This made the U.S. have more miles of railroad the all the rest of the world put together.



Nativism became a nationwide political movement.

The Native American Party, or the Know Nothings, came into power.

Passes punitive anti-Catholic and anti-immigration legislation.

Parallel to penal laws in Ireland by the British.



In New York City, 176,000 Irish immigrants lived.

Of the city's voters, 1/5 were Irish born.


Mid 1800's

Famine immigrants radically transformed the Catholic Church in America.

Thousands of new churches were constructed.

Ten of thousands new priests and charitable orders were imported from Ireland.

Comprehensive system of parochial education were established, such as Georgetown (1789) and Notre Dame (1842).



The steamship replaced the sailing vessel for immigration. This not only improved passage conditions, but also shortened the trip to 14 days (to 7 days in 1914).

A steam ship could carry 1,200 people.


1861 - 1865

Two hundred thousand Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War.

The majority was on the Union side.

The Irish fought in the war to support Lincoln's administration as long as it was for restoring the Union, not freeing the slaves.

Lincoln issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862.

The Irish felt betrayed because not only would this prolong the war by stiffening the Southern resistance, it would cause a flood of black workers into the North who would take jobs away from white Irish laborers.

Patrick Lally

A blacksmith who's company provided the U.S. government with gun carriages and paddle arms for war vessels during the Civil War.



Tammany Hall

New York City's chief Democratic Party organization.

Naturalized over 41,000 immigrant voters, often illegally.

Cemented Irish loyalty to the Democratic party and ensure victory at the polls; such as for Richard O'Gorman.

Political machine assisted in providing opportunities for upward mobility to ordinary working class Irishmen.

This loyalty circumvented Yankee prejudice and secured lucrative contracts and steady jobs; such as city employees - policemen, firemen, and gas workers.



A South Boston built locomotive was the one that drew Leland Stanford's private parlor car to Promontory Point, Utah, where the Golden Spike was driven into the last railroad tie, joining the Union Pacific with the Central Pacific.


1877, June 12

Ten Molly Maguire members were hung.

They were found guilty of murdering nine men between 1875 and 1877.

The Molly Maguire was a secret faction operating within the local lodges of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

They consisted of ethnic and religious hatred, and economic grievances.

They were labor racketeers who were drawn to terrorism in order to control the price of labor.


Late 1870's

Ireland's second Potato Famine.



Six million Irish Catholics in the U.S.

Forty years earlier there had only been 1/10 that many.


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Knight of Labor

The United State's first nationwide labor organization.

Joined by hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled Irish Americans.

Led by Terrance Powderly, son of Irish immigrants.

The Irish were dominant in leadership and membership in organized labor, which benefited new Irish immigrants and their foundations.


1880's to early 1900's

Irish Democratic bosses:

"Big Tim" Sullivan of New York.

"Bathhouse John" Coughlin of Chicago. He built free public bathhouses for the city's poorest workers.

John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald of Boston. His grandson was the first and only Irish Catholic to be President of the United States: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Jim and Tom Pendergast of Kansas City.

Al Smith of New York. He turned Tammany Hall into a champion of housing, factory safety initiatives, and reforms that improved the lot of working class Americans.

These Irish Democrats helped pave the way for Roosevelt's New Deal and Truman's Fair Deal legislation.



Irish love for whiskey raised a class of brewers and saloon keepers like Patrick J. Kennedy.


Late 1800's

Chain Immigration

Over $260 million sent to families in Ireland from Irish Americans.

The money was used to pay expenses in Ireland, but mostly used to finance more immigration.



According to the U.S. Census:

1,872,000 people were Irish born Americans.

Only 2% were engaged in agriculture.

Most were in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco.

In New York and Brooklyn together, there were more persons of Irish origin than there were in Dublin.

In Boston, the Irish were a majority.

The nation as a whole, 5 million persons of Irish birth or origin; some 200,000 more than the population of Ireland and approximately 1/12 of the total number of Americans.


1892, January 1

Ellis Island received it's first shipload of immigrants.

The first being a 15 year old Irish girl named Annie Moore.

This is truly symbolic because it was the Irish that primed America's immigration society, and Ireland sent as many women as men (and for several decades the women outnumbered the men) making Irish immigration unique from other nations.


The majority of these women were unmarried and traveling alone, because of restrictive conditions.

Employment opportunities were better for women than men; domestic servants in upper-middle class home.

Employment in Ireland was low if non-existent for women.

Old thought of parents controlling daughter's lives in marrying and inheriting farms.

Marriages were parentaled matched.

Reinforced by moral authority of the Catholic Church.

Most of the money of the Chain Immigration came from Irish women, not men.

Women created their own marriage dowry's so as to attract new husbands and establish families in the New World.



James J. Corbett defeated John L. Sullivan in New Orleans for the heavyweight boxing championship.

Boxing was viewed as a ladder upward for the social class and to gain respect.


Early 1900's

Irish men; 35% held white collar jobs, 50% were skilled workers, 15% were unskilled workers.

The Catholic Church was the nation's largest religious denomination.

The Irish American Catholic attained more education than native born Protestants.

In Boston, American born Irish were 4 times more likely to hold white collar positions than their immigrant parents.


1920 - 1960

Irish immigration dwindled.

Very little, if at all, stronghold on political and labor power.

The Irish melted within the pot.



From 1845 to today, 5.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States, of which the majority was Catholic.

Forty million Americans can trace ancestry to the total 7 million Irish that emigrated to the U.S.

Nearly every one of the 5 million people who live in Ireland has relations in the New World.

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