Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Waves of Irish Immigration: Around the Great Famine

From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 Irish arrived, 75% of these after the Great Irish Famine (or The Great Hunger, Irish: An Gorta Mór) of 1845–1852, struck. The Famine hurt Irish men and women alike, especially those poorest or without land. It altered the family structures of Ireland because fewer people could afford to marry and raise children, causing many to adopt a single lifestyle. Consequently, many Irish citizens were less bound to family obligations and could more easily migrate to the United States in the following decade.

Of the total Irish migrants to the U.S. from 1820 to 1860, many died crossing the ocean due to disease and dismal conditions of what became known as coffin ships.

Gravestone in Boston Catholic cemetery erected in memory of County Roscommon native born shortly before The Great Famine.

Most Irish immigrants to the United States favored large cities because they could create their own communities for support and protection in a new environment. Another reason for this trend was that Irish immigrants could not afford to move inland and had to settle close to the ports at which they arrived. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants included Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish heritage than Dublin's whole population, and even today, many of these cities still retain a substantial Irish American community. Mill towns such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Pawtucket attracted many Irish women in particular. The best urban economic opportunities for unskilled Irish women and men included “factory and millwork, domestic service, and the physical labor of public work projects.”

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