Irish-American Immigration in the Nineteenth Century

Essay by loserdorkCollege, Undergraduate March 2009

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The Irish Catholics immigrants of the 1840's and 1850's left Ireland after centuries of British oppression including political, economic, and religious. This oppression magnified the effects of the potato blight that started in 1845 and lasted until 1849, although its effects lasted for years afterward.

The country they left had been oppressed for years by Britain. Harsh penal laws were put into place after the Irish did not convert to Protestantism in the sixteenth century. As a result, the Irish became servants to Britain and eventually relied solely on the potato crop for their own agriculture (Nardo, 12-13). After the potato blight of 1845-49, there was nothing the Irish could do but falter to starvation and subsequent disease (Fallows, 17). The only way to ensure a future was to emigrate. Between 1847 and 1860, over 1.2 million Irish immigrants entered the United States (Fallows, 23, 48).

They came to New York because this is where the ships left them off, among other cities on the northeastern seaboard such as Boston and Providence.

They tended not to migrate from these cities because they could not afford to venture elsewhere (Griffin, 67). They did not have great financial resources. When they arrived in New York, they had little skills to hope for upward mobility. Agricultural methods used in Ireland were obsolete in America, and they did not make competent farmers. Because farming was the main focus of most Irishmen, they did not have another trade or much education to better themselves in another manner (Daniels, 132). However, some Irish immigrants took advantage of the newfound prosperity in building railroads and canals. In addition to being able to venture out west, they were finally able to accomplish upward mobility. (Griffin, "Portrait", 54). They also faced harsh racism and intolerance in New York. In...