The Irish Immigrants who came to Americaseeking everyones dream of freedom
For my project I chose to take a look at the immigration of the Irish to America. I chose this project because not too long ago I found that I have Irish in my blood. I was very interested in learning about the Irish history, and knew this project would help me learn about their struggles.
The Irish were a predominantly catholic people who took their religion to heart. However, beliefs in leprechauns, fairies and other mystical creatures was common. Pilgrimages to holy wells of fairies was also something that was common. In the mid 1800’s the church took over much of the education system and condemned traditional beliefs. Forcing many to begin attending church mass.
After the Irish rebellion of 1798 Ireland became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. This was a major change for the Irish who would now be under the control of the English crown. This meant that the officials in London would be making decisions on the Irish economy, but yet had little understanding of what the Irish population needed. Soon Ireland was in turmoil and rebellion was on the minds of many.
Around the 1830’s Daniel O’connell tried to have the Act of the Union repealed. He had Mp’s elected into the British Parliament to try and establish the Irish Parliament which would make Ireland free again. However the idea was quickly rejected and forgotten. The Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Young Irelander’s both took to rebellion against the Act. They took the streets displaying acts of violence against the crown. However these rebellions were quickly crushed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0zBlHlnR4Y. This is an example of a popular song during the Irish rebellions.
During the 19th century the rural population in Ireland was on the rise. This rise is due to the number of children families were having. Children were seen as a guarantee that the family would be taken care of and would continue on. However these large families had some problems. Large families needed large amounts of food which families heavily relied upon potatos. Housing, water, clothing, all of these everyday necessities were a challenge for these large families.
The famine of 1845 was a major turning point in Irish history. Many families relied on the potato harvests for their food supply. The harvest of 1845 was expected to be a prosperous year, but was not. The harvest yielded a fifty percent loss which put more strain on already suffering families. The hardships of the already strained economy plus the famines pushed the Irish to seek a new home.
Big business in America is always looking for a way to maximize profits, and soon found that cheap human labor was the key. Businesses began advertising overseas depicting a rich meaningful life that could be found in America. Some companies would pay immigrants fares if they promised to work for them once they arrived. However, the Foran Act of 1885 viewed this as a type of bondage and made it illegal.
However, it was still not illegal for companies to advertise overseas which they took advantage of. Companies created a campaign depicting America as a place where their wildest dreams could be realized. These companies knew that once these immigrants arrived they would be willing to work for less wages because they came to America with very little. This low working wage did not sit well with other Americans who were being undercut by these new immigrants.
Ellis Island was the first federal immigration station in 1890. Due to the large numbers of immigrants the islands size was increased from 3.3 acres to 275 acres. From 1892 to 1954 over twelve million immigrants passed through this small port. If the immigrants paperwork and health were in order the immigration process could take up to three to five hours.
From the moment their boat landed on American docks immigrants faced a difficult life. They were easy pray for greedy Americans looking to squeeze them for their money. Since these new immigrants had no place to go they often stayed close to where they docked. Tenement houses raised their prices so steep that many were forced to live on the streets. Every street was filled with begging immigrants. One immigrant wrote home saying “Our position in America is one of shame and poverty” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKCUwEdZfM8. This is a popular Irish Folk song about the life of a beggar.
Due to overwhelming number of Irish and the poverty that seemed to plague them they knew they had to stick together. Irish communities began popping up along costal towns near the immigration ports where they came in. In these communities the Irish established in a way their own towns. They built churches
Americas ever expanding economy was in great demand for manual labor With the help of Americas ever growing economy, manual labor jobs were in great demand. Since there were no machines like we have today a pick, and shovel were all workers had to break ground for railroads. Women were no exception to this kind of life style either. They took jobs as caretakers, cooks, and soon this kind of servant work was seen only fit for blacks and the Irish.
As more Irish arrived they began filling any job openings that were available. These jobs included such things as house caretakers that was previously filled by blacks. It did not take long for the two ethnicities to begin fighting over these types of jobs which created hatred between the two. The blacks did not like that the Irish were filling jobs that they once held.
The Irish made up around twenty percent of the unskilled labor force in America compared to the only three percent average of other immigrants. These laboring jobs required long hours and dangerous conditions with no compensation in pay. In 1879 the Knights of Labor elected Terence Powderly a son of Irish Immigrants. Under his leadership their membership grew to around 700,000. However their success did not live long due to the strangle the industries put on unions.
The Knights of Labor’s fall did not stop the Irish from seeking labor rights. The American Federation for Labor was co founded by second generation Irishmen Sam Gompers, and P.J. McGuire. By 1920 union membership rose to a staggering five million nationwide. The AFL reached 110 member unions, and became a threat to industries. Soon labor negotiations began taking place and working conditions began to improve.
Irish immigrants took pride in becoming Americans and were not afraid to fight for that right. During the outbreak of the Civil War it is estimated that 170,000 Irish joined the Union Army, and an another estimated 40,000 joined the Confederate Army. The Irish were willing to go the distance when it came to protecting the freedoms that they had been given as Americans.
The Irish were extremely proud in becoming American’s, and did not take that process lightly Although they never forgot their allegiance to their home country, and brought many of it’s customs with them to America The one thing they brought with them was their serious devotion to their religion. Many Irish were Catholic, which soon became a dominate form of Christianity.
Up until the Irish immigration the Catholic religion was only a small minority of accomplished English. As more and more Irish arrived in America so grew the Catholic churches and soon were the dominate religion in U.S. The Catholic church was very involved in helping newly immigrated Catholics adapt to their new lives. They provided housing, food, and set up job opportunities. The church became more than a place of worship it became known as a massive family that stuck together.
The Irish tended to support the Democratic Party rather than the Republicans. Since the Irish were so populated in large cities they made up a very large portion of the vote. It wasn’t long before the Irish had made their way into elected posstions. Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy are just some of the Irish descendents that held distinguished office.
Since their immigration to America the Irish have impacted this nation greatly. They paved the way for other immigrants showing them that immigration brings hardships, but it can be overcome. Some of the greatest contributions the Irish made to America were their own people. Some include Henry Ford, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Wayne. These are just some of the Irish that have made an impact on America. Without the Irish spirit and willingness to adapt, America would not be the great place we live
Gunn, Mark. “A Bard’s Celtic Lyric Directory.” 1999-2010. 25 Oct. 2011 http://www.thebards.net/music/ “Irish Immigrants in America during the 19th Century.” Hy Kinsella. 1996-2011. 14 Oct. 2011 http://www.kinsella.org/history/histira.htm Oracle. “Immigration the journey to America.” Oracle Education Foundation. June 2010. 20 Oct. 2011 <http://library.thinkquest.org/20619/Irish.html> Trueman, Chris “The Great Famine of 1845.” 2000-2011. 27 Oct. 2011 <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/ireland_great_famine _of_1845.htm>
Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. “Ellis Island- History.” 2000-2011. 27 Oct 2011 <http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_history.as Your Irish. “Life in Ireland During 1800.” YourIrish.com. 2010. 30 Oct 2011. http://www.yourirish.com/history/19th-century/