One of the cliches one hears in the United States this week is that "Everyone's Irish!" People who couldn't find Ireland on a map of the British Isles will be doing the Wearing of the Green, to the delight or irritation of many.
So how many Americans ARE Irish? According to the 2000 Census, of the 281.4 million people in the country, 30.5 million, or 10.8% self-identify as Irish. In a more recent calculation, 36.3 million U.S. residents claimed "Irish ancestry in 2008. This number was more than eight times the population of Ireland itself (4.4 million). Irish was the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German." Most people are familiar with the potato famine of the 1840s which generated much of the emigration from Ireland to the US. But in fact, the trend started earlier than that.
"Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation. Interestingly, pre-famine immigrants from Ireland were predominately male, while in the famine years and their aftermath, entire families left the country. In later years, the majority of Irish immigrants were women."
The Irish-Americans suffered some definite hostility. For instance: "In the Questions for Admittance to the American Party (1854), inductees committed to '...elect to all offices of Honor, Profit, or Trust, no one but native born citizens of America, of this Country to the exclusion of all Foreigners, and to all Roman Catholics, whether they be of native or Foreign Birth, regardless of all party predilections whatever'." There were also racial pressures: "...the Irish and Blacks had reason to feel they were treated unfairly in the workforce, and often at one another's expense." Eventually, though the "Irish influence resulted in increased power for the Democratic Party as well as the Catholic Church. William R. Grace became New York City’s first Irish-Catholic mayor in 1880. Four years later, Hugh O’Brien won the same position in Boston.
"Irish-American political clout led to increased opportunities for the Irish-American. Looking out for their own, the political machines made it possible for the Irish to get jobs, to deal with naturalization issues, even to get food or heating fuel in emergencies. The political machines also rewarded their own through political appointments."
I happen to think that there are actually more Irish in America than have been reported. The mixing of the races has probably made tracking lineage difficult in some cases. A prime example is delineated in the book The Sweeter The Juice about an Irish woman and a mulatto man marrying after the Civil War. Many of the descendants, especially those living as black, have holes in their family trees. Where are the Irish-American enclaves in the US? According to the ePodunk site, the concentration is in the Northeast, plus in and around the state of Illinois. Interestingly, Albany, NY is NOT on the list; given the partying that goes on after every St. Patrick's Day parade, such as the one from Saturday past, maybe it's the faux green wearers who are the most vigorous celebrants.
(A not so subtle reminder for Americans to fill out the Census forms they received this week.) ABC Wednesday