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Challenges of Irish Immigrants

Page history last edited by Mark Cook 9 years, 9 months ago

* Challenges *


     Irish immigrants faced many harsh and trying challenges during their transition from foreigners to true Americans. They faced the anti-Catholicism attitude most Americans shared, stereotypes and labels placed on them, destitution, and many other trials and tribulations. However, these seemingly unbearable conditions and unfortunate times brought forth an invaluable addition to the American race.

     First and foremost, one must understand, at least in a small sense, the reason for the Irish coming to America. The largest scale immigration to the United States sparked during the famine generation. The famine generation was a time period where Ireland faces mass starvation, disease spread, and emigration to foreign lands in hopes of finding financial solace. 25% of Ireland's population died during this period. 2.5 million Irish emigrated to the U.S. in 1845- 1870. 2.1 million did likewise in 1871- 1921, but they did not face the same challenges the famine generation did.

     One of the most prominent challenges the Irish immigrants faced was the air of anti-Catholicism. Catholicism crept its way into Ireland during the 5th century and spread like wildfire by means of missionaries such as the famous St. Patrick. Nearly all of the Irish practiced Catholicism in Ireland from that point on. Americans frowned upon Catholicism do to its hierarchy, papacy, and idea of submitting to foreign powers, especially in such matters as one's salvation and morality. In fact, there was a political party known as the Know-Nothing Party which advocated strong gestures to remove Catholicism from American policies. They went to such extremes as to exclude foreign born people from voting or holding public office and promoting anti-Catholic legislation. This group did dissolve, however, in 1856. Another group was later formed called the Immigration Restriction League that was founded in 1894 to batter the Irish Catholics. The KKK, or the Ku Klux Klan, mostly protested and harassed the Catholics, along with Jews and blacks. 

     Second, Irish immigrants faced a large load of racial stereotypes, labels, and prejudice. As soon as they arrived on American soil, they were treated as the scum of society. Not only were they receiving stereotypes from Americans, but also the British and the homeland Irish. When the Irish came to America in search of financial opprotunities, they received little to none to their surprise. They were considered terrible neighbors for they had no idea about plumbing and other functions that were thought to be normal and passive in America. Because of this, many were forced to find refuge in small, dingy communities with other Irish immigrants.

     When looking for jobs, Irish immigrants were only granted high risk, unskilled, manual labor type jobs such as docking. The sum of these events and many more caused many to turn to alcoholism. This did not help with their reputation as drunkards back in Ireland. So much hate was placed upon them. Some called Irish immigrants "inside out niggers" and the blacks "smoked Irish".

     It is hard to imagine, even with the clear facts presented above, what exactly the challenges the Irish immigrants faced. The stereotyping, poor living conditions, and anti-Catholic force were quite rough to those brave enough to endure life in America as an immigrant. Much respect is due to all those that bore through such trauma brought on by the challenges of Irish immigration.




Donohue, Stacy. "Irish." American History Through Literature 1870-1920. Ed. Tom

Quirk and Gary Scharnhorst. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2006. 529-534.

Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 7 Feb. 2011.

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Mark Cook said

at 12:27 am on Feb 22, 2011

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