Irish Immigration Essay, Research Paper
Throughout time people have moved and migrated around the world for many different reasons. Immigration, throughout history, has become a key factor in the diffusion of culture in both the United States as well as the rest of the world. Immigration is defined as the transfer of a foreigner from one country to another to settle there. Many ethnic groups have migrated in attempts to better their positions and run from ethnic troubles, such as poverty, high unemployment, famine, disease, starvation, religious reasons and political troubles (Coffey). Immigration, on a world scale, reached a peak in the 19th and 20th centuries.
For decades, the Irish and other ethnic groups had fled their countries, which they had called home, to America in search of better opportunities and conditions to build better lives for themselves and their families. The first great influx of immigrants to the United States began in the early 19th century, when large numbers of Europeans left their homelands to escape the economic distress and the political distress in their native countries (Fallows). These were the many causes for the immigration of the Irish to the United States. ?For the Irish many of their problems began in the 1180’s, when the King of England decided that the British needed more land. This need was created due to England having a small amount of land and the practice of ?primogeniture.? This term meant that all family land inheritances went to the eldest son. In an attempt to solve this land problem, the Pope gave Ireland to England so there was more land for the British to settle?(Guinnane). In the 1600’s, the English began to live in Ireland and they then began to introduce a policy of forced assimilation. In enforcing this policy, they tried to eliminate the use of Gaelic, the Irish language, abolish the Catholic religion, and also eliminate the social and political equality among men and women.
The British also introduced and instituted penal laws, which denied the Irish population freedom. Irish men and women began to bravely fight the British to protect their land. However, their fighting wasn?t enough to stop them. At this point Irish tenant farmers found themselves faced with eviction for nonpayment of rent. The English landlords continuously raised their rent until the Irish farmers could no longer pay in order that they would be evicted. This gave the landlords larger areas of land to raise cattle and sheep for exportation to England. This happened first in the middle of the Ireland where the land was most fertile. These tenant evictions were a cause of emigration from Ireland. The British also ruined Irish families? houses by either tearing down the roof or by burning them down to the ground. The Irish, having lost their homes, moved to the rocky coastline where only few patches of land were farmable (Guinnane). This created ?an irregular division of land ownership? in which a new way of indicating personal property was created (Ignatiev). Irish farmers now used stone fences to mark their property, and each fence had a distinct design or pattern clearly labeling ownership. The farmer?s land was also not adjacent which made farming difficult. Some who were not fortunate enough to find land became ?tinkers.? ? Tinkers is a term given to the people who wandered around looking for food or work. They usually lived in tents along the side of the road and asked people for food in return for performing small tasks?(Guinnane). The British, now having most the land in Ireland, exported cattle to England to serve as a source of food. Therefore the Irish, who used to eat chicken and beef with spices, now were forced to become dependent on potatoes to survive. Then in 1848, the a potato blight struck the farmlands of Ireland and became known as the greatest tragedy in Ireland?s history occurred called the ?Great Potato Famine.? Many of these people, due to the famine, were forced to resort to the desperate practice known as ?bleeding.? Bleeding was draining some of the cow?s blood and mixing it with rotten potatoes and cabbage into a soup (Guinnane). This was used to help families combat the famine by keeping their strength up. ? The famine did make some of the English sympathetic to the plight, but the situation was too tragic that many suffering began to migrate to America. Some families sent their suffering children or the head of their household to get employment, in order to send the earnings back for the rest of the family?(Coffey).
The Great Potato Famine became one of the major causes of the Irish influx to the United States in the mid to late 19th century. ?Over one hundred and fifty years ago, a potato famine struck the farmlands of Ireland and the results are evident in the numbers of Irish descendants scattered around the globe?(Coffey). This potato blight was the most devastating Irish famine in history. ?The Great Famine,? ?The Great Hunger,? and also known as ?The Great Starvation? were known as Ireland?s holocaust which condemned the Irish to be the first boat people of modern Europe?(Fallows). The time of the famine was a period in Ireland?s history, which most Irish would like to forget. The destructive famine struck from 1845 through 1850. During this time over one million of the eight million people who lived in Ireland died from ?famine fever?-a 19th century pseudonym for the death by starvation (Coffey). The famine left people powerless and many Irishmen had no choice but to flee their native land. People had no control of their own lives or fate, and the British control over Ireland also left them powerless and without options or choices.
Throughout the time that most of the majority of the Irish population migrated to the United States, America was faced with its own internal problems. At this time, our country was faced with the Civil War and its resultant conflicts, which lacked in comparison to the situations from which most of the Irish were departing. ?It is estimated that one in four died during this time. In fleeing to America, the Irish hoped they could find some kind of work in the ?land of opportunity,? to ?where the streets are paved in gold,? despite the fact that conditions and wages for these jobs were poor?(Guinnane). Most felt these circumstances were far better than the starvation and ?tyrannical circumstances? occurring in Ireland (Coffey). As time went on, the situation progressively worsened and inspired ?widespread fear? among the Irish people. The destruction of the potato crop had ?immense consequences? and the Great Potato Famine was seen as one of the worst disasters of all time (Ignatiev).
The immigration of the Irish to the United Stated was said to have increased greatly during the famine years. Many Irishmen settled into cities where they worked in factories and lived in ethnic neighborhoods. ?They were more often working men in emerging cities of the nation, and very often treated no better than slaves, working for low wages and then sending their income back to Ireland?(Guinnane). Most Irish immigrants in the United States sent a large portion of their salary back to Ireland to encourage the rest of their families to make the move to America.
?The move for many immigrants came on ?coffin ships,? vessels that went from ports along the eastern coast of North America to Ireland and England. Many Irish families for their passage to America used these ships. ?Coffin ships? were the cheapest way to travel to the land of opportunity but were often times fatal to many passengers. A passage to America during this time was approximately $10.00. Due to lack of room on these vessels, disease spread quickly and easily, often causing the deaths of over half the passengers. The death toll was so high that you could lay gravestones across the Atlantic Ocean from one shore to the other. In some instances, sharks followed these coffin ships waiting for the bodies of the newly deceased?(Coffey). Families of the emigrants held ?American wakes,? which were both mournings and celebrations. These wakes were somewhat happy occasions because some were able to leave ?their lives of hardships behind them?(Coffey). ?The high mortality rate caused parishes to hold mass funerals. The funeral bills, although, were near impossible for families to pay so each church had a ?community coffin.? These ?community coffins? were used if there was a death in the community. The people would use the coffins for the wake and the funeral. At the gravesite, a trap door would be opened and the corpse would fall into the graves?(Coffey). For many of the Irish there was no real choice of staying or leaving. They either had to take the risk of these hazardous journeys to America or stay and face ?probable death? in their homelands. Most chose to take the risk and accept the low-paying jobs with poor working conditions in case they made it to America, rather than the circumstances of probable death in their homelands.
The Great Famine was seen as ?an event more than any other that shaped the Irish as a people, defined their will to survive and demonstrated their sense of human vulnerability?(Coffey). The Irish people who immigrated to America, settled all over the United States. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Ireland?s population dropped from 8 million before the famine to 5 million afterwards (Ignatiev). In reaching America, people began looking for jobs and available land throughout the United States. ?In 1863, an act was passed by the United States Congress by which any citizen of the country, or any person who had declared his enthusiasm to be a citizen might enter for ten dollars. As a result of their interest, they would get public land, and if he or his heirs would live and work on the area of land for five years, and then they would gain possession of it?(Guinnane). As the amount of immigration increased, Congress passed laws that made it a hard task to enter the United States and become an American citizen. Literacy tests and naturalization laws were passed ?to restrict and limit immigration? to the United States and to make the task to gaining citizenship for aliens difficult. Irish immigrants were helpless and most had no choice but to take the chance in entering the United States.
Many of the Irish ancestors came to America during this era to escape the poverty and hopelessness that generations of Irish had endured. Each sent money back to those left behind, so that other family members might follow them to the new promised land. This also created a ?human bridge? from Ireland to the United States. ?They carried in their hearts the hopes and dreams of an entire country?(Coffey). The Irish survivors looked to America for a better life, but they faced many hardships in the process. Among these hardships were the loneliness of leaving their family, friends and the land that was once known as home. Sometimes whole families would leave and other times only the head of the households would make the life-threatening journey. Even though they were in different countries, they were most often loyal to their families and sent their earnings back to their homeland.
Immigrants were not educated and were then forced to take the jobs with low wages and poor working conditions. Most Irish immigrants were not qualified for high-paying jobs and factory work and working in sweatshops was the best work they could find. The employees of sweatshops were not allowed to talk or sing while they were working, if they did so they were told they were fired. If one went to the bathroom and the supervisor felt the person was there too long, he or she was laid off for half a day with no pay. Also eating lunch on the fire escape in the summer was not allowed. The door was kept locked to keep everyone inside. Immigrants were forced to work 12-hour long days with low pay in horrendous working conditions. Children were paid $1.50 a week and skilled workers might make as much as $12.00 a week. There was no pension, no welfare and no employment insurance for the employees. Sweatshops and factories were dirty, overcrowded and unsafe for any human being (Guinnane).
Another hardship that immigrants faced was discrimination and fear. The American citizens observed the amount of immigrants coming to America when they realized the increasing numbers of foreign-speaking people entering their country, Americans did not receive them well. Americans expressed much resentment and fear to these foreigners, and the Irish were no exception. Many Irish faced discrimination and were not hired because they were Irish. This prejudice forced many Irish immigrants to move to the western United States cities in an attempt to find a real land of opportunity and not racism. The Irish immigrants had nothing to depend on and nothing to hope for. They worked to make a living and to help their families survive. Although the Irish immigrants faced much suffering and hardships, ?the Irish have brought many great things to the United States?(Fallows). ?They endured and became a part of the foundation upon which our American modern day country was built. For these were the laborers who built the railroads, bridges, the Holland Tunnel and the Erie Canal. These were the workers who laid out the streets and installed the drainage pipes, as well as the boatmen, shoemakers, stone cutters, coopers and lumberjacks. These were the Irish who showed up in solidarity to fight and die for their new country in the Civil War. ?(Coffey).
?During the American Civil War, many Irish men enlisted directly into the United States Army at their ports of immigration. The Union Army had 144,221 men who were of Irish birth. These men accounted for nearly one fourth of all volunteers. The enlistments were caused not so much by any patriotic sense of duty to the new country, but rather by an enlistment bonus of six hundred dollars. This was a magnificent sum for most Irish immigrants who arrived penniless. This money could feed and clothe a family for more than a year in 1865″(Ignatiev). One important man of Irish descent, who came to America, was John Barry. John Barry was called the father of the American Navy. He had a great importance in the defense of the United States.
These men and women who went to war were courageous and offered many important contributions to the United States history. They both enhanced and enriched the culture of the area they occupied. The Irish brought their culture and also their music that is very much alive in our society today. Most of all the Irish brought the strong workers and leaders that have in building the United States up into the powerful nation that it is today. Some of the most famous Irish Americans include President Ronald Regan, President Ulysses S. Grant, President John F. Kennedy, Henry Ford, Civil War General Philip Sheridan and war hero, Audie Murphy. Irish immigration has become a key factor in the diffusion of culture and their contributions have affected both the United States and the rest of the world.
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