Hello Dear Reader(s),

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It seems every month is some kind of “Heritage Month” here in the United States. Which is good. We need to celebrate every culture that makes up this country! From the original Native Americans that suffered so greatly at the hands of the European settlers who forced them to lose their own culture and hide who they were as a people, The Africans who were forced to come here on Slave ships, to yes, even the various Europeans that came over to escape war and persecution from their originating countries.
If you are not 100% Native American, you have an ancestor with an immigration story.

I, being an American Mutt of mixed breeds have several. For this month of March, I will talk about the Irish side of me and why I feel it is important to celebrate their story. (My Irish descendants spent time In England before coming to America and I do wonder if they escaped this treatment when they came over in the 1800s)

A personal observation before we start. In this new culture of awareness, we are starting to see a trend. If your skin is not red, black, yellow, or brown; your ancestor’s struggles may be overlooked. They may seem to be unimportant in comparison to the “minority races” in this country. I feel they are not. Depending on when they immigrated, they may not have been welcomed into the existing culture of America at that time and given equal opportunity to succeed and rebuild their lives regardless of their shared skin color.

You hear some of the Italian families talk about when they had to struggle to build a life for their families when they first came to America, The Greeks, the Germans, and the Irish have similar stories, and let us never forget the struggles the Jews went through!

Since March is Irish Heritage Month I will focus only on the Irish side for this blog, but I encourage everyone to learn about every Immigrant’s stories and how they had to fight to be seen as “Just American” (Some are still fighting for equality or repairing what the immigrants took from them. The saddest story is what happened to the Native Americans)

The History of Irish in America:

It is estimated as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in America between 1820 and 1930. 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. (NOTE: The great potato famine was in 1845, so the Irish had started to immigrate here before that)

The Irish often had no money beyond the fare for their passage, and, thus, settled in the ports of their debarkation. In time, the sum total of Irish Americans exceeded the entire population of Ireland. New York City boasted more Irishmen than Dublin, Ireland. This forced them to crowd into subdivided homes that were intended for single families, living in tiny, cramped spaces. Cellars, attics, and make-do spaces in alleys became home. (I can see in your mind’s eye the image of the stereotypical drunk Irishman passed out in an alley right now!)

A lack of adequate sewage and running water in these places made cleanliness next to impossible. Diseases of all kinds (including cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, and mental illness) resulted from these miserable living conditions. Irish immigrants sometimes faced hostility from other groups in the U.S. and were accused of spreading disease and blamed for the unsanitary conditions many lived in. Doesn’t sound too “Privileged” to you now?

As for work, the only jobs available to them were the menial and dangerous jobs that were often avoided by other workers. Women could work as domestic workers or servants while men worked in the coal mines, building canals and railroads. All very dangerous work. In fact, there was a saying on the railroads that there was “an Irishman buried under every tie. There are many Irish American songs about working the railroads and the hardships of such. One line that has always stood out was from Far Away, Boys
“From four empty coffins to four early graves
They’re only paddys, just paddys
Don’t dig them too deep
You’ll need all your strength boys
And they’re replaced easily”

The Irish often suffered blatant or subtle job discrimination. Furthermore, some businesses took advantage of Irish immigrants’ willingness to work at unskilled jobs for low pay. Employers were known to replace (or threaten to replace) uncooperative workers and those demanding higher wages with Irish American laborers. In fact, there was an incident where West Virginia coal operators fired union laborers and gave the jobs to Irish, Italian, and African-American workers because “[the] coal company owned them.” This competition heightened class tensions and, at the turn of the century, Irish Americans were often antagonized by organizations such as the American Protective Association (APA) and the Ku Klux Klan.

The Irish also suffered discrimination due to their religion. The anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiments in the 1840s produced groups such as the Nativist American Party, which fought foreign influences and promoted “traditional American ideals.” American Party members earned the nickname, “Know-Nothings,” because their standard reply to questions about their procedures and activities was, “I know nothing about it.”

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.” This commitment helped elect American Party governors in Massachusetts and Delaware and placed Millard Fillmore on a presidential ticket in 1856.

As time when on for these Irish Immigrants struggling to overcome these obstacles in their new country, they started to climb occupational and social ladders through politically appointed positions such as policeman, fireman, and teacher. Second and third-generation Irish Americans were on average better educated and more affluent than their parents.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish Americans became a powerful political force in U.S. cities. Building on principles of loyalty to the individual and the organization, they helped build political machines capable of getting the vote. Though remembered most for their perceived corruption, these political machines created social services long before they were politically mandated by national political movements.

Political machines held sway in several major American cities, from New York to San Francisco. New York’s Tammany political machine was under Irish American control for more than fifty years. William R. Grace became New York City’s first Irish American mayor in 1880. Four years later, Hugh O’Brien won the same position in Boston.

The political machines provided avenues for Irish Americans to get jobs, deal with naturalization issues, and even get food or heating fuel in emergencies. The political machines also rewarded their own through political appointments.

Offensive Irish Terms:

  • Paddies or Paddy
    In Britain, “Paddy” was used as a derogatory catch-all name to describe anyone male and Irish. This was carried over to the US and led to things like “Paddy-Wagon” being the nickname for a police transport van.
  • Micks
    It was a sneer by the English, implying that the Irish did not have “real” individual names.
  • Bogtrotters
    Irish considered to be from rural, uneducated backgrounds.
  • Donkeys
    Irish fresh off the boats, because they were known to be hard-working and willing to take menial, low-paying jobs.
  • Narrowbacks
    The first generation of American born who never had to work as hard as their parents.

In Celebrating Irish History Month:

The Irish immigrants who entered the United States from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries were changed by America and also changed this nation. They and their descendants made incalculable contributions to politics, industry, organized labor, religion, literature, music, and art.

For instance, Mary Harris, later known as Mother Jones, committed more than fifty years of her life to unionizing workers in various occupations throughout the country. Her dedicated effort resulted in arrests, personal attacks, and many hardships but she also earned audiences with United States presidents from McKinley to Coolidge. As a strong Union Supporter and personally seeing what Unions have done to the workforce including making paid vacations, sick time, safe working environments, offering living wages, and allowing workers not to be sexually harassed or forced to work overtime I am pretty thankful for Mary Harris!!

Roman Catholic Cardinal James Gibbons, champion of labor and advocate of the separation of church and state, was born to Irish immigrants in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 23, 1834.

On April 11, 1900, the U.S. Navy acquired its first submarine, designed by Irish immigrant John P. Holland.

Other people you may not know who have Irish descendants include Billy the Kid (William Henry McCarty), Walt Disney, Barack Obama, Eileen Marie Collins, Gene Kelly, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Flatley, Kurt Cobain, and Henry Ford.

Many Irish Americans still retain pride and identity in their Irish heritage, and they should be allowed to do so without shame or being called a racist, in the exact same way any other culture can take pride and celebrate their heritage during their heritage month. (and yes, someone actually called me a racist for sharing some history of the Irish American immigrant during the Month of March) Thiers is a story similar to many other American immigrant stories, and as I have said before and always will say; If you are not 100% Native American, you are descended from an immigrant.

More history sources on the Irish:

  • “How the Irish Became White” by Noel Ignatiev
  • The Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York by Peter Quinn
  • Paddy’s lament: Ireland 1846-1847 a prelude to hatred by Thomas Gallagher
  • Emigrants and exiles: Ireland and the Irish exodus to North America by Kerby A Miller
  • The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City by James R Barrett
  • https://libguides.northampton.edu/c.php?g=794584&p=5681759