16% of the US population (2013)
0.9% of the US population (2013)
Estimate of Americans with any Scotch-Irish ancestry
Up to 10.5 % of the U.S. population
|Regions with significant populations|
|Throughout the entire Northeast, South, the cities of Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Huntsville, Alabama; Buffalo, New York; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Albany, New York; Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; Mobile, Alabama; Savannah, Georgia; Tulsa, Oklahoma; throughout New England.|
|Irish, American English|
Protestant total 51%
|Related ethnic groups|
|Irish people, Irish British, Irish Canadians, Irish Mexicans, English Americans, Scottish Americans, Welsh Americans, Cornish Americans, Scots-Irish Americans|
Irish Americans (Irish: Gael-Mheiriceánaigh) are Americans who can trace their ancestry to the island of Ireland. About 33.3 million Americans—10.5% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2013 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. Three million people separately identified as Scotch-Irish, whose ancestors were Ulster Scots who emigrated from Ireland to the United States.
- 1 Irish immigration to the United States
- 2 Religion
- 3 Discrimination
- 4 Sense of heritage
- 5 Irish Americans in politics and government
- 6 Contributions to American culture and sport
- 7 Irish-American communities
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Irish immigration to the United States
17th to mid-19th century
According to the Dictionary of American History, approximately "50,000 to 100,000 Irishmen, over 75 percent of them Catholic, came to North America in the 1600s, while 100,000 more Irish Catholics arrived in the 1700s." Indentured servitude was an especially common way of affording migration, and in the 1740s the Irish made up nine out of ten indentured servants in some colonial regions.
Many colonial settlers coming from the province of Ulster came to be known in the United States as the "Scotch-Irish", although most descendants of the Scotch-Irish today identify their ancestry as "American" or "Irish". They were descendants of Scottish and English tenant farmers who had been settled in Ireland by the British government during the 17th-century Plantation of Ulster. An estimated 250,000 migrated to United States during the colonial era. The Scotch-Irish settled mainly in the colonial "back country" of the Appalachian Mountain region, and became the prominent ethnic strain in the culture that developed there. The descendants of Scotch-Irish settlers had a great influence on the later culture of the United States through such contributions as American folk music, country and western music, and stock car racing, which became popular throughout the country in the late 20th century.
Irish immigrants of this period participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution, leading one British major general to testify at the House of Commons that "half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland." Irish Americans signed the foundational documents of the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—and, beginning with Andrew Jackson, served as President.
The early Ulster immigrants and their descendants at first usually referred to themselves simply as "Irish", without the qualifier "Scotch". It was not until more than a century later, following the surge in Irish immigration after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, that some descendants of the Protestant Irish began to refer to themselves as "Scotch-Irish" to distinguish them from the predominantly Catholic, and largely destitute, wave of immigrants from Ireland in that era. However, most descendants of the Scotch-Irish continued to consider themselves "Irish" or "American" rather than Scotch-Irish. The two groups had little initial interaction in America, as the 18th-century Ulster immigrants were predominantly Protestant and had become settled largely in upland regions of the American interior, while the huge wave of 19th-century Catholic immigrant families settled primarily in the Northeast and Midwest port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, or Chicago. However, beginning in the early 19th century, many Irish migrated individually to the interior for work on large-scale infrastructure projects such as canals and, later in the century, railroads.
Irish settlement in the South
During the colonial period, the Scotch-Irish settled in the southern Appalachian backcountry and in the Carolina Piedmont. They became the primary cultural group in these areas, and their descendants were in the vanguard of westward movement through Virginia into Tennessee and Kentucky, and thence into Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. By the 19th century, through intermarriage with settlers of English and German ancestry, the descendants of the Scotch-Irish lost their identification with Ireland. "This generation of pioneers...was a generation of Americans, not of Englishmen or Germans or Scotch-Irish."
The relatively small number of Irish Catholics concentrated in a few medium-sized cities, where they were highly visible, especially in Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. They became local leaders in the Democratic Party, strongly opposed abolition of slavery, and generally favored preserving the Union in 1860, but became staunch Confederates after secession in 1861.
In 1820 Irish-born John England became the first Catholic bishop in the mainly Protestant city of Charleston, South Carolina. During the 1820s and '30s, Bishop England defended the Catholic minority against Protestant prejudices. In 1831 and 1835, he established free schools for free African American children. Inflamed by the propaganda of the American Anti-Slavery Society, a mob raided the Charleston post office in 1835 and the next day turned its attention to England's school. England led Charleston's "Irish Volunteers" to defend the school. Soon after this, however, all schools for "free blacks" were closed in Charleston, and England acquiesced.
Many beginning as unskilled laborers, Irish Catholics in the South achieved average or above average economic status by 1900. David T. Gleeson wrote:
Native tolerance, however, was also a very important factor in Irish integration [into Southern society].... Upper-class southerners, therefore, did not object to the Irish, because Irish immigration never threatened to overwhelm their cities or states.... The Irish were willing to take on potentially high-mortality occupations, thereby sparing valuable slave property. Some employers objected not only to the cost of Irish labor but also to the rowdiness of their foreign-born employees. Nevertheless, they recognized the importance of the Irish worker to the protection of slavery.... The Catholicism practiced by Irish immigrants was of little concern to Southern natives.
— David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815–1877 
Irish nationalist John Mitchel lived in Tennessee and Virginia during his exile from Ireland and was one of the South's most outspoken supporters during the American Civil War through his newspapers the Southern Citizen and the Richmond Enquirer.
Mid-19th century and later
|Irish immigration to the United States (1820-2004)|
|Total : 4,787,580|
Irish immigration had greatly increased beginning in the 1820s due to the need for labor in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast. The large Erie Canal project was one such example where Irishmen were many of the laborers. Small but tight communities developed in growing cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Providence.
From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 Irish arrived, 75% of these after the Great Irish Famine (or The Great Hunger, Irish: An Gorta Mór) of 1845–1852, struck. The famine hurt Irish men and women alike, especially those poorest or without land. It altered the family structures of Ireland because fewer people could afford to marry and raise children, causing many to adopt a single lifestyle. Consequently, many Irish citizens were less bound to family obligations and could more easily migrate to the United States in the following decade.
Most Irish immigrants to the United States during this period favored large cities because they could create their own communities for support and protection in a new environment. Another reason for this trend was that many Irish immigrants could not afford to move inland and had to settle close to the ports at which they arrived. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants included Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish heritage than Dublin's whole population, and even today, many of these cities still retain a substantial Irish American community. Mill towns such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Pawtucket attracted many Irish women in particular. The anthracite Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania saw a massive influx of Irish during this time period; conditions in the mines eventually gave rise to groups such as the Molly Maguires.The best urban economic opportunities for unskilled Irish women and men included "factory and millwork, domestic service, and the physical labor of public work projects."
During the mid-1900s Irish immigration to the United States began to decrease. From the years of 1941-1950, there were only 1,000,000 new immigrants in the United States, and only 68,151 of them were coming from Ireland. These immigrants from Ireland were coming to the U.S. for the same reasons as those before them; they came looking for jobs. Although there was only a small number of Irish coming into the U.S. at this time it is notable that there were Irish still coming into the U.S. while Ireland was prosperous. Most of these immigrants came from Northern Ireland where there was a large impoverished population.
Women's unique experience
Irish women's initial experiences in the United States were largely shaped by the types of roles they fulfilled in their homeland. Although Irish culture gave more authority to husbands and fathers, it simultaneously recognized female power. In most cases in Ireland, wives handled money within the family, and a large number of them even worked in cities away from the home in domestic work or sales. Although older women asserted this kind of power, daughters were seen as less valuable than sons due to the patriarchal nature of society. As a result, young women had little hesitation in migrating, and their families saved money in order to help finance the trip abroad. Limited social and economic opportunities for daughters in Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century caused a wave of young women to search for better possibilities in the United States. The pull factors of the United States, especially job availability, caused Irish women to view their "journey with optimism, in a forward-looking assessment that in America they could achieve a status that they never could have at home."
The female exodus of the mid-nineteenth century stands out in American history as the only major group of immigrants that was over fifty percent women. Because of the decrease in marriages in Ireland, single Irish women, called "unprovided-for 'girls'", traveled to the United States to find employment and/or start families of their own. Frustrated by the hardships of Irish farm life and alone in a new country without the help of other family members, female immigrants tended to settle in urban areas to find work. Occupational options, such as domestic work, white-collar work, nursing and teaching, granted more authority to young women in the United States than in Ireland. Recognizing their own successes as single women, most decided to postpone marriage and taught their daughters to do the same. In fact, the majority of the most successful Irish women in America never married, and a significant number of them were nuns.
Employment, not marriage, continued to be Irish women's priority throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, and women outnumbered men in cities and mill towns where they worked in "factory jobs and millwork, domestic service and, later in the century, clerical and shop work." However, Catholicism preached the centrality of women in the home, and Irish immigrants still respected the Church as the most important institution in their lives. Consequently, Irish women still pursued marriage and bore many children as long as they could meet economic needs. Couples who could not support large families often had many children regardless of their economic status, and due to discrimination against Irish men in the workplace and their tendency to desert their wives, women usually bore the brunt of family responsibility.
Civil War through early 20th century
A second wave of post-famine Irish immigration, resulting largely from a changing rural economy and the lure of high-paying jobs in America, continued from 1855 to 1921, when the Emergency Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 imposed a "quota system" that significantly limited immigration. These later immigrants mostly settled in industrial towns and cities of the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern United States where Irish American neighborhoods had previously been established.
During the American Civil War, Irish Americans volunteered in high numbers for the Union Army, and at least 38 Union regiments had the word "Irish" in their title. 144,221 Union soldiers were born in Ireland; additionally, perhaps an equal number were of Irish descent. Many immigrant soldiers formed their own regiments, such as the Irish Brigade.
However, conscription was resisted by some Irish and others as an imposition on liberty. When the conscription law was passed in 1863, draft riots erupted in New York. The New York draft coincided with the efforts of the city's dominant political machine, Tammany Hall, to enroll Irish immigrants as citizens so they could vote in local elections. Many such immigrants suddenly discovered they were now expected to fight for their new country. The Irish, employed primarily as laborers, were usually unable to afford the $300 as a "commutation fee" to procure a replacement for service, while more established New Yorkers receiving better pay were able to hire substitutes and avoid the draft. Many of the recent immigrants viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs, and as the reason why the Civil War was being fought. African Americans who fell into the mob's hands were often beaten, tortured, or killed, including one man, William Jones, who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, then hung from a tree and set alight. The Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, which provided shelter for hundreds of children, was attacked by a mob, although the largely Irish-American police force was able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow orphans to escape.
In 1871, New York's Orange Riots came when Irish Catholics attacked Irish Protestants celebrating the Battle of the Boyne with parades. 63 citizens, mostly Irish Catholics, were killed by mostly Irish police when they defied police orders.
Relations between the U.S. and Britain were chilly during the 1860s as Americans resented British and Canadian support for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war American authorities looked the other way as Irish Catholic "Fenians" plotted and even attempted an invasion of Canada. The Fenians proved a failure, but Irish Catholic politicians, a growing power in the Democratic Party, demanded more independence for Ireland and made anti-British rhetoric—called "twisting the lion's tail"—a staple of election campaign appeals to the Irish Catholic vote.
Irish immigrants fell into three linguistic categories: monolingual Irish speakers, bilingual speakers of both Irish and English, and monolingual English speakers. Estimates indicate that there were around 400,000 Irish speakers in the United States in the 1890s, located primarily in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Yonkers. The Irish-speaking population of New York reached its height in this period, when speakers of Irish numbered between 70,000 and 80,000. This number declined during the early 20th century, dropping to 40,000 in 1939, 10,000 in 1979, and 5,000 in 1995. According to the latest census, the Irish language ranks 66th out of the 322 languages spoken today in the U.S., with over 25,000 speakers. New York state has the most Irish Gaelic speakers, and Massachusetts the highest percentage, of the 50 states. Daltaí na Gaeilge, a nonprofit Gaelic language advocacy group based in Elberon, New Jersey, estimated that about 30,000 speak the language as of 2006. This, the organization claimed, has seen an increase from only a few thousand at the time of its founding in 1981.
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Before 1800, significant numbers of Irish Protestant immigrants became farmers; many headed to the frontier where land was cheap or free and it was easier to start a farm or herding operation. Many Irish Protestants and Catholics alike were indentured servants, unable to pay their own passage or sentenced to servitude.
After 1840, most Irish Catholic immigrants went directly to the cities, mill towns, and railroad or canal construction sites on the East Coast. In upstate New York, the Great Lakes area, the Midwest and the Far West, many became farmers or ranchers. In the East, male Irish laborers were hired by Irish contractors to work on canals, railroads, streets, sewers and other construction projects, particularly in New York state and New England. Some moved to New England mill towns, such as Holyoke, Lowell, Taunton, Brockton, Fall River, and Milford, Massachusetts, where owners of textile mills welcomed the new low-wage workers. They took the jobs previously held by Yankee women known as Lowell girls. A large fraction of Irish Catholic women took jobs as maids in hotels and private households.
Large numbers of unemployed or very poor Irish Catholics lived in squalid conditions in the new city slums and tenements. The Irish were the poorest of all immigrant groups that arrived in the United States in the nineteenth century, and many women especially suffered as a result of being abandoned or widowed. Consequently, there were many cases of mental and physical illnesses, as well as alcohol abuse and instances of crime, among women of Irish neighborhoods.
Single, Irish immigrant women quickly assumed jobs in high demand but for very low pay. The majority of them worked in mills, factories, and private households and were considered the bottommost group in the female job hierarchy, alongside African American women. Workers considered mill work in cotton textiles and needle trades the least desirable because of the dangerous and unpleasant conditions. Factory work was primarily a worst-case scenario for widows or daughters of families already involved in the industry. Unlike many other immigrants, Irish women preferred domestic work because it was constantly in great demand among middle- and upper-class American households. Although wages differed across the country, they were consistently higher than those of the other occupations available to Irish women and could often be negotiated because of the lack of competition. Also, the working conditions in well-off households were significantly better than those of factories or mills, and free room and board allowed domestic servants to save money or send it back to their families in Ireland.
Despite some of the benefits of domestic work, Irish women's job requirements were difficult and demeaning. Subject to their employers around the clock, Irish women cooked, cleaned, babysat and more. Because most servants lived in the home where they worked, they were separated from their communities. Most of all, the American stigma on domestic work suggested that Irish women were failures who had "about the same intelligence as that of an old grey-headed negro." This quote illustrates how, in a period of extreme racism towards African Americans, society similarly viewed Irish immigrants as inferior beings.
Although the Irish Catholics started very low on the social status scale, by 1900 they had jobs and earnings about equal on average to their neighbors. This was largely due to their ability to speak English when they arrived. The Irish were able to rise quickly within the working world, unlike non-English speaking immigrants. Yet there were still many shanty and lower working class communities in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and other parts of the country. After 1945, the Catholic Irish consistently ranked toward the top of the social hierarchy, thanks especially to their high rate of college attendance.
After the early example of Charles Lynch, Irish immigrants quickly found employment in the police departments, fire departments and other public services of major cities, largely in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes. By 1855, according to New York Police Commissioner George W. Matsell (1811–1877), himself the son of Irish immigrants, almost 17 percent of the police department's officers were Irish-born (compared to 28.2 percent of the city) in a report to the Board of Aldermen; of the NYPD's 1,149 men, Irish-born officers made up 304 of 431 foreign-born policemen. In the 1860s more than half of those arrested in New York City were Irish born or of Irish descent but nearly half of the city's law enforcement officers were also Irish. By the turn of the 20th century, five out of six NYPD officers were Irish born or of Irish descent. As late as the 1960s, 42% of the NYPD were Irish Americans.
Up to the 20th and early 21st century, Irish Catholics continue to be prominent in the law enforcement community, especially in the Northeastern United States. The Emerald Society, an Irish American fraternal organization, was founded in 1953 by the NYPD. When the Boston chapter of the Emerald Society formed in 1973, half of the city's police officers became members.
Towards the end of the 19th century, schoolteaching became the most desirable occupation for the second generation of female Irish immigrants. Teaching was similar to domestic work for the first generation of Irish immigrants in that it was a popular job and one that relied on a woman's decision to remain unmarried. The disproportionate number of Irish-American Catholic women who entered the job market as teachers in the late 19th century and early 20th century from Boston to San Francisco resulted from the Irish National school system. Irish schools prepared young single women to support themselves in a new country, which inspired them to instill the importance of education, college training, and a profession in their American-born daughters even more than in their sons. Evidence from schools in New York City illustrate the upward trend of Irish women as teachers: "as early as 1870, twenty percent of all schoolteachers were Irish women, and...by 1890 Irish females comprised two-thirds of those in the Sixth Ward schools." Irish women attained admirable reputations as schoolteachers, which enabled some to pursue professions of even higher stature.
Upon arrival in the United States, many Irish women became Catholic nuns and participated in the many American sisterhoods, especially those in St. Louis in Missouri, St. Paul in Minnesota, and Troy in New York. Additionally, the women who settled in these communities were often sent back to Ireland to recruit. This kind of religious lifestyle appealed to Irish female immigrants because they outnumbered their male counterparts and the Irish cultural tendency to postpone marriage often promoted gender separation and celibacy. Furthermore, "the Catholic church, clergy, and women religious were highly respected in Ireland," making the sisterhoods particularly attractive to Irish immigrants. Nuns provided extensive support for Irish immigrants in large cities, especially in fields such as nursing and teaching but also through orphanages, widows' homes, and housing for young, single women in domestic work. Although many Irish communities built parish schools run by nuns, the majority of Irish parents in large cities in the East enrolled their children in the public school system, where daughters or granddaughters of Irish immigrants had already established themselves as teachers.
Religion has been important to the Irish American identity in America, and continues to play a major role in their communities. Irish Americans today are both Catholic and Protestant. The Protestants' ancestors arrived primarily in the colonial era, while Catholics are primarily descended from immigrants of the 19th century. Irish leaders have been prominent in the Catholic Church in the United States for over 150 years. The Irish have been leaders in the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions, as well.
Surveys in the 1990s show that of Americans who identify themselves as "Irish", 51% said they were Protestant and 36% identified as Catholic. In the South, Protestants account for 73% of those claiming Irish origins, while Catholics account for 19%. In the North, 45% of those claiming Irish origin are Catholic, while 39% are Protestant.
Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant relations
Between 1607 and 1820, the majority of emigrants from Ireland to America were Protestants who were described simply as "Irish". The religious distinction became important after 1820, when large numbers of Irish Catholics began to emigrate to the United States. The descendants of the colonial Irish Protestant settlers from Ulster began thereafter to redefine themselves as "Scotch Irish", to stress their historic origins, and distanced themselves from Irish Catholics. By 1830, Irish diaspora demographics had changed rapidly, with over 60% of all Irish settlers in the US being Catholics from rural areas of Ireland.
Some Protestant Irish immigrants became active in explicitly anti-Catholic organizations such as the Orange Institution and the American Protective Association. However, participation in the Orange Institution was never as large in the United States as it was in Canada. In the early nineteenth century, the post-Revolutionary republican spirit of the new United States attracted exiled United Irishmen such as Theobald Wolf Tone and others. Most Protestant Irish immigrants in the first several decades of the nineteenth century were those who held to the republicanism of the 1790s, and who were unable to accept Orangeism. Loyalists and Orangemen made up a minority of Irish Protestant immigrants to the United States during this period. Most of the Irish loyalist emigration was bound for Upper Canada and the Canadian Maritime provinces, where Orange lodges were able to flourish under the British flag.
By 1870, when there were about 930 Orange lodges in the Canadian province of Ontario, there were only 43 in the entire eastern United States. These few American lodges were founded by newly arriving Protestant Irish immigrants in coastal cities such as Philadelphia and New York. These ventures were short-lived and of limited political and social impact, although there were specific instances of violence involving Orangemen between Catholic and Protestant Irish immigrants, such as the Orange Riots in New York City in 1824, 1870 and 1871.
The first "Orange riot" on record was in 1824, in Abingdon Square, New York, resulting from a 12 July march. Several Orangemen were arrested and found guilty of inciting the riot. According to the State prosecutor in the court record, "the Orange celebration was until then unknown in the country." The immigrants involved were admonished: "In the United States the oppressed of all nations find an asylum, and all that is asked in return is that they become law-abiding citizens. Orangemen, Ribbonmen, and United Irishmen are alike unknown. They are all entitled to protection by the laws of the country."
The later Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871 killed nearly 70 people, and were fought out between Irish Protestant and Catholic immigrants. After this the activities of the Orange Order were banned for a time, the Order dissolved, and most members joined Masonic orders. After 1871, there were no more riots between Irish Catholics and Protestants.
America offered a new beginning, and "...most descendents of the Ulster Presbyterians of the eighteenth century and even many new Protestant Irish immigrants turned their backs on all associations with Ireland and melted into the American Protestant mainstream."
Irish priests (especially Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Capuchins) came to the large cities of the East in the 1790s, and when new dioceses were erected in 1808 the first bishop of New York was an Irishman in recognition of the contribution of the early Irish clergy.
Saint Patrick's Battalion (San Patricios) was a group of several hundred immigrant soldiers, the majority Irish, who deserted the U.S. Army during the Mexican–American War because of ill treatment or sympathetic leanings to fellow Mexican Catholics. They joined the Mexican army.
In Boston between 1810 and 1840 there had been serious tensions between the bishop and the laity who wanted to control the local parishes. By 1845, the Catholic population in Boston had increased to 30,000 from around 5,000 in 1825, due to the influx of Irish immigrants. With the appointment of John B. Fitzpatrick as bishop in 1845, tensions subsided as the increasingly Irish Catholic community grew to support Fitzpatrick's assertion of the bishop's control of parish government.
In New York, Archbishop John Hughes (1797–1864), an Irish immigrant himself, was deeply involved in "the Irish question"—Irish independence from British rule. Hughes supported Daniel O'Connell's Catholic emancipation movement in Ireland, but rejected such radical and violent societies as the Young Irelanders and the National Brotherhood. Hughes also disapproved of American Irish radical fringe groups, urging immigrants to assimilate themselves into American life while remaining patriotic to Ireland "only individually". In Hughes's view, a large-scale movement to form Irish settlements in the western United States was too isolationist and ultimately detrimental to immigrants' success in the New World.
In the 1840s, Hughes crusaded for public-funded Irish Schools modeled after the successful Irish public school system in Lowell, Massachusetts. Hughes denounced the Public School Society of New York as an extension of an Old-World struggle whose outcome was directed not by understanding of the basic problems but, rather, by mutual mistrust and violently inflamed emotions. For Irish Catholics, the motivation lay largely in memory of British oppression, while their antagonists were dominated by the English Protestant historic fear of papal interference in civil affairs. Because of the vehemence of this quarrel, the New York Legislature passed the Maclay Act in 1842, giving New York City an elective Board of Education empowered to build and supervise schools and distribute the education fund—but with the proviso that none of the money should go to schools which taught religion. Hughes responded by building an elaborate parochial school system that stretched to the college level, setting a policy followed in other large cities. Efforts to get city or state funding failed because of vehement Protestant opposition to a system that rivaled the public schools.
Jesuits established a network of colleges in major cities, including Boston College, Fordham University in New York, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Fordham was founded in 1841 and attracted students from other regions of the United States, and even South America and the Caribbean. At first exclusively a liberal arts institution, it built a science building in 1886, lending more legitimacy to science in the curriculum there. In addition, a three-year bachelor of science degree was created. Boston College, by contrast, was established over twenty years later in 1863 to appeal to urban Irish Catholics. It offered a rather limited intellectual curriculum, however, with the priests at Boston College prioritizing spiritual and sacramental activities over intellectual pursuits. One consequence was that Harvard Law School would not admit Boston College graduates to its law school. Modern Jesuit leadership in American academia was not to became their hallmark across all institutions until the 20th century.
The Irish became prominent in the leadership of the Catholic Church in the U.S. by the 1850s—by 1890 there were 7.3 million Catholics in the U.S. and growing, and most bishops were Irish. As late as the 1970s, when Irish were 17% of American Catholics, they were 35% of the priests and 50% of the bishops, together with a similar proportion of presidents of Catholic colleges and hospitals.
The Scotch-Irish who settled in the back country of colonial America were largely Presbyterians. The establishment of many settlements in the remote back-country put a strain on the ability of the Presbyterian Church to meet the new demand for qualified, college-educated clergy. Religious groups such as the Baptists and Methodists had no higher education requirement for their clergy to be ordained, and these groups readily provided ministers to meet the demand of the growing Scotch-Irish settlements. By about 1810, Baptist and Methodist churches were in the majority, and the descendants of the Scotch-Irish today remain predominantly Baptist or Methodist. They were avid participants in the revivals taking place during the Great Awakening from the 1740s to the 1840s. They take pride in their Irish heritage because they identify with the values ascribed to the Scotch-Irish who played a major role in the American Revolution and in the development of American culture.
New Light Presbyterians founded the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University, in 1746 in order to train ministers dedicated to their views. The college was the educational and religious capital of Scotch-Irish America. By 1808, loss of confidence in the college within the Presbyterian Church led to the establishment of the separate Princeton Theological Seminary, but deep Presbyterian influence at the college continued through the 1910s, as typified by university president Woodrow Wilson.
Out on the frontier, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the Muskingum Valley in Ohio established Muskingum College at New Concord in 1837. It was led by two clergymen, Samuel Wilson and Benjamin Waddle, who served as trustees, president, and professors during the first few years. During the 1840s and 1850s the college survived the rapid turnover of very young presidents who used the post as a stepping stone in their clerical careers, and in the late 1850s it weathered a storm of student protest. Under the leadership of L. B. W. Shryock during the Civil War, Muskingum gradually evolved from a local and locally controlled institution to one serving the entire Muskingum Valley. It is still affiliated with the Presbyterian church.
Brought up in a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian home, Cyrus McCormick of Chicago developed a strong sense of devotion to the Presbyterian Church. Throughout his later life, he used the wealth gained through invention of the mechanical reaper to further the work of the church. His benefactions were responsible for the establishment in Chicago of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest (after his death renamed the McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church). He assisted the Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He also supported a series of religious publications, beginning with the Presbyterian Expositor in 1857 and ending with the Interior (later called The Continent), which his widow continued until her death.
Catholics and Protestants kept their distance; intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants was uncommon, and strongly discouraged by both ministers and priests. As Dolan notes, "'Mixed marriages', as they were called, were allowed in rare cases, were warned against repeatedly, and were uncommon."
After the large influx of Irish in the middle of the 19th century, many Catholic children were being educated in public schools. While officially non-denominational, the King James Version of the Bible was widely used in the classroom across the country, which Catholics were forbidden to read. Many Irish children complained that Catholicism was openly mocked in the classroom. In New York City, the curriculum vividly portrayed Catholics, and specifically the Irish, as villainous. The Catholic clergyman John Hughes campaigned for public funding of Catholic education in response to the bigotry. While never successful in obtaining public money for private education, the debate with the city's Protestant elite spurred by Hughes' passionate campaign paved the way for the secularization of public education nationwide. In addition, Catholic higher education expanded during this period with colleges and universities that evolved into such institutions as Fordham University and Boston College providing alternatives to Irish who were not otherwise permitted to apply to other colleges.
Prejudice against Irish Catholics in the U.S. reached a peak in the mid-1850s with the Know Nothing Movement, which tried to oust Catholics from public office. After a year or two of local success, the Know Nothing Party vanished. Some historians, however, maintain that actual job discrimination was minimal.
Many Irish work gangs were hired by contractors to build canals, railroads, city streets and sewers across the country. In the South, they underbid slave labor. One result was that small cities that served as railroad centers came to have large Irish populations.
In 1895, the Knights of Equity was founded, to combat discrimination against Irish Catholics in the U.S., and to assist them financially when needed.
Irish Catholics were popular targets for stereotyping in the 19th century. According to historian George Potter, the media often stereotyped the Irish in America as being boss-controlled, violent (both among themselves and with those of other ethnic groups), voting illegally, prone to alcoholism and dependent on street gangs that were often violent or criminal. Potter quotes contemporary newspaper images:
"You will scarcely ever find an Irishman dabbling in counterfeit money, or breaking into houses, or swindling; but if there is any fighting to be done, he is very apt to have a hand in it." Even though Pat might "'meet with a friend and for love knock him down,'" noted a Montreal paper, the fighting usually resulted from a sudden excitement, allowing there was "but little 'malice prepense' in his whole composition." The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati in 1853, saying that the "name of 'Irish' has become identified in the minds of many, with almost every species of outlawry," distinguished the Irish vices as "not of a deep malignant nature," arising rather from the "transient burst of undisciplined passion," like "drunk, disorderly, fighting, etc., not like robbery, cheating, swindling, counterfeiting, slandering, calumniating, blasphemy, using obscene language, &c."
The Irish had many humorists of their own, but were scathingly attacked in political cartoons, especially those in Puck magazine from the 1870s to 1900; it was edited by secular Germans who opposed the Catholic Irish in politics. In addition, the cartoons of Thomas Nast were especially hostile; for example, he depicted the Irish-dominated Tammany Hall machine in New York City as a ferocious tiger.
The stereotype of the Irish as violent drunks has lasted well beyond its high point in the mid-19th century. For example, President Richard Nixon once told advisor Charles Colson that "[t]he Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can't drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish."
Discrimination against Irish Americans differed depending on gender. For example, Irish women were sometimes stereotyped as "reckless breeders" because some American Protestants feared high Catholic birth rates would eventually result in a Protestant minority. Many native-born Americans claimed that "their incessant childbearing [would] ensure an Irish political takeover of American cities [and that] Catholicism would become the reigning faith of the hitherto Protestant nation." Irish men were also targeted, but in a different way than women were. The difference between the Irish female "Bridget" and the Irish male "Pat" was distinct; while she was impulsive but fairly harmless, he was "always drunk, eternally fighting, lazy, and shiftless". In contrast to the view that Irish women were shiftless, slovenly and stupid (like their male counterparts), girls were said to be "industrious, willing, cheerful, and honest—they work hard, and they are very strictly moral".
Americans believed that Irish men, not women, were primarily responsible for any problems that arose in the family. Even Irish people themselves viewed Irish men as the cause of family disintegration whereas women were "pillars of strength" that could uplift their families out of poverty and into the middle class. In this sense, Irish women were similar to their American counterparts as mothers with moral authority.
There were also Darwinian-inspired excuses for the discrimination of the Irish in America. Many Americans believed that since the Irish were Celts and not Anglo-Saxons, they were racially inferior and deserved second-hand citizenship. The Irish being of inferior intelligence was a belief held by many Americans. This notion was held due to the fact that the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.
Sense of heritage
Many people of Irish descent retain a sense of their Irish heritage. Article 2 of the Constitution of Ireland formally recognizes and embraces this fact:
|“||…the Irish Nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.||”|
Irish independence from Great Britain encouraged the hope that descendants of Irish abroad who had retained a cultural connection and identified with Ireland would resettle there, as opposed to attracting immigrants from other cultures in other countries. One member of an Irish government of the early republic expressed his hope as follows:
|“||I do not think [the Irish Free State] will afford sufficient allurements to the citizens of other States ... The children of Irish parents born abroad are sometimes more Irish than the Irish themselves, and they would come with added experience and knowledge to our country....||”|
A sense of exile, diaspora, and (in the case of songs) even nostalgia is a common theme. The modern term "Plastic Paddy" generally refers to someone who was not born in Ireland and is separated from his closest Irish-born ancestor by several generations but still considers themselves "Irish". It is occasionally used in a derogatory fashion towards Irish Americans, in an attempt to undermine the "Irishness" of the Irish diaspora based on nationality and (citizenship) rather than ethnicity. The term is freely applied to relevant people of all nationalities, not solely Irish Americans.
Some Irish Americans were enthusiastic supporters of Irish independence; the Fenian Brotherhood movement was based in the United States and in the late 1860s launched several unsuccessful attacks on British-controlled Canada known as the "Fenian Raids". The Provisional IRA received significant funding for its paramilitary activities from Irish expatriates and Irish American supporters—in 1984, the US Department of Justice won a court case forcing the Irish American fund-raising organization NORAID to acknowledge the Provisional IRA as its "foreign principal".
Irish Catholic Americans settled in large and small cities throughout the North, particularly railroad centers and mill towns. They became perhaps the most urbanized group in America, as few became farmers. Areas that retain a significant Irish American population include the metropolitan areas of Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most new arrivals of the 1830–1910 period settled. As a percentage of the population, Massachusetts is the most Irish state, with about a quarter of the population claiming Irish descent. The most Irish American towns in the United States are Scituate, Massachusetts, with 47.5% of its residents being of Irish descent; Evergreen Park, Illinois, with 39.6% of its 19,236 residents being of Irish descent; Milton, Massachusetts, with 44.6% of its 26,000 being of Irish descent; and Braintree, Massachusetts with 46.5% of its 34,000 being of Irish descent. (Weymouth, Massachusetts, at 39% of its 54,000 citizens, and Quincy, Massachusetts, at 34% of its population of 90,000, are the two most Irish cities in the country. Squantum, a peninsula in the northern part of Quincy, is the most Irish neighborhood in the country, with close to 60% of its 2600 residents claiming Irish descent.)
Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago have historically had neighborhoods with higher percentages of Irish American residents. Regionally, the most Irish American states are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey in 2013. In consequence of its unique history as a mining center, Butte, Montana, is also one of the country's most thoroughly Irish American cities. Smaller towns, such as Greeley, Nebraska (population 466), with an estimated 51.7% of the residents identifying as Irish American as of 2009-13 were part of the Irish Catholic Colonization effort of Bishop O'Connor of New York in the 1880s.
- California- 2,533,235 (6.6%)
- New York- 2,372,949 (12.1%)
- Pennsylvania- 2,116,816 (16.6%)
- Texas- 1,864,979 (7.1%)
- Florida- 1,748,243 (8.9%)
- Ohio- 1,567,480 (13.5%)
- Illinois- 1,512,793 (11.7%)
- Massachusetts- 1,416,607 (21.2%)
- New Jersey- 1,260,260 (14.2%)
- Michigan- 1,084,145 (11.0%)
- North Carolina- 870,065 (8.8%)
- Virginia- 808,058 (9.8%)
- Georgia- 797,450 (8.0%)
- Missouri- 796,431 (13.2%)
- Indiana- 765,236 (11.6%)
- Washington- 762,478 (10.9%)
- Tennessee- 688,884 (10.6%)
- Maryland- 645,930 (10.9%)
- Colorado- 622,188 (11.8%)
- Wisconsin- 612,483 (10.7%)
- Arizona- 612,413 (9.2%)
- Minnesota- 576,914 (10.6%)
- Connecticut- 557,128 (15.5%
- Kentucky- 536,668 (12.2%)
The states with the top percentages of Irish:
- Massachusetts (21.2%)
- New Hampshire (20.5%)
- Maine (18.0%}
- Vermont (18.0%)
- Rhode Island (17.9%)
- Delaware (16.7%)
- Pennsylvania (16.6%)
- Connecticut (15.5%)
- West Virginia (14.8%)
- New Jersey (14.2%)
- Montana (14.0%)
- Iowa (13.6%)
- Ohio (13.5%)
- Missouri (13.2%)
- Nebraska (13.2%)
- Kansas (12.4%)
- Kentucky (12.2%)
- New York (12.1%)
- Oregon (12.1%)
- Colorado (11.8%)
- Wyoming (11.8%)
- Illinois (11.7%)
- Indiana (11.6%)
- Oklahoma (11.5%)
- Michigan (11.0%)
- Washington (10.9%)
- Maryland (10.9%)
- Wisconsin (10.7%)
- Arkansas (10.7%)
- Tennessee (10.6%)
- Minnesota (10.6%)
- South Dakota (10.4%)
Irish Americans in politics and government
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2009)|
The United States Declaration of Independence contained 56 delegate signatures. Of the signers, eight were of Irish descent. Three signers, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith, were born in Ireland; the remaining five Irish Americans, George Read, Thomas McKean, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Charles Carroll, were the sons or grandsons of Irish immigrants. Though not a delegate but the secretary at the Congress, Charles Thompson, also Irish American, signed as well. The Constitution of the United States was created by a convention of 36 delegates. Of these, at least six were Irish American. George Read and Thomas McKean had already worked on the Declaration, and were joined by John Rutledge, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, and Thomas Fitzsimons. The Carrolls and Fitzsimmons were Catholic, the remainder Protestant.
After the early example of Charles Lynch, the Catholic Irish moved rapidly into law enforcement and built hundreds of schools, colleges, orphanages, hospitals, and asylums. Political opposition to the Catholic Irish climaxed in 1854 in the short-lived Know Nothing Party.
By the 1850s, the Irish were already a major presence in the police departments of large cities. In New York City in 1855, of the city's 1,149 policemen, 305 were natives of Ireland. Within 30 years, Irish Americans in the NYPD were almost twice their proportion of the city's population. Both Boston's police and fire departments provided many Irish immigrants with their first jobs. The creation of a unified police force in Philadelphia opened the door to the Irish in that city. By 1860 in Chicago, 49 of the 107 on the police force were Irish. Chief O'Leary headed the police force in New Orleans, and Malachi Fallon was chief of police of San Francisco.
The Irish Catholic diaspora are very well-organized and since 1850 have produced a majority of the leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church, labor unions, the Democratic Party in larger cities, and Catholic high schools, colleges and universities. Al Smith and later John F. Kennedy were political heroes to many Irish Americans. Al Smith, who lost to Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidential election, was the first Irish Catholic to run for president. From the 1830s to the 1960s, Irish Catholics voted 80–95% Democratic, with occasional exceptions like the election of 1920. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who inspired the term "McCarthyism", is a notable Republican exception to the Irish-American connection with the Democratic Party.
Today, Irish politicians are associated with both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan boasted of his Irishness. Historically, Irish Catholics controlled many city machines and often served as chairmen of the Democratic National Committee, including County Monaghan native Thomas Taggart, Vance McCormick, James Farley, Edward J. Flynn, Robert E. Hannegan, J. Howard McGrath, William H. Boyle, Jr., John Moran Bailey, Larry O'Brien, Christopher J. Dodd, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine. In Congress, the Irish are represented in both parties; currently, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Maria Cantwell of Washington are Irish Americans serving in the United States Senate. Exit polls show that in recent presidential elections Irish Catholics have split about 50–50 for Democratic and Republican candidates; large majorities voted for Ronald Reagan. The pro-life faction in the Democratic party includes many Irish Catholic politicians, such as the former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn and senator Bob Casey, Jr., who defeated Senator Rick Santorum in a high visibility race in Pennsylvania in 2006.
Many major cities have elected Irish American Catholic mayors. Indeed, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, Newark, New York City, Omaha, Scranton, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Saint Paul, and San Francisco have all elected natives of Ireland as mayors. Chicago, Boston, and Jersey City, New Jersey have had more Irish American mayors than any other ethnic group. The cities of Milwaukee (Tom Barrett; 2004-), St. Paul (Chris Coleman; 2006-), Jersey City (Jerramiah Healy; 2004-), Northampton, Massachusetts (Clare Higgins; 2000-), Rockford, Illinois (Lawrence Morrissey; 2005-), Scranton (Christopher Doherty; 2002-), and Seattle (Michael McGinn; 2009-) currently (as of 2006[update]) have Irish American mayors. Pittsburgh mayor Bob O'Connor died in office in 2006. New York City has had at least three Irish-born mayors and over eight Irish American mayors. The most recent one was County Mayo native William O'Dwyer, elected in 1949.
The Irish Protestant vote has not been studied nearly as much. Since the 1840s, it has been uncommon for a Protestant politician to be identified as Irish. In Canada, by contrast, Irish Protestants remained a cohesive political force well into the 20th century with many (but not all) belonging to the Orange Order. Throughout the 19th century, sectarian confrontation was commonplace between Protestant Irish and Catholic Irish in Canadian cities.
American presidents with Irish ancestry
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|This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2011)|
A number of the presidents of the United States have Irish origins. The extent of Irish heritage varies. For example, Chester Arthur's father and both of Andrew Jackson's parents were Irish-born, while George W. Bush has a rather distant Irish ancestry. Ronald Reagan's father was of Irish ancestry, while his mother also had some Irish ancestors. John F. Kennedy had Irish lineage on both sides. Within this group, only Kennedy was raised as a practicing Roman Catholic. Current President Barack Obama's Irish heritage originates from his Kansas-born mother, Ann Dunham, whose ancestry is Irish and English. His Vice President Joe Biden is also an Irish-American.
- Andrew Jackson
- 7th President 1829–37: He was born in the predominantly Irish and Scotch Irish Waxhaws area of South Carolina two years after his parents left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. A heritage centre in the village pays tribute to the legacy of "Old Hickory", the People's President. Andrew Jackson then moved to Tennessee, where he served as governor.
- James Knox Polk
- 11th President, 1845–49: His ancestors were among the first Ulster-Scots settlers, emigrating from Coleraine in 1680 to become a powerful political family in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He moved to Tennessee and became its governor before winning the presidency.
- James Buchanan
- 15th President, 1857–61: Born in a log cabin, which has been relocated to his old school in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. The Buchanans were originally from Deroran, near Omagh in County Tyrone, where the ancestral home still stands.
- Andrew Johnson
- 17th President, 1865–69: His grandfather left Mounthill, near Larne in County Antrim around 1750 and settled in North Carolina. Johnson worked there as a tailor and ran a successful business in Greeneville, Tennessee, before being elected Vice President. He became President following Abraham Lincoln's assassination.
- Ulysses S. Grant
- 18th President, 1869–77: The home of his maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson, at Dergenagh, County Tyrone, is the location for an exhibition on the eventful life of the victorious Civil War commander who later served two terms as President. Grant visited his ancestral homeland in 1878.
- Chester A. Arthur
- 21st President, 1881–85: His election was the start of a quarter-century in which the White House was occupied by men of Ulster-Scots origins. His family left Dreen, near Cullybackey, County Antrim, in 1815. There is now an interpretive centre, alongside the Arthur Ancestral Home, devoted to his life and times.
- Grover Cleveland
- 22nd and 24th President, 1885–89 and 1893–97: Born in New Jersey, he was the maternal grandson of merchant Abner Neal, who emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s. He is the only president to have served non-consecutive terms.
- Benjamin Harrison
- 23rd President, 1889–93: His mother, Elizabeth Irwin, had Ulster-Scots roots through her two great-grandfathers, James Irwin and William McDowell. Harrison was born in Ohio and served as a brigadier general in the Union Army before embarking on a career in Indiana politics which led to the White House.
- William McKinley
- 25th President, 1897–1901: Born in Ohio, the descendant of a farmer from Conagher, near Ballymoney, County Antrim, he was proud of his ancestry and addressed one of the national Scotch-Irish congresses held in the late 19th century. His second term as president was cut short by an assassin's bullet.
- Theodore Roosevelt
- 26th President, 1901–09: His mother, Mittie Bulloch, had Ulster Scots ancestors who emigrated from Glenoe, County Antrim, in May 1729. Roosevelt praised "Irish Presbyterians" as "a bold and hardy race." However, he is also the man who said: "But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts 'native' before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen." (Roosevelt was referring to political nativists, not American Indians, in this context.)
- William Howard Taft
- 27th President 1909–13
- Woodrow Wilson
- 28th President, 1913–21: Of Ulster-Scot descent on both sides of the family, his roots were very strong and dear to him. He was grandson of a printer from Dergalt, near Strabane, County Tyrone, whose former home is open to visitors.
- Warren G. Harding
- 29th President 1921–23
- Harry S. Truman
- 33rd President 1945–53
- John F. Kennedy
- 35th President 1961–63 (Limerick and County Wexford)
- Richard Nixon
- 37th President, 1969–74: The Nixon ancestors left Ulster in the mid-18th century; the Quaker Milhous family ties were with County Antrim and County Kildare.
- Jimmy Carter
- 39th President 1977–1981 (County Antrim and County Derry): One of his maternal ancestors, Brandon McCain, emigrated from County Derry to America in 1810.
- Ronald Reagan
- 40th President 1981–89: He was the great-grandson, on his father's side, of Irish migrants from County Tipperary who came to America via Canada and England in the 1840s. His mother was of Scottish and English ancestry.
- George H. W. Bush
- 41st President 1989–93 (County Wexford): historians have found that his now apparent ancestor, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, shunned by Henry II, offered his services as a mercenary in the 12th-century Norman invasion of Wexford in exchange for power and land. Strongbow married Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, the Gaelic king of Leinster.
- Bill Clinton
- 42nd President 1993–2001: He claims Irish ancestry despite there being no documentation of any of his ancestors coming from Ireland.
- George W. Bush
- 43rd President 2001–09: One of his five times great-grandfathers, William Holliday (a British merchant living in Ireland), was born in Rathfriland, County Down, about 1755 and died in Kentucky about 1811–12. One of the President's seven times great-grandfathers, William Shannon, was apparently born somewhere in County Cork about 1730, and died in Pennsylvania in 1784.
- Barack Obama
- 44th President 2009–present: Some of his maternal ancestors came to America from a small village called Moneygall, in County Offaly. His ancestors lived in New England and the South and, by the 1800s, most were in the Midwest.
Vice Presidents of Irish descent
Other presidents of Irish descent
Irish-American Justices of the Supreme Court
Contributions to American culture and sport
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2011)|
The annual celebration of Saint Patrick's Day is a widely recognized symbol of the Irish presence in America. The largest celebration of the holiday takes place in New York, where the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade draws an average of two million people. The second-largest celebration is held in Boston. The South Boston Parade is one the nation's oldest, dating back to 1737. Savannah, Georgia, also holds one of the largest parades in the United States.
Since the arrival of nearly two million Irish immigrants in the 1840s, the urban Irish police officer and firefighter have become virtual icons of American popular culture. In many large cities, the police and fire departments have been dominated by the Irish for over 100 years, even after the ethnic Irish residential populations in those cities dwindled to small minorities. Many police and fire departments maintain large and active "Emerald Societies", bagpipe marching groups, or other similar units demonstrating their members' pride in their Irish heritage.
While these archetypal images are especially well known, Irish Americans have contributed to U.S. culture in a wide variety of fields: the fine and performing arts, film, literature, politics, sports, and religion. The Irish-American contribution to popular entertainment is reflected in the careers of figures such as James Cagney, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, John Ford, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly, Tyrone Power, Ada Rehan, Jena Malone, and Spencer Tracy. Irish-born actress Maureen O'Hara, who became an American citizen, defined for U.S. audiences the archetypal, feisty Irish "colleen" in popular films such as The Quiet Man and The Long Gray Line. More recently, the Irish-born Pierce Brosnan gained screen celebrity as James Bond. During the early years of television, popular figures with Irish roots included Gracie Allen, Art Carney, Joe Flynn, Jackie Gleason, Luke Gordon and Ed Sullivan.
Since the late days of the film industry, celluloid representations of Irish Americans have been plentiful. Famous films with Irish-American themes include social dramas such as Little Nellie Kelly and The Cardinal, labor epics like On the Waterfront, and gangster movies such as Angels with Dirty Faces, Gangs of New York, and The Departed. Irish-American characters have been featured in popular television series such as Ryan's Hope, Rescue Me and Blue Bloods.
Prominent Irish-American literary figures include Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, author and poet Edgar Allan Poe, social realist James T. Farrell, and Southern Gothic writer Flannery O'Connor. The 19th-century novelist Henry James was also of partly Irish descent. While Irish Americans have been underrepresented in the plastic arts, two well-known American painters claim Irish roots. 20th-century painter Georgia O'Keeffe was born to an Irish-American father, and 19th-century trompe-l'œil painter William Harnett emigrated from Ireland to the United States.
The Irish-American contribution to politics spans the entire ideological spectrum. Two prominent American socialists, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, were Irish Americans. In the 1960s, Irish-American writer Michael Harrington became an influential advocate of social welfare programs. Harrington's views profoundly influenced President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. Meanwhile, Irish-American political writer William F. Buckley emerged as a major intellectual force in American conservative politics in the latter half of the 20th century. Buckley's magazine, National Review, proved an effective advocate of successful Republican candidates such as Ronald Reagan.
Notorious Irish Americans include the legendary New Mexico outlaw known as Billy the Kid, whose real name was supposedly Henry McCarty. Many historians believe McCarty was born in New York City to Famine-era immigrants from Ireland. Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary, was an Irish immigrant, as was madam Josephine Airey, who also went by the name of "Chicago Joe" Hensley. New Orleans socialite and murderess Delphine LaLaurie, whose maiden name was Macarty, was of partial paternal Irish ancestry. Irish-American mobsters include, amongst others, George "Bugs" Moran, Dean O'Banion, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Howie Winter and Whitey Bulger. Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy, had an Irish-born great-grandmother by the name of Mary Tonry. Colorful Irish Americans also include Margaret Tobin of RMS Titanic fame, scandalous model Evelyn Nesbit, dancer Isadora Duncan, San Francisco madam Tessie Wall, and Nellie Cashman, nurse and gold prospector in the American West.
The wide popularity of Celtic music has fostered the rise of Irish-American bands that draw heavily on traditional Irish themes and music. Such groups include New York City's Black 47, founded in the late 1980s, blending punk rock, rock and roll, Irish music, rap/hip-hop, reggae, and soul; and the Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, nearly a decade later. The Decemberists, a band featuring Irish-American singer Colin Meloy, released "Shankill Butchers", a song that deals with the Ulster Loyalist gang of the same name. The song appears on their album The Crane Wife. Flogging Molly, led by Dublin-born Dave King, are relative newcomers building upon this new tradition.
The Irish brought their native games of handball, hurling and Gaelic football to America. Along with camogie, these sports are part of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The North American GAA organization is still very strong.
Irish Americans can be found among the earliest stars in professional baseball, including Michael "King" Kelly, Roger Connor (the home run king before Babe Ruth), Eddie Collins, Roger Bresnahan, Ed Walsh and New York Giants manager John McGraw. The large 1945 class of inductees enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown included nine Irish Americans. Also of Irish descent, Walter O'Malley was a real estate businessman and majority team owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He moved the team to Los Angeles in 1958 in a deal to bring major league baseball to California, and he convinced the New York Giants baseball team owners to move to San Francisco. The O'Malley family owned the Dodgers until they sold the team in 1998.
Other prominent Irish Americans in sport include NFL quarterbacks and Super Bowl champions John Elway and Tom Brady, NBA forward Rick Barry, who is considered to be one of the greatest small forwards of all time, tennis greats Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, boxing legend Jack Dempsey, world champion pro surfer Kelly Slater, national champion skier Ryan Max Riley, and legendary golfer Ben Hogan.
Irish Americans have also been prominent in comedy. Notable comedians of Irish descent include Jackie Gleason, George Carlin, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien, Denis Leary (holds dual American and Irish citizenship), Colin Quinn, Charles Nelson Reilly, Bill Maher, Molly Shannon, Kathleen Madigan, Jimmy Fallon, Des Bishop, and Jim Gaffigan, among others.
Boston and Philadelphia have the two largest Irish American populations in the country. There are Irish neighborhoods scattered all throughout Boston, most notably South Boston. Many of Philadelphia's Irish neighborhoods are located in the Northeast Philadelphia section of the city, neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia, and a few in the South Philadelphia section, most notably the Pennsport neighborhood. There are large Irish populations in the Boston and Philadelphia metropolitan areas as well.
- 69th Infantry Regiment (New York)
- Carroll family
- Irish American Athletic Club
- Irish American Cultural Institute
- Irish-American Heritage Month
- Irish Brigade (U.S.)
- Irish Mob
- Irish Race Conventions
- Irish Whales
- List of Americans of Irish descent
- List of Irish-American Medal of Honor recipients
- Saint Patrick's Battalion
- South Shore (Massachusetts)
- "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States (DP02): 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
- Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (New York: Broadway Books, 2004), front flap: 'More than 27 million Americans today can trace their lineage to the Scots, whose bloodline was stained by centuries of continuous warfare along the border between England and Scotland, and later in the bitter settlements of England's Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland.' ISBN 0-7679-1688-3
- James Webb, Secret GOP Weapon: The Scots Irish Vote, Wall Street Journal (23 October 2004). Accessed 7 September 2008.
- "Rank of States for Selected Ancestry Groups with 100,000 or more persons: 1980". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "1990 Census of Population Detailed Ancestry Groups for States". United States Census Bureau. 18 September 1992. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "Ancestry: 2000". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- "Total ancestry categories tallied for people with one or more ancestry categories reported 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 30 November 2012.
- Kutler, S. (2003). Irish Americans, pp. 423–426.
- Dolan, Jay P. (2008). The Irish Americans: A History. Bloomsbury Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-59691-419-3.
- Carroll, Michael P. American Catholics in the Protestant Imagination.
- Langan, Sheila. "Shock survey shows Irish Americans are more Protestant than Catholic".
- Philip Robinson, The Plantation of Ulster, St. Martin's Press, 1984, pp. 52–55
- Scholarly estimates vary, but here are a few: "more than a quarter-million", Fischer, David Hackett, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America Oxford University Press, USA (March 14, 1989), pg. 606; "200,000", Rouse, Parke Jr., The Great Wagon Road, Dietz Press, 2004, pg. 32; "...250,000 people left for America between 1717 and 1800...20,000 were Anglo-Irish, 20,000 were Gaelic Irish, and the remainder Ulster-Scots or Scotch-Irish...", Blethen, H.T. & Wood, C.W., From Ulster to Carolina, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 2005, pg. 22; "more than 100,000", Griffin, Patrick, The People with No Name, Princeton University Press, 2001, pg 1; "200,000", Leyburn, James G., The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, University of North Carolina Press, 1962, pg. 180; "225,000", Hansen, Marcus L., The Atlantic Migration, 1607–1860, Cambridge, Mass, 1940, pg. 41; "250,000", Dunaway, Wayland F. The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, Genealogical Publishing Co (1944), pg. 41; "300,000", Barck, O.T. & Lefler, H.T., Colonial America, New York (1958), pg. 285.
- Leyburn, James G., The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, Univ of NC Press, 1962, pp. 184–255.
- James Webb, Born Fighting, Broadway Books (2004), pgs 253-264.
- Philip H. Bagenal, The American Irish and their Influence on Irish Politics, London, 1882, pp 12–13.
- Leyburn, James G., The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, Univ of NC Press, 1962, pp. 327–334.
- Jim Webb. Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. p. 15.
- Collins, R. M. (2010). Irish Gandy Dancer: A tale of building the Transcontinental Railroad. Seattle: Create Space. p. 198. ISBN 978-1-4528-2631-8.
- Rouse, Park, Jr. (2004). The Great Wagon Road. Dietz Press. ISBN 0-87517-065-X.
- Leyburn, James (1962). The Scotch-Irish, A Social History. University of North Carolina. pp. 317–319.
- Wakin, Edward. Enter the Irish-American. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2002. (pg. 47-55, 65, 157) ISBN 0-595-22730-9
- Niehaus, Earl F. The Irish in New Orleans, 1800-1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965.
- James T. Fisher (2002). Communion of Immigrants: A History of Catholics in America. Oxford University Press. pp. 45–46.
- Patrick W. Carey (2004). Catholics in America: A History. Greenwood. p. 43.
- Kelly, Joseph (2001). "Charleston's Bishop John England and American Slavery". New Hibernia Review 5 (4): 48–56. doi:10.1353/nhr.2001.0063.
- Gleeson, David T. (2001). The Irish in the South, 1815–1877. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 192–193. ISBN 0-8078-2639-1. OCLC 46685227. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
- Bryan P. McGovern, John Mitchel: Irish Nationalist, Southern Secessionist. (University of Tennessee Press, 2009. ISBN 1-57233-654-4)
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