Irish-American: Wikis


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Irish Americans
Famous Irish Americans
Cyrus McCormickMaureen O'HaraRonald Reagan
John F. KennedyMother JonesGeorge M. Cohan
James BraddockMichael J. McGivneyJames Michael Curley
Victor HerbertEugene O'NeillEd Sullivan
Cyrus McCormickMaureen O'HaraRonald Reagan
Total population

Self-identified "Irish"
36,278,332 [1]
11.9% of the US population (2008)
Self-identified "Scotch-Irish"
1.2% of the US population
Regions with significant populations
Throughout the entire Northeast, the West Coast, But also in the west coast, much of the South and Midwest, cities of Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, Los Angeles

American English, Irish


Roman Catholic
Episcopalian (Anglicanism)

Related ethnic groups

Irish people, Irish British, Irish Canadians, Irish Mexicans, Welsh Americans, Cornish Americans, Scots-Irish Americans

Irish Americans (Irish: Gael-Mheiriceánaigh) are citizens of the United States who trace their ancestry to Ireland and the Irish people. An estimated total of 36,278,332 Americans — over 11.9% of total population—reported some Irish ancestry in the 2008 American Community Survey.[3] The only self-reported ancestral group larger than Irish Americans are German Americans.[3] In addition another 3.5 million Americans identify more specifically with Scots-Irish ancestry. The Irish are widely dispersed in terms of geography, and occupations. Their political leaders have played a major role in local and national politics since the days of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s and John F. Kennedy in the 1960s.


Immigration to America


18th Century

Irish settlers in America during the colonial period were primarily families from the province of Ulster, who in America later became known as the "Scotch-Irish". These were descendants of Scottish and English tenant farmers who had been relocated to Ireland during the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.[4] Approximately a quarter of a million Irish from Ulster arrived in America between 1720 and 1775, out of a total colonial population of about 3 million. They settled mainly in the colonial "back country" of the Appalachian Mountain region, and became the prominent ethnic strain in the culture that developed there.[5] 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".[6] The descendants of these families had a great influence on the later culture of the United States, particularly 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.[7]

These early immigrants and their descendants at first usually referred to their origins simply as "Irish", without the qualifier "Scotch". It was not until a century later, following the surge in Irish immigration after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, that the descendants of the earlier arrivals began to be commonly referred to as "Scotch-Irish" to distinguish them from the newer, predominantly Catholic and often destitute, immigrants from Ireland. The two groups had little interaction in America, as the Scotch-Irish were predominantly Protestant and had become settled years earlier largely in upland regions of the American South, while the new wave of Irish American families settled primarily in northern coastal cities such as Boston, New York, or Chicago - though many of the newer immigrants migrated individually to the interior for work on large-scale 19th century infrastructure projects such as canals and railroads.[8]

19th century and later

The Chicago River, dyed green for the 2005 St. Patrick's Day celebration.

Irish Catholics had been migrating to the United States in moderate numbers even before the American Revolution, some as ordinary domestic servants, some as indentured servants, or as a result of penal deportations; but their numbers had greatly increased by the 1820s as migrants, mostly males, became involved in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast.[9] The large Erie Canal project was one such example where Irishmen were the majority of the laborers. Small but tight communities developed in growing cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Providence.

Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States, and two-thirds of these Irish immigrants were Catholic. This trend reached its peak in 1840, when nearly half of all immigrants to the United States originated from Ireland.[10]

Fleeing from the Great Irish Famine (or Great Hunger, Irish: An Gorta Mór) of 1845-1849, large numbers of Irish came to The U.S. and Canada. Many died en route due to disease. As a result the vessels they travelled on became known as coffin ships.[9]

Nearly a third of all Irish emigrants during this period emigrated to Canada. Having only a tenth the population of the United States, the large influx of so many in a disease stricken state had a large impact. Although the greater portion of these arrivals stayed in Canada, particularly in Toronto and Ontario, a significant number moved on to the United States to join the quickly-growing Irish American communities, some after staying in Canada for only a few years.

Gravestone in Boston Catholic cemetery erected in memory of County Roscommon native born shortly before The Great Famine.

Immigrants favored large cities, especially Boston and New York, as well as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish heritage than Dublin's whole population.[11] Even today, many of these cities still retain a substantial Irish American community.

During the American Civil War, Irish Americans volunteered in high numbers for the Union army, and at least thirty-eight Union regiments had the word "Irish" in their title.[citation needed] However, conscription was resisted by the Irish and others as an imposition on liberty.[citation needed] When the conscription law was passed in 1863, draft riots erupted in New York. The New York draft coincided with the efforts of 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 exemption from service, while more established New Yorkers receiving better pay were able to hire substitutes and avoid the draft.[12] 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, and/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.[13][14] The Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, which provided shelter for hundreds of children, was attacked by a mob, although the police were able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow orphans to escape.[15] [16]

After 1860, Irish Catholic immigration continued, mainly due to family reunification, mostly to the industrial town and cities where Irish American neighborhoods had previously been established.

The majority of Irish immigrants spoke English; some were bilingual or native speakers of Irish. The highest number of Irish Gaelic speakers in New York City was between the years 1878-99 which was estimated at 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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]


Before 1800 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.

After 1840 most Irish Catholic immigrants went directly to the cities, mill towns, and railroad or canal construction sites in the east coast. In upstate New York, the Great Lakes area, the Midwest and the Far West, many became farmers or ranchers.[20] In the East, the laborers were hired by Irish labor contractors to work in "labor gangs" as manual laborers on canals, railroads, streets, sewers and other construction projects, particularly in New York state and New England. Large numbers moved to New England mill towns, such as Holyoke, Lowell, Taunton, Brockton, Fall River, and Milford, Massachusetts, where Protestant owners of textile mills welcomed the new low-wage workers. They took the jobs previously held by Yankee Protestant women known as Lowell girls. A large fraction of Irish Catholic women took jobs as maids in middle class households and hotels.

Large numbers of unemployed Irish Catholics lived in squalid conditions in the new city slums.[21]

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. After 1945, the Catholic Irish consistently ranked toward the top of the social hierarchy, thanks especially to their high rate of college attendance.[22]


The Irish Catholics quickly found employment in the police departments, fire departments and other public works of major cities, largely in the North East and around the Great Lakes. By 1855, according to New York Police Commissioner George W. Matsell, himself an Englishman having been born in Liverpool, England in 1806, 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 Alderman.[23] 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 century, five out of six NYPD officers were Irish born or of Irish descent. As late as 1960s, even after minority hiring efforts, 42% of the NYPD were Irish Americans.[24]

Irish Catholics continue to be prominent in the law enforcement community, especially in New England. When the Emerald Society of the Boston Police Department was formed in 1973, half of the city's police officers became members.


The disproportionate number of Irish-American Catholic women who entered the job market, particularly as teachers, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Boston to San Francisco resulted from the role of public education in famine-stricken Ireland. Irish schools prepared young single women, who comprised a large number of those forced out of Ireland, 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.[25]


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 mid-19th century and later. 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, Baptist and Methodist traditions, as well.[26]

Surveys in the 1990s show that of Americans who identify themselves as "Irish," 51% said they were Protestant and 36% Catholic. In the South, Protestants account for 73% of those claiming Irish origins, while Irish Catholics account for 19%. In the North, 45% of those claiming Irish origin are Catholic, while 39% are Protestant.[27]


The religious distinction became important in the 1840s, when for the first time large numbers of Irish Catholics appeared in America. The Protestants redefined themselves as "Scotch Irish", to stress their historic origins in Protestant Scotland, and distanced themselves from newcomers.[28] Protestant Irish became active in explicitly anti-Catholic organizations such as the Orange Institution and the American Protective Association. Indeed tensions between the Catholic and Protestant Irish in America escalated into violence, typified by the Philadelphia riots of 1844[29], and the Orange Riots in New York City in 1871 and 1872[30]. In the southern strongholds of the Protestant Irish, hostility to Catholic presidential candidates Al Smith in 1928 and John F. Kennedy in 1960 became central to those elections, as Democrats deserted their traditional party to vote Republican. Irish Catholics meanwhile gave overwhelming support to Smith and Kennedy.


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.[31]

In Boston 1810-40 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 thousand 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.[32]

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.[33]

In the 1840s Hughes crusaded against the Public School Society of New York, denouncing it 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 memory of British oppression, while their antagonists were dominated by the English Protestant historic phobia against 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 the 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.[34]

Irish Jesuits established a network of colleges in major cities, including Boston College, Fordham, and Georgetown. Boston College was established in 1863 to appeal to urban Irish Catholics. It offered a rather limited intellectual curriculum since the Jesuits of the late 19th century were wary of the radically changing world and limited intellectual study to Thomistic philosophy. The priests prioritized spiritual and sacramental activities over intellectual pursuits. One consequence was that Harvard Law School would not admit Boston College graduates to its law school. Jesuit leadership with modern scholarship became their hallmark in the 20th century.[35]

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.[36] 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.[37].


Surveys in the 1990s reveal that most Americans claiming Irish origin are Protestant. 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.[38] By about 1810, Baptist and Methodist churches were in the majority, and the descendants of the Scotch-Irish today remain predominantly Baptist or Methodist.[39] 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 not because they are attached to the place called Ireland but 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.[40] The strongly held religious beliefs of the Scotch-Irish led to the emergence of the Bible Belt, where evangelical Protestantism continues to play a large role today.


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 Woodrow Wilson.[41]

Out on the frontier, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the Muskingum Valley in Ohio established a 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.[42]

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 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 Theological 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.[43]


1862 song that used the "No Irish Need Apply" slogan. It was copied from a similar London song.[44]

Catholics and Protestants kept their distance; intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants was uncommon, and strongly discouraged by both ministers and priests.[45]

Public schools used the King James Version of the Bible, which Catholics were forbidden to read.[46] One response was the creation of a Catholic parochial school system. These elementary and high schools as well as numerous Catholic colleges, allowed Irish youth to be educated without contact with public school teachers or students.

Prejudice against Irish Catholics in the US reached a peak in the mid-1850s with the Know Nothing Movement, which tried to oust Catholics from public office. The image was widespread of Irish drinking, fighting, ignoring their children, gambling, and crowding poorhouses.

New York Times want ad 1854–the only New York Times ad with NINA for men.

After 1860 --and well into the 20th century--the Irish believed that Protestants refused to hire them, and claimed that "HELP WANTED - NO IRISH NEED APPLY" was in operation. The called these "the NINA signs." NINA signs were common in London in the early 1800s, and the memory of this discrimination in Britain was imported to the US. After 1860 the Irish sang songs (see illustration) about NINA signs, and these songs have had a deep impact on the Irish sense of discrimination. One NINA notice has been found in US history--the one shown in the New York Times ad of 1854, leading some historians to argue that actual job discrimination was minimal.[44]

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.


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.[47]

The Irish had many humorists of their own, but were scathingly attacked in German American cartoons, especially those in Puck magazine from the 1870s to 1900. In addition, the cartoons of German American Thomas Nast were especially hostile; for example, he depicted the Irish-dominated Tammany Hall machine in New York City as a ferocious tiger.[48]

Irish settlement in the South

During the colonial period, Scotch-Irish Protestants settled in the southern Appalachian backcountry and in the Carolina piedmont.[49] They became the primary cultural group in these areas, and their descendents were in the vanguard of westward movement into Tennessee and Kentucky, and across the Mississippi into Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. By the 1800s, through intermarriage with other settlers of English and German origin, the descendents of the Scotch-Irish lost any identification with their origins in Ireland. "This generation of pioneers...was a generation of Americans, not of Englishmen or Germans or Scotch-Irish".[50]

Irish Catholics concentrated in a few medium-size cities where they were highly visible, such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. They became local leaders in the Democratic party, favored the Union in 1860, but became staunch Confederates in 1861.

John England, a native of Ireland in 1820 became the first Catholic bishop in the chiefly Protestant city of Charleston, South Carolina. During the 1820s-1830s, England defended the Catholic minority against nativist prejudices. In 1831 and 1835, the bishop established free schools for black girls and boys. In 1835, riled by the propaganda of the American Anti-Slavery Society, a mob raided the Charleston post office and the next day turned its attention to England's school for 'children of color.' Alerted, England led Charleston's Irish Volunteers to protect the school. Yet soon after this, when all schools for 'free blacks' were closed in Charleston, England acquiesced, thus divorcing Catholicism in Charleston from abolitionism.[51]

Starting as low skilled manual laborers, they achieved average or above average economic status by 1900. As one historian explains:

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 Irish endorsement of slavery and the efforts of the Irish to preserve the South as "a white man's country" after emancipation only endeared them further to southerners. The Catholicism practiced by Irish immigrants was of little concern to Southern natives.[52]

Sense of heritage

Irish Republican mural in South Boston, Massachusetts.

Catholics of Irish descent retain a sense of their Irish heritage. A sense of exile, diaspora, and (in the case of songs) even nostalgia is a common theme. It is unclear to what extent the sense of kinship with Ireland is embraced or resented by the actual citizens of Ireland, now that the country is strengthening its ties to Europe and becoming increasingly multi-racial. The term "Plastic Paddy", meaning someone who was not born in Ireland and who is separated from their closest Irish-born ancestor by (often) many generations, but who still likes to think of themselves as "Irish", is occasionally used in a derogatory fashion towards Irish Americans[53][54][55]. The term is freely applied to relevant people of all nationalities, not solely Irish Americans.

Many 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 a group of Irish American supporters — in 1984, the US Department of Justice won a court case forcing the Irish American fundraising organization NORAID to acknowledge the Provisional IRA as its "foreign principal".[56]


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.[57] Areas that retain a significant Irish American population include the metropolitan areas of Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, 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.[58] The most Irish American town in the United States is Milton, MA, with 38% of its 26,000 or so residents being of Irish descent. Boston, New York, and Chicago have neighborhoods with higher percentages of Irish American residents. Regionally, the most Irish American part of the country remains central New England. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Delaware are the three states in which Irish heritage is the most dominant. Interestingly, in consequence of its unique history as a mining center, Butte, Montana is also one of the country's most thoroughly Irish American cities. Greeley, Nebraska (population 527) has the highest percentage of Irish American residents (43%) of any town or city with a population of over 500 in the United States. The town was part of the Irish Catholic Colonization effort of Bishop O'Connor of New York in the 1880s.

Population density of people born in Ireland, 1870; these were mostly Catholics; the older Scots Irish immigration is not shown.

Irish in politics and government

After the early example of Charles Lynch, the Catholic Irish moved rapidly into law enforcement, and (through the Catholic Church) 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 Catholics were 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. 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.[59]

The Irish Catholic diaspora have a reputation for being very well organized,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] John F. Kennedy was their greatest political hero.[citation needed] 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% Democrat, with occasional exceptions like the election of 1920. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who inspired the term "McCarthyism", is a very notable Republican exception to the Irish-American connection with the Democratic Party.

Today, most Irish Catholic politicians are associated with the Democratic Party, although some became Republican leaders, such as former GOP national chairman Ed Gillespie, former House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King and the late Congressman Henry Hyde. Ronald Reagan boasted of his Irishness (the son of an Irish Catholic father, he was raised as a Protestant). 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. The majority of Irish Catholics in Congress are Democrats; currently Susan Collins of Maine is the only Irish Catholic Republican senator. 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.[60] 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.[61]

Distribution of Irish Americans according to the 2000 Census

In some states such as Connecticut, the most heavily Irish communities now tend to be in the outer suburbs and generally support Republican candidates, such as New Fairfield.

Many major cities have elected Irish American Catholic mayors. Indeed, Boston, Cincinnati, Ohio, Houston, Texas, Newark, New York City, Omaha, Nebraska, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Saint Louis, Missouri, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 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 Chicago, Baltimore, Maryland, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Oakland, California, Omaha, St. Paul, Jersey City, Rochester, New York, Northampton, Massachusetts, Springfield, Massachusetts, Rockford, Illinois, San Francisco, Scranton, Seattle and Syracuse, New York currently (as of 2006) have Irish American mayors. All of these mayors are Democrats. 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.

Presidents of Irish descent

United States President John F. Kennedy laying a wreath at Commodore John Barry Memorial in Wexford, Ireland in 1963.
United States President Ronald Reagan speaking to large crowd in his ancestral home in Ballyporeen, Ireland in 1984.

A number of the Presidents of the United States have Ulster Scots origins[62], with a smaller number descended from ancestors from other Irish ethnicities. 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 partial Irish ancestry,[63] while his mother had some Scots-Irish ancestors. President Kennedy had more recent Irish lineage. 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 [64] while his father, Barack Obama, Sr. was a Kenyan[64]

  1. Andrew Jackson, 7th President 1829-37 (County Antrim)[65]
  2. James Knox Polk, 11th President 1845-49 (County Londonderry)[citation needed]
  3. James Buchanan, 15th President 1857-61 (County Tyrone)[citation needed]
  4. Andrew Johnson, 17th president 1865-69 (County Antrim)[citation needed]
  5. Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President 1869-77 (County Tyrone)[66]
  6. Chester A. Arthur, 21st President 1881-85 (County Antrim)[67]
  7. Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President 1885-89, 1893-97 (County Antrim)[citation needed]
  8. Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President 1889-93 (County Down)[citation needed][68]
  9. William McKinley, 25th President 1897-1901 (County Antrim)[citation needed]
  10. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president 1901-09 (County Antrim)[citation needed][69]
  11. William Howard Taft, 27th President 1909-13[70][71]
  12. Woodrow Wilson, 28th President 1913-21 (County Tyrone)[citation needed]
  13. Warren G. Harding, 29th President 1921-23[72]
  14. Harry S. Truman, 33rd President 1945-53[73][74]
  15. John F. Kennedy, 35th President 1961-63 (County Wexford)
  16. Richard Nixon, 37th President 1969-74 (County Antrim) & (County Kildare)[citation needed]
  17. Ronald Reagan, 40th President 1981-89 (County Tipperary) [75]
  18. Bill Clinton, 42nd President 1993-2001 (County Fermanagh)[citation needed] [76]
  19. Barack Obama, 44th President 2009- (County Offaly) [64][77]

Other presidents of Irish descent

Irish-American Justices of the Supreme Court

Contributions to American culture and sport

The annual celebration of Saint Patrick's Day may be the most widely recognized symbol of the Irish presence in America. In cities throughout the United States, this traditional Irish religious holiday becomes an opportunity to celebrate all things Irish, or things believed to be "Irish". 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 also holds one of the largest parades in the United States.

Since the arrival of tens of thousands of Irish immigrants in the 1840s, the urban Irish cop 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 populations in those cities of Irish extraction dwindled down 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,[80] Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly, Tyrone Power, Ada Rehan, and Spencer Tracy. Irish-born actress Maureen O'Hara,[80] 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, and Ed Sullivan. Comedians such as Stephen Colbert, George Carlin, Jane Curtin, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Murray, Kathy Griffin, and Conan O'Brien have often reflected humorously on their Irish-American roots.

Since the early 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 and Rescue Me.

Prominent Irish-American literary figures include Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, social realist James T. Farrell, mystery writer Raymond Chandler, 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. Twentieth-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. Socially conservative Irish immigrants generally recoiled from radical politics, and in the early 1950s, a disproportionate percentage of Irish Americans supported Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist "witchhunt". Nevertheless, 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.

There have been a number of notorious Irish Americans, including the legendary New Mexico outlaw known as Billy the Kid, whose real name was supposedly Henry McCarty.[81][82] Many historians believe McCarty was born in New York City to Famine-era immigrants from Ireland.[81][82] 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'Bannion, and Jack "Legs" Diamond. Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy had an Irish-born great-grandmother by the name of Mary Tonry.[83] Colorful Irish Americans also include Margaret Tobin of 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, recently released Shankill Butchers, a song that deals with the Ulster Loyalists the "Shankill Butchers". The song appears on their album The Crane Wife. Flogging Molly, lead 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 handball and camogie, these sports are part of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The North American GAA organisation 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 NY Giants manager John McGraw. The large 1945 class of inductees enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown included nine Irish Americans. In 2008, Foley's NY Pub & Restaurant created the Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame to honor contributions to the game by manager Connie Mack; players Sean Casey, Tug McGraw, and Mark McGwire; journalists Red Foley and Jeff Horrigan; actor Kevin Costner; broadcaster John Flaherty; and NY Mets groundskeeper Pete Flynn.

Irish-American communities

See also


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  2. ^ U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Census". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
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  5. ^ Leyburn, James G., The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, Univ of NC Press, 1962, ppg. 184-255.
  6. ^ Philip H. Bagenal, The American Irish and their Influence on Irish Politics, London, 1882, pp 12-13.
  7. ^ James Webb, Born Fighting, Broadway Books (2004), pgs 253-264.
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  10. ^ "Irish-Catholic Immigration to America". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-04-13. 
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  19. ^ Gray, Patricia Bellew (2006-04-12). "'Tis True: Irish Gaelic Still Charms". New York and Region. New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  20. ^ E.g., the Breens of the Donner-Reed Party, who went from Canada to Iowa to California.
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  45. ^ "Mixed marriages," as they were called, were allowed in rare cases, were warned against repeatedly, and were uncommon; Jay P. Dolan, The American catholic Experience (1985) p. 228
  46. ^ According to Canon Law, Catholics were prohibited from reading Bibles published by non-Catholics. Charles Augustine, A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law (1921) v. 6 p. 467
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  61. ^ Prendergast (1999), p. 1.
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General surveys

  • Fanning, Charles (1990/2000). The Irish Voice in America: 250 Years of Irish-American Fiction. Lexington: The University of Kentucky Press. ISBN 0813109701
  • Glazier, Michael, ed. (1999). The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0268027552
  • Meagher, Timothy J. (2005). The Columbia Guide to Irish American History. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231120708
  • Miller, Kerby M. (1985). Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195051874
  • Negra, Diane (ed.) (2006). The Irish in Us. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. ISBN 0822337401
  • Quinlan, Kieran (2005). Strange Kin: Ireland and the American South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 9780807129838
  • Merryweather (nee Green), Kath (2009). The Irish Rossiter: Ancestors and Their World Wide Descendents and Connections. Bristol UK: Irishancestors4u. ISBN 9780956297600

Catholic Irish

  • Anbinder, Tyler (2002). Five Points: The Nineteenth-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum. New York: Plume ISBN 0452283612
  • Bayor, Ronald; Meagher, Timothy (eds.) (1997) The New York Irish. Baltimore: University of Johns Hopkins Press. ISBN 0801857643
  • Blessing, Patrick J. (1992). The Irish in America: A Guide to the Literature and the Manuscript Editions. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 0813207312
  • Clark, Dennis. (1982). The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience (2nd Ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 0877222274
  • Diner, Hasia R. (1983). Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801828724
  • English, T. J. (2005). Paddy Whacked: The Untold Story of the Irish American Gangster. New York: ReganBooks. ISBN 0060590025
  • Erie, Steven P. (1988). Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840—1985. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0520071832
  • Ignatiev, Noel (1996). How the Irish Became White. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415918251
  • McCaffrey, Lawrence J. (1976). The Irish Diaspora in America. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America ISBN 0813208963
  • Meagher, Timothy J. (2000). Inventing Irish America: Generation, Class, and Ethnic Identity in a New England City, 1880-1928. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. ISBN 0268031541
  • Mitchell, Brian C. (2006). The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821–61. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 025207338X
  • Mulrooney, Margaret M. (ed.) (2003). Fleeing the Famine: North America and Irish Refugees, 1845–1851. New York: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 027597670X
  • Noble, Dale T. (1986). Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819561673
  • O'Connor, Thomas H. (1995). The Boston Irish: A Political History. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 9781568526201
  • O'Donnell, L. A. (1997). Irish Voice and Organized Labor in America: A Biographical Study. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Protestant Irish

  • Blaustein, Richard. The Thistle and the Brier: Historical Links and Cultural Parallels Between Scotland and Appalachia (2003).
  • Blethen, Tyler; Wood, Curtis W. Jr.; Blethen, H. Tyler (Eds.) (1997). Ulster and North America: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Scotch-Irish. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817308237
  • Cunningham, Roger (1991). Apples on the Flood: Minority Discourse and Appalachia. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0870496298
  • Fischer, David Hackett (1991). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0195069056
  • Ford, Henry Jones (1915). The Scotch-Irish in America. full text online
  • Griffin, Patrick (2001). The People with No Name: Ireland's Ulster Scots, America's Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689–1764. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691074623
  • Leyburn, James G. (1989). The Scotch-Irish: A Social History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807842591
  • Lorle, Porter (1999). A People Set Apart: The Scotch-Irish in Eastern Ohio. Zanesville, OH: Equine Graphics Publishing. ISBN 1887932755
  • McWhiney, Grady (1988). Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817303286
  • Ray, Celeste. Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South (2001).
  • Webb, James H. (2004). Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America. New York: Broadway. ISBN 0767916883; a controverial interpretation by a novelist (who is now a Senator)

External links



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