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Irish American Identity, Essay Example

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Essay

Many people think that the history of the Irish in America began with the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Food shortages in Ireland in the 1840s triggered a mass exodus of Irish to the United States in the 19th Century, but this wave of immigrants was not the first to arrive. In the 1700s, many thousands of Irish emigrated to the United States, often trading with Native Americans as a means of surviving. These immigrants helped to form the backbone of a strong Irish community that would form in the next century.

The massive number of Irish who fled their homeland in the 1800s found that life in the United States was often no easier, and sometimes much harder, than it was in Ireland. Irish immigrants were treated with scorn by the largely Protestant societies that had established themselves over the previous decades since the United States were born. Advertisements for employment often ended with the message “No Irish Need Apply,” and the chances of finding any sort of work were slim for many early immigrants in the 19th Century.

As later immigrants from other parts of the world, such as Italians and Jews, flooded into the United Sates, much of the scorn that had been heaped upon the Irish was transferred to the new ethnic groups. By this time, the Irish had established themselves in the United States, forming a unique national identity that honored both their new home and their beloved homeland of Ireland. As the new ethnic groups struggled to establish themselves in the United States, the Irish began to find acceptance as Americans and the work and other support from society that came with it.

As the Irish began to move towards acceptance in the United States, many of them were called upon to do the heavy labor and manual work that was needed to build the ear;iest infrastructure in the nation. Large projects, such as bridges and railroads, were built with the efforts of thousands of Irish laborers. There was an old saying that “an Irishman is buried under every tie” of many stretches of railroad track. As the Irish cultivated a national identity as hard workers, many of them still opposed abolition of slavery; despite (or maybe because of) the way many of the Irish had been treated, there were those who in turn viewed other ethnic groups –particularly African-American slave- with the same scorn they had received after leaving Ireland for the United States.

Many of the Irish who emigrated to America before the revolutionary war were Protestant. Irish Protestants would later try to distinguish themselves from the poverty-stricken immigrants that arrived in the 1800s, most of whom were Catholic. The Protestant Irish would begin to refer to themselves as “Scotch-Irish,” and the term “Irish” would soon come to refer solely to Catholic Irish.

The Irish Americans of the 1880s would cling tightly to their religious and social connection to the Catholic Church. With Catholicism as the backbone of their new cultural identity as Irish Americans, the Irish would rise to the top of many aspects of American life. Labor, in particular, became a central part of Irish life in the 1800s. The influx of Irish in the 1800s settled first in Philadelphia, and then in New York, Boston, Chicago, and other cities in the North and Northeastern United States. Many of the Irish men worked in mines and industrial jobs, and several secretive organizations (such as the Molly McGuire’s) were formed to give the workers a sense of power. The Molly McGuire’s intimidated, and even killed, mine owners and factory owners who they felt treated Irish laborers unfairly. The Irish developed powerful labor unions as they began to take their place in American society; the Irish would eventually go on to become one of the most powerful and influential ethnic groups in the United States.

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