Irish American

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Irish Americans are residents or citizens of the United States who claim Irish ancestry; the term usually refers to Roman Catholics. The term Scotch-Irish is usually used to designate Protestants whose ancestors came from Ireland. Some Scotch-Irish also consider themselves Irish American. Including the Scotch-Irish, Irish Americans currently make up roughly 15% of all Americans. The political tension between Green (Catholic) and Orange (Protestant) Irish led to violence in the 1870s, but slowly faded away.

Many Protestant Irish settlers moved to America during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. During and after the Irish potato famine of the 1840s millions of Catholics came to North America. Many went to Canada since Britain had a vested interest in populating its colonies. The disease ridden ships referred to as coffin ships landed at Grosse Ile, Quebec for quarantine. Many never made it off the island. For economic and sometimes sociological reasons, many soon moved south to the United States.

Irish descendants retain a very strong sense of their Irish heritage. The Catholics were enthusiastic supporters of Irish independnce; after that was achieved in 1922, the American Irish generally lost interest in the politics of the old country, but maintained a sense of exile, diaspora, and (in the case of songs) even nostalgia.

Irish Americans are found in cities throughout the United States; very few went to rural areas. Strongholds include the metropolitan areas of New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco, where most new arrivals of the 1830-1910 period settled. As a percentage of the population, the most Irish American town in the United States is Milton, Massachusetts, with 43% of its 26,000 or so residents being of Irish descent. New York, Boston, and Chicago have neighborhoods with higher percentages of Irish-American residents. Regionally, the most Irish-American part of the country remains central New England.

Common stereotypes of Irish-Americans include perceptions of them as being more prone to alcoholism and as having shorter tempers than other ethnic groups (Witness the idiom: "To get one's Irish up"). The Irish themselves firmly believed there was strong Protestant prejudice against them. Irish circulated the false story that many employers would ward off Irish jobseekers by posting signs reading "HELP WANTED - IRISH NEED NOT APPLY". No such signs have ever been found by historians or archivists and there is no evidence any ever existed in the U.S. (there are fakes sold on Ebay, which carry the curious date of Sept 11, 1915.) Extensive computerized research into newspapers has found only one job ad for men that included this slogan (it appeared in 1854). In fact Protestant businessmen borrowed millions of dollars to build factories and railroads that depended on Irish labor. There is no evidence whatever of systematic job discrimination against Irish. Irish women dominated the market for domestic servants in most large cities. The Irish insisted on sticking together and told exaggerated tales of discrimination to hold their people in line. 19th century commentators frequently mentioned that Irish neighborhoods were characterized by very high levels of drunkenness and violence, but those reports diminished as the Irish moved upwards on the social scale, led by the middle class "lace curtain" Irish typified by the Kennedy family of Boston. Irish leaders soon took control of the Catholic Church in most of the U.S., and the Democratic party in many large cities. Throughout the 20th century about half the leaders of organized labor were Irish Catholics.

In American popular culture, it is common to fictionally portray police officers and firefighters as being Irish-American, stemming from the group's disproportionate involvement in the nation's civil-service departments; to the present-day, 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. The Irish American way of life has also been chronicled in the modern media, most notably in movies such as The Brothers McMullen, the labor epic On the Waterfront and on television in series such as Ryan's Hope.

Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated across the United States as a day of celebration of all things Irish and faux-Irish. Parades, parties, and other festive events mark the day, and many Americans become voluntarily "Irish for a day" to herald the occasion.

New York City has more people that claim Irish heritage than Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland and the largest city on Ireland.

Irish Americans had the same sort of stigma from ties with the Irish Republican Army, as Italian Americans did from their relationship with the Mafia of Sicily. It is because of this, that many families in America are composed of both heritages.

Major Irish-American Communities

See also

External Links


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