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Autor:   •  December 12, 2010  •  1,930 Words (8 Pages)  •  881 Views

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Sean Halpin

RST 223

April 12, 2006

Dr. Dennis Castillo

The Irish Movement across the Atlantic

The Irish Potato Famine

During the 1800's, the Irish population relied heavily on the farming and eating of potatoes grown on land that was not owned by them. The land they cultivated and grew their crops on was owned by strangers. In 1845, a catastrophic blight struck potato crops all over Ireland. The sudden wilting of all potato crops lasted five years and brought about starvation, disease, and death. This also brought massive immigration to North America. These immigrants from Ireland came not only to Ellis Island in New York, but also to Gross Isle near Quebec, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They settled on the east coast of the United States and in the British North America, which became modern day Canada. With them, the Irish brought their heritage, customs, and religious backgrounds.

The potato, a crop that is very nutritious and easy to grow in the wet, Irish soil crowed out the oats and wheat in the Irish diet. More than three million Irish men, women, and children ate nothing but potatoes in the years before the potato famine. As Ireland's population tripled in size in the years before the famine, many people were driven to the mountains and bogs in search of land. Many also left their homeland in search of new land in other countries, especially across the Atlantic Ocean. The Irish were among the first European settlers to North America in the early 1600's, and from the 1700's through the 1900's many more arrived. During the mid 1800's there was a major increase in immigration from Ireland to North America due to the potato famine that plagued the country. According to the journal article, After the Famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850-1913, between 1850 and 1913 more than 4.5 million men and women left Ireland for a new life overseas . This was after the potato famine; however, many were seeking greater opportunity that North America had to offer.

Their Journey across the Atlantic

Many Irish people did not have the means to make the trip across the Atlantic Ocean as a family. Many would travel by themselves in order to establish themselves and send funds back to Ireland to help the rest of the family to pay for the trip. However, many were able to come to North America as indentured servants. They were contracted to work for another for a specified time, in exchange for learning a trade or for travel expenses. Many Irish also traveled to Australia to escape ruined Ireland. These immigrants consisted mostly of Irish convicts. It would take them some time, but they would eventually make it to North America.

The Irish immigrants left Ireland, first on coffin ships and then on steamers. The first ships were called coffin ships because they were overcrowded, full of diseased, and seasick, passengers, as well as bodies of the deceased. The immigrants feared a watery grave if they did not make it to North America alive, however many arrived weakened beyond recovery. These voyages lasted from four to six weeks, depending on how rough the seas were. This also caused many problems because of the lack of food aboard the ships. Many would pass the time by forming friendships with other immigrants. There was even a musical group that formed aboard a ship, consisting of four members of the crew and four passengers . Through all of this, the Irish's indomitable human spirit had shone through all of the adversity.

According to many researchers, depopulation of Ireland would have happened as a result of changing external economic conditions . There was a growing demand for workers in Britain and in North America. However, the famine's direct impact on the Irish population was considerable. Although the changing economic conditions started the depopulation of Ireland, the famine was a significant reason why millions of Irish people left their homeland. Many Irish people left Ireland after the end of the famine because they feared that recurrence

of it.

North American Living

Unfortunately, due to the multitudes of Irish immigrants that came to North America, the facilities to house these people were few and far between. The housing that was available was expensive and overcrowded. The overflow of Irish settled in backyards and alleys that surrounded houses in the cities. They built wooden shacks in order to stay out of the sometimes harsh environment. People also lived in cellars with low ceiling that flooded often, old warehouses and other buildings that were abandoned. These abandoned building were converted to homes by putting up wood partitions that offered little to no privacy.

Life was very difficult in North America for the early immigrants. According to Timothy W. Guinnane, the huge upturn in emigration during the famine deposited a large number of Irish people in the fastest-growing industrial economy of the 19th Century, North America. Although they traveled to the land of opportunity, they were unable to find work because they were farmers. They had no apparent skills that would benefit employers. The opportunities that were available to immigrants in North America were primarily skilled trades. However, some Irish immigrants were able to find work as domestic servants. Women and children would work for other families in order to survive. Single Irish women found work as cooks and maids in houses belonging to wealthy families. Many lived inside the homes in the servants' quarters and enjoyed a standard of living luxurious compared to the life they had known in Ireland. The women were cheerful, kind-hearted, hard working and thrifty, always managing to save a little money out of their salary for those back in Ireland.

Irish males went to work providing the backbreaking labor needed to build canals and roads in the rapidly expanding country. They also ran factories, built railroads in the West, and worked in mines. The massive Erie Canal project, for example, was built by Irishmen working from dawn till dusk for a dollar-a-day. They hand dug their way westward through the rugged wilderness of upstate New York. The 363 mile-long canal became the main east-west commerce route and encouraged America's early economic growth by considerably lowering the costs of getting goods to the markets.

Religious Persecution

During the 1700's, many of the immigrants were mostly Presbyterians from the north of Ireland, the so-called "Scotch-Irish."


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