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There are more Irish people in New England than there is in Ireland. Irish people didn't just appear one day in the United States, though. Most of them emigrated here from Ireland over 55 years ago. Four in five people you meet in New England are at least one-eighth part Irish. It is easy to tell that when the Irish people came here, they didn't come in small groups.

Ireland is a beautiful country in Europe, about the size of Maine. Today, Ireland is mostly populated with middle-class families. Irish is famous for its potatoes, but in 1845 a disease attacked the potato crops. The potatoes were what most of the Irish families lived on. They ate and sold potatoes in order to make a living, so when the potatoes stopped growing, people ran out of money. This is known as "The Great Potato Famine". It was so bad; people were actually starving to death. Two million people died. There was almost no help from the British government. Often people rebelled against the government, angered by its carelessness. Many people didn't want to leave their beloved country, afraid of change. With no food to eat, emigration seemed to be the only solution for most of the population. People often talked about "streets paved with gold" in a country called America. There was said to be many job opportunities in this new country. America seemed like the best choice to settle down and finally start a new life.

The decision to leave Ireland was a difficult one to make, but to avoid starvation many Irish families boarded ships and traveled to America. No Irish families could afford first or second class on the ships, so they were forced to travel steerage. Steerage was the lowest and least expensive class. All the steerage passengers were tightly huddled together with almost no room, wallowing in filth. Many passengers became seasick, but there was no fresh air to at least slightly calm the sickness. The stench was horrible. Both from people who hadn't bathed in weeks, and from the spreading sicknesses and diseases. In the worst ships, no bathrooms were available. So many people died during these voyages, they were often referred to as 'coffin ships'. One ship called the Elizabeth boarded 276 Irish passengers. By the end of the trip, 44 of these passengers had died. When Irish immigrants finally arrived in America, they sang songs and celebrated that the voyage was finally over. Most immigrants were glad to be free from the hated British rule, and were anxious to become American citizens. When Irish immigrants came off the ships, they were often tricked by con-artists called 'runners'. Runners wouldn't hesitate to steal an Irish man's last dime. After loading off the ships, the immigrants were sent to be checked by doctors for various diseases. Some Irish families would be admitted to America, some would not. The immigrants who passed all the tests would be admitted into the country. Then, they would be ready to re-start their lives in the new country.

Most of the Irish people settled in New York City or Boston, and lived in tenements. They shared these tenements with several other families. Back in Ireland, the average house was made entirely from mud. The poor construction of these tenements didn't surprise the Irish; they were used to living in disgusting conditions. However, these quarters did surprise the government officials who were sent to inspect them. The Irish neighborhoods were often described as "wretched" and "unsanitary". Some tenements didn't even have a water supply.



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