History of Irish Diaspora

The History of Irish Diaspora

Mass migration of the Irish peaked during the the Great Famine (An Gorta Mor) or commonly known as the Potato Famine of 1845-1850.

The Famine in Ireland

With potatoes being the main source for food the famine had disastrous effect all over Ireland and with the failure of the then British rulers to help with the food shortage and the exporting of grain to pay landlords their rent Ireland became practically un-liveable which was the main reason for Irish diaspora during 1800’s Ireland.

It is believed that over a million Irish people died from starvation and disease such as cholera and typhus and for those who did survive would face eviction for not being able to pay rent, approx over 500,000 Irish people were evicted by landlords. Most of these people ended up in Government poor houses which helped the rate of disease to rise dramatically killing many.

Millions of Irish leave Ireland

Famine ship the Jeanie JohnstonDuring the Potato Famine in the 1800’s over two million people fled Ireland to try and make a new life in the United States and Canada. Most of the ships the Irish travelled in were in extremely poor conditions and were named as coffin ships. Many Irish people died travelling in these coffin ships not having the chance for a better life in Canada and the United States after leaving Ireland. The Jeanie Johnston is a perfect example of the famine ships that were used during the 1800’s.

People generally think of Irish immigration to America or more specifically Irish immigration to Boston but Just as important was the Irish migration to Canada. During 1815 many tradesmen from Ireland travelled to Saint John, New Brunswick to start the backbone for the workforce of the city and between 1845-1854 seen over 30,000 Irish people leave Ireland to make Saint John their new home.

Those that were lucky enough escape Ireland and to survive the long travels in the coffin ships to Canada the hardship for them didn’t stop there. With very little money and practically no food most Irish immigrants moved onto the United States in search for better opportunities. For the Irish that did settle in Canada most worked for cheap wages and helped expand the Canadian economy by the building of bridges and other buildings between 1850 and 1860.

Within a five year period over 100,000 Irish people travelled from Ireland to Boston to search for work and a better life style but were mostly met by hostility and racism with local business’s posting “No Irish Need Apply” on their windows. The Irish were determined to stay in Boston and the United States and quickly proved to locals that Irish people were extremely dedicated hard workers and even future Irish generations made it to the Oval Office at the Whitehouse.

The rate of the Irish leaving dropped dramatically when the Ireland potato famine cleared and although numbers dropped the Irish didn’t stop immigrating. To this day hundreds of Irish people migrate yearly across the world from Ireland to other countries such as Britain, United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia and many other countries which is probably why so many people have such a great connection with Ireland.

As you can imagine the Irish potato famine and migration to America, Canada and other places like Germany played a huge part in the history of Ireland and also the Irish Culture. Today this history is taught in many Irish schools to help educate the younger generation in what hardships their past country people had gone through.

This article was first published on 26-07-2010 and last modified on 26-10-2015.

About the Author

Brian O’Neill
With a passion for traditional music Brian is never one to miss a good session. When not studying for exams he spends his time playing the bodhrán, something he's be doing since a kid.Brian is a regular contributor and author for YourIrish.com