History of Irish Diaspora

The History of Irish Diaspora

Mass migration of the Irish peaked during 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 a disastrous effect all over Ireland. The failure of the then British rulers exporting grain to pay landlords Ireland became practically unlivable. Food shortage and starvation became the primary drive for diaspora during 1800’s Ireland.

Over 1 million Irish people died from starvation and diseases, such as cholera and typhus. For those who survived faced 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, dramatically increasing the rate of disease and death.

Millions of Irish leave Ireland

Famine ship the Jeanie JohnstonDuring the Potato Famine in the 1800s, over 2 million people fled Ireland to try and make a new life in the United States and Canada. Most of the ships used were in extremely poor conditions and were dubbed ‘coffin ships.’

The Jeanie Johnston is a perfect example of the famine ships that were used during the 1800s.

People generally think of Irish emigration to America, but just as important was the Irish emigration to Canada. During 1815 many tradesmen from Ireland traveled 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 travel to Canada the hardship for them didn’t stop there. With very little money and practically no food, most Irish moved onto the United States in search for better opportunities. For the Irish that did settle in Canada, they worked for low wages. They helped expand the Canadian economy by the building of bridges and other buildings between 1850 and 1860.

No Irish Need Apply

Within a five year period over 100,000 Irish people traveled from Ireland to Boston to search for work but were mostly met by hostility and racism. The Irish were determined to stay in Boston and quickly proved to locals they were dedicated hard workers,  future generations made it to the Oval Office at the Whitehouse.

The rate of the Irish leaving dropped dramatically when famine cleared and although numbers dropped the Irish didn’t stop emigrating. To this day hundreds of Irish people emigrate yearly to places such as Britain, the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Australia. A reason why so many people have such a great connection with Ireland.

Last updated March 2, 2020.

About the Author

Brian O’Neill
Camera shy Brian is a proud Donegal man and regular contributor to our site.