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Moving Abroad - The Irish Experience

By Edited May 8, 2015 3 10

For generations people have migrated from their homes to other countries. The "New World" was built on the movement of large numbers of people from the "Old World". Some people moved because they wanted the option to practice their religion free from persecution, but many more were forced into moving abroad because they wanted opportunities to get ahead, opportunities that their home countries couldn't provide.

Populations have always moved, though usually not voluntarily. Wars and plagues have seen large numbers of people forced from their homelands to resettle in a new country. In this article I want to examine the history of Irish migration.

The Irish Diaspora 19th Century Migration

Irish Migrants 19th Century

The failure of the Irish potato crop in the 1840's led directly to some one million Irish moving overseas, mainly to the United States. From 1822 to 1852 some 1 to 1.5 million Irishmen moved to the New World. In the worst years of the famine emigration was around 250,000.

The majority of the Irish who left Ireland before and during the famine came from the most poverty stricken part of Ireland, the west. It was not however entire families who emigrated. Instead young men, and in equal numbers women, moved to England, Canada, Australia and the United States. Once they got themselves established they sent back money to bring other members of he family to the new country.

Ireland at that time was an occupied country, in someways worse off that some of the the then rest of the then British Empire, Catholics didn't have freedom of religion and didn't have the ability to make a future for themselves in their own country. The potato famine was the initial impetuous for people to take the one way trip overseas, but subsequent generations made the same leap of faith.

Irish Pub, Sydney, Australia
Irish Continue to Move Abroad in the Twentieth Century

Even though Southern Ireland (Eire) finally got their independence in the 1920's - Ireland was still one of the poorest countries in Europe. Irish continued to migrate overseas often to countries such as Australia, Canada and the US - which to this day have large Irish communities and many Irish pubs. When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 they were one of the poorest members. During the late 1980's Ireland dramatically reduced taxes and decreased regulation, and this together with significant EU infrastructure investment saw a big economic boom and Ireland's first ever labour shortages.

Within the last 15 years many expatriate Irish have returned home and many Europeans from the former Eastern European countries such as Poland have moved to Ireland to take the jobs the Irish no longer want.

Unfortunately the 2008 economic crises and seen Ireland's economic boom come to vary abrupt stop. Unemployment is growing rapidly and it may not be long until Ireland again is a net exporter of people. Already many European immigrants have left but there is now media coverage of young Irish families looking to migrate overseas, or in some cases re-migrate in search of better economic opportunities.

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May 5, 2009 8:57pm
Very interesting article, as an Irish person living in the west of Ireland I have to agree with your prediction of the current recession, currently there are very few or even no jobs available and many of my former workmates and friends have already moved abroad seeking employment.
May 5, 2009 9:08pm
Hi Alana - that's a very Irish name. My brother is married to an Irish lady, they live in Cork - so I have heard a lot about the lack of jobs and the cost of living - he expects his job to go in the next year or so - the only real question is which country to relocate to! I can't believe they are upping taxes and cutting teachers pay (I know its called something different but it was a pay cut anyways) - while the Australian government is giving me A$900 to SPEND - to help the recession!
May 5, 2009 9:15pm
Hi Lissie

Yes the government are doing a lot of bizarre things at the moment, they have also just announced they are cutting a portion of the childrens allowence for everyone, whereas before they had announced it would be means tested, this is going to affect many families....

Cork is a lovely area!

I believe many Irish, and many that I know, are relocating to Australia! no wonder as at least it seems your government are in favour of supporting people during this recession.
May 6, 2009 2:21am
I live in a block of 9 flats - 2 of which are being rented by young Irish couples - its quite hilarious hearing them talk after a beer or 2 - they seemed to adapted to the sun (its 28C here today) and local beer just fine - they got jobs too! Ireland is stunningly beautiful though - we drove the south and west a number of years ago when my brother got married and the soft light truely is extraordinary - you really don't get that here - I wear sunglasses everytime I go outside!
May 8, 2009 8:36pm
Lol, Sun, beer and jobs, Id say they are very happy!
Dec 8, 2009 4:18pm
Gave a thumbs up. My in-laws were from NZ, now living in CA. No comparison they say.
Jan 2, 2010 5:12pm
Understanding the Irish Diaspora is an important part of American history because the arrival of the Famine Irish changed our country's complexion. I appreciated your article, however, I wanted to correct one of your assumptions. During the time of the Potato Famine, the Irish immigrated to America as families, not single adults. From 1846 to 1860, the majority of arrivals came as parents with children. After the Civil War, single women made up the majority of Irish immigrants. Also, I wanted to correct your English. Reference to a country is considered singular, not plural. For instance, when you wrote of Ireland joining the European Union, you said "they" instead of it. Writing correctly gives articles you write more authenticity.
Jan 3, 2010 12:21am
@cruff - I did actually do some research for this article - so I stand by my statement re single people moving to the US first and then bring out their families afterwards. The grammer - live with it - its the Internet - I know the difference I just tend not to proof read throw away articles such as this - fortunately Google doesn't have a grammar checker before they rank my article LOL
Jan 12, 2012 8:12pm
It was quite common for a relative or relatives to emigrate first to the US, and then "claim out" the rest of their family to join them in America when they were in a stable enough situation. You've probably heard of Annie Moore, the fifteen-year-old Irish girl who was the first immigrant processed through Ellis Island. She and her two younger brothers were travelling out unaccompanied to be reunited with their parents, who had left them with relatives in Ireland until they were secure enough to be able to send for them. There is a statue of the three children on Ellis Island, and another on the waterfront at Cobh, Co. Cork, where their journey began.
Jan 3, 2010 12:22am
Oh and PS I see you haven't filled in your profile or actually published anything yet - maybe should see to your own house before you start tossing stones?
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