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...
Bibliography: Carpenter, Richard P. "The sadness of saying goodbye Ireland exhibit recalls the era of emigration." Boston Globe 12 Oct 1997, City Edition ed.: M.9.
Carpenter, Richard P. "The Irish and Saint John." Boston Globe 10 May 1998, City Edition ed.: M.12.
Guinnane, Timothy W. "The Great Irish Famine and Population: The Long View." The American Economic Review May 1994: 303-308.
Hatten, Timothy J; Williamson, Jeffrey G. "After the Famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850-1913." The Journal of Economic History Sep. 1993: 575-600.
Phillips, Barbara D. "TV: 'The Irish in America '." Wall Street Journal 26 Jan 1998, Eastern Edition ed.: pg 1.
Moran, Gerard. Sending Out Ireland 's Poor: Assisted Emigration to North America in the Nineteenth Century. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004.
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