The Case of Irish Immigrants

In 1816, Irish immigration to the United States began. Six thousand Irish sailed to America to avoid the effects of war in Ireland (rebellion against British rule was rampant in Ireland during this period). Within two years, the figure doubled. Most of the immigrants were employed in canal projects of the Federal government. Around 5 000 Irish were employed by the US government on four canal projects. Irish labor was also utilized in most of US manufacturing industries. In 1845, a serious blight began appearing among different varieties of Irish potatoes.

It destroyed about 75% of the country’s annual crop output. Since four million Irish depended on potato as their staple food, starvation was rampant. The potato disease returned the next year. An estimated 350 000 people died of starvation resulting to an epidemic (typhus). Even though potato yield increased in the succeeding years, starvation was still prevalent. The 1851 census conducted by the British commissioners for Ireland estimated that over a million people had died during the famine. Thousands of Irish were forced to migrate to the United States to seek better opportunities.

The knew that the United States would offer better working conditions as well as an adequate supply of food than their native land. In addition, the increasing land tax implemented by the British encouraged poverty and crime. There was no alternative except immigration. A significant portion of the Irish immigrants in the United States were women. Between 1861 and 1870, 21. 1 % of all Irish migrants were women between the ages of 15 and 24 (Diner, 1983:33). From 1881 to 1890, 30% were women and 27. 4% men (Diner, 1983:33).

This generally increased during the period 1891 to 1900. Most of these female Irish immigrants came from rural provinces in Ireland. The reason behind this is clear: rural areas offered little opportunities for women. Women in urban areas (like Ulster) made money through a variety of home-made industries. Thus, the propensity of women in rural areas to migrate was much greater than that of women in urban areas. The incorporation of Irish immigrants, especially women, into the US economic system was significant in two counts.

First, Irish labor provided US manufacturers quality labor (since most of the immigrants were skilled laborers) with only a minimal wage (although larger than the wage of blacks). Second, Irish labor stimulated an increase investment in home-based industries at least in some agricultural states of the United States (although the form was modified to suit the economic infrastructure of the United States). This resulted to an increase of export-oriented products (which were bound to China, Japan, and the Philippines).

Partially, it can be said that the development of the US manufacturing sector was the result of increased Irish immigration to the United States. Unlike the descendants of African slaves in the United States, the Irish immigrants faced little discrimination from the white communities. Irish women, for example, often found it interesting to establish bonds with British descent Americans (they worked as maids of native “white” Americans). Their conservative outlook in life (they were Catholics) was concomitant with the worldview of native “white” Americans.

Thus, it can be said that the relationship of Irish immigrants to the native “white” population was better compared to blacks (today, this term is considered derogatory).

References Bohmer, Peter. (2007). Radical Theories of Racism and Racial Inequality: Marxist and Internal Colonialism. Retrieved on October 17, 2007 from http://www. zmag. org/CrisesCurEvts/bohmerrace. htm. Diner, Hasia. (1983). Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. London: John Hopkins Press Limited Sobel, Mechal. (1987). The World They Made Together. Princeton: Princeton University Press.