How The Irish-American Population Ended Up Many Times Larger Than Ireland

Published on 2019-09-17
Irish Americans

Ever seen those “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirts, hats and emblazoned pint glasses floating around in novelty stores? It’s easy to forget about just how many of those claims to an Irish heritage are real in America.


You can still find antique signs put up in pubs and bars across the US that tell potential servers “Irish Need Not Apply.” While that part of American history is generally considered long past, it makes one wonder. How come so many Irish citizens decided to put down roots there in what was once a rather unwelcoming country. Thankfully, the US Census Bureau is there to answer questions like those for inquiring minds.


According to the American Community Survey taken in 2016, there are 32.3 million people in the US who self-identified as Irish-American. That makes up a surprisingly large percentage of a country — 10 percent, to be exact — that’s often called a melting pot. Compare that to the roughly 125,000 foreign-born US residents with Ireland as their birthplace. Perhaps even more surprising is how this number compares to the current population in the country of Ireland itself, a mere 4.78 million. This places the Irish-American population at nearly seven times the size of the nation of their ancestors.


But where did these Irish settlers and immigrants end up once they landed on the shores of the US? If you’re looking at cities, that honor falls to Ocean Bluff-Brant Rock, Massachusetts. Irish-Americans account for almost exactly half of the people living there. State by state, New York is unsurprisingly in the top spot with 2.4 million Irish-Americans making up 12.9 percent of their populace.


Not only is New York one of the densest places in America, but it’s also the site of Ellis Island. It is America’s largest and most used immigration station from the late 1800s on through until a few years before the Great Depression. While mass emigration from Ireland had started decades before, spurred on by events like the Great Famine, it picked up speed as the years passed. From 1820 to 1860, Irish citizens made up a third of all immigrants to the US. By the 1840s, however, they were almost half of the emigrating population


There were a few significant waves of Irish emigration that may explain why they spread as thoroughly through the country as they did. While families certainly made the crossing together, the earlier immigrants were mostly men and the later waves were comprised mainly of women.


For those coming to the US today from Ireland, they often enjoy settling down in cities with a robust Irish-American history. A place like Boston sees plenty of recent immigrants, while in areas like Miami and Texas they’re relatively sparse. Regardless of present immigration, Irish-American heritage (and the celebration of it) is hardly showing signs of slowing down. With tens of millions of people keeping the traditions alive, they’ve become a significant part of America’s history and her present as an ever-evolving and essential piece of the whole. 



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