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irish americans

3 Pages

Course Code
SOC 2280
Linda Hunter

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Irish Americans • The Irish came to the New World as early as Columbus. The wave of newcomers would later swell to the extent that people of Irish descent in the United States today outnumber those living in Ireland by three to one. • The Irish Catholics were an oppressed ethnic group in their native homeland as well as in their adopted homeland, the United States. In the 1640s, when Oliver Cromwell’s English troops defeated the army of Charles Stuart, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, they forced thousand of Irish Catholics off the land to which they had legal title, executed thousands more, and sent others to live in the bleak, infertile western territories of Ireland. Many more were transported as slaves to Virginia. • In the 1690s, the discriminatory Penal Laws were enacted by the British Parliament. These laws reduced the Catholics, a numerical majority (about 75 percent) in Ireland, to the status of minority group. • At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ireland was the most densely populated country in Europe—a situation that would soon change. In the 1820s the first potato crop failure in Ireland occurred, and starvation followed. By the 1840s a much more devastating form of potato blight destroyed almost half of the basic subsistence food crop of the Irish Catholics. Many saw no choice but to abandon their country and move to the United States. This massive movement of people has been referred to as the flight from hunger, and the Irish immigrants of the 1840s and 1850s became known as famine Irish. • The potato famine was one of the greatest disasters of modern Western Europe. In the space of a decade Ireland lost 2.5 million people, probably less than half by migration. Between 1847 and 1850 somewhere between one million and 1.5 million Irish Catholics died while the British government did little to save them. Indeed, it continued to export agricultural products from Ireland and to clear tenants off the land. • The crossing of the Atlantic was a life-threatening experience for the Irish, and those who survived could hope for only a slight improvement in their lives. Many of the ships were called “coffin ships” because they did not supply adequate food and water, they were overcrowded, and they were unsanitary. • The Irish immigrants were exploited from the beginning—even before they got off the ship. “Runners” employed by hotels or saloons boarded the ship and “took charge” of the newcomers’ luggage, bringing it to the hotel for “safekeeping.” Often the immigrants were tricked. The hotels overcharged them for meals or rooms and then took their luggage in payment. Another common fraud practiced by the runners involved the sale of passage tickets; only after the immigrants began their journey did they discover that the tickets were no good, or were good only for part of the distance. • The initial reaction of the dominant group to the Irish was overwhelmingly negative. Although workers were needed in the new nation, the general response of the dominant group to the Irish immigrants was marked by conflict, hostility, violence, and exploitation. The treatment of the Irish was similar to the reception bestowed on the Africans; in fact, it has been argued that the dominant group saw early Irish arrivals as less valuable than slaves. • The Anglos regarded the Irish as dirty, disorganized, confused, and incapable of assimilation. Puritan New England, which was 90 percent Protestant, was particularly hostile to Irish Catholics, characterizing them with negative stereotypes. For example, historian James Ford Rhodes discussed the “hereditary bent” of the Irish toward incest, murder, and rape. Rutherford B. Hayes, who in 1877 would become president of the United States, wrote that “The Negro prejudice is rapidly wearing away, but is still strong among the Irish, and people of Irish parentage and the ignorant and unthinking generally.” • Even though some Irish did come to the New World as slaves, they did not experience the ongoing, institutionalized, and systematic violence that was used to control African and Native Americans. Although direct violence against the Irish immigrants certa
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