Immigration/Irish Immigration term paper 20301

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Irish Immigration: The similarities and differences of migrating in America and Canada

Donald Akenson, in his paper entitled �What is known about the Irish in North America� tried to qualify who the �Irish� people are. He stated that �Irish-born� pertains to people who were born in Ireland and �Irish in North America� as pertaining to the collective experiences of the migrants and their descendants. (Akenson, par. 3). For purposes of this paper, the term �Irish immigrants� will be used to denote people who were born in Ireland and migrated to other country and those of their descendants who may be born in Ireland or in another country where the �Irish-born�( to borrow Donald Akenson�s term) parents migrate.

Ireland once belonged to England as one of its oldest colonies. It became officially absorbed as part of United Kingdom after the Act of Union on January 1, 1801 (Moving Here Ireland in the 19th century, par2). English was the official language of the country. Statistics showed that the percentage of people speaking in Irish decreased to less than 15% by 1891. In terms of economy, Ireland was largely agricultural. People largely depended on potato crop as their main source of livelihood. �By 1840, it has been estimated that 3 million people depended upon the potato, sometimes supplemented by buttermilk, with an adult male consuming up to 6.3 kg (14lbs) a day.� (Moving Here Agriculture, par.4). Poverty is evident in their social class- the laborers who depended on the success of their crop harvest and the unemployed who live in wretched cabins and miserable huts. The living conditions of Irish in the 19th century can be depicted in the common notion of what an Irish notion is. It was stated in an article in the website of Moving here Gallery that the miserable hut of an Irish man consists of �an unpaved clay floor below, a roof of straw and weeds, dank, and soak, and rotting overhead, miserable bed in the corner, an iron pot over a peat fire, a black and filthy sink before the door.� (Moving Here Living Conditions, par.3). To say that Irish people only have a meager amount of income is an understatement. The uncertainty of their lives was similar to the uncertainty of nature where most of them depended.

The potato crop failure known as the Great Famine which hit Ireland from 1845-1850 left many people starving to death. This compelled Irish to leave their country and look for their fate and luck to other countries, mostly in the United States and Canada. �It is estimated that almost one million people died, and almost the same emigrated.� (Moving Here, par.3). Ireland�s population dramatically decreased by 2 million which was from 8 million to 6.5 million from 1841 to 1851. �Early 19th century emigrants tended to come from the more prosperous northern and eastern countries, including Wexford and Dublin.� (Moving Here Other Parts of Ireland, par1). Hence, immigration can be characterized as the people�s mechanism to survive although later discussions would show that the early Irish immigrants or the early settlers experienced poverty, oppression, social injustice, and inequality. To illustrate this, an article entitled Irish Immigrants in America during the 19th Century found in the website of Kinsella indicated that �even as the boat was docking, these immigrants to America learned that life in America was going to be a battle for survival. Hundreds of runners, usually large greedy men, swarmed aboard the ship grabbing immigrants and their bags trying to force them to their favorite tenement house and then exact an outrageous fee for their services. As the poor immigrant had no means of moving on, they settled in the port of arrival. Almshouses were filled with these Irish immigrants. They begged on every street� (par.2). Early settlers in both countries experienced most of the struggles and hardships in establishing their lives in another country but their efforts paid off as their descendants became better educated and skilled.

Irish migrated to prosperous countries such as the United States and Canada (because of cheap fare). A lot of people who migrated to other countries carried with them the disease caused by famine. Almost half of them died while aboard the ships which later on became the origin why they called the ships which carried the immigrants as �coffin ships� The miserable situation was depicted by the written article by James Wharren entitled Almost As Bad as Ireland: The Experience of the Irish Immigrant in Canada, Saint John, 1849. This was how he depicted the situation in his article, �eventually, carpenters, at great risk to their health, constructed two additional fever sheds on Partridge Island, one two stories high, the other one story, and each 100 feet long by 20 feet wide. They were totally unsuitable for hospital purposes, because they were so narrow that there was hardly any space between the beds of the crowded wards. Patients suffering from different stages of fever, and many in a dying state, were often crushed together with convalescents. Usually, they slept on the floor, males and females in the same room; with their chests, boxes and other personal effects scattered around them, congesting the main passageways. One of the buildings had no covering in the outer walls and it was impossible to hire carpenters to complete it because of their fear of the disease. Some patients, therefore, suffered from exposure, especially during inclement weather.� (par.6)

Irish immigrants in both places have struggled to earn a comfortable living and position in the society. Irish immigrants in both places experience oppression because of race and religion. They were seen as unclean and the carrier of diseases in the neighborhood. They accepted dangerous jobs with meager salary and were taken advantage of by employers because of their willingness to do hazardous works which others will not even dream of doing. It was highlighted, though, that the Irish immigrants

in Canada opted to reside in agricultural communities unlike Irish immigrants in the United States who decided to reside in big cities.

Irish immigrants in the United States are seen as living in tiny, crowded places. Hence, the origin of �Irish Community� or the �Shanty towns.� A lot of Irish immigrants were packed in tiny apartments which were meant for single occupancy. Because a lot of the Irish survivors during the Great Famine have grown weak during the entire journey and the struggles that they were facing, people branded Irish immigrants as unclean and carrier of diseases such as Malaria and Dysentery. This can also be attributed to their �cramped� way of living which is very inadequate when it comes to sewage and running water. Fire hazards are likely to happen since their houses are overcrowded and built very near each other. Because Irish immigrants live together with that kind of condition, cleanliness and healthy atmosphere conducive for living are quite impossible. This affected the acceptability of the people for Irish immigrants. It was said that if an Irish family joins a neighborhood, families near them tend to move out because they fear that they would also inhabit the diseases that the Irish immigrants carry with them. They also are not comfortable living with Irish people because of the former�s unclean image and unsanitary and disorganized way of living.

Oppression and social inequality were seen in the way the Irish immigrants in United States were employed. Certain companies and workforce even add to their employment notice and advertisements �NO IRISH NEED APPLY.� Irish people were discriminated and were deprived of equal opportunity to compete with employment ands other services. Irish immigrants started very low in the workforce. Because it was impossible for an Irishman to be accepted in white-collared jobs, they were forced to accept hazardous works in coal mines and constructions. Irish women in America served as servants and domestic helpers while Irish men built bridges, roads, and canals.

Conflict between union laborers in America and Irish immigrants sparked because most employers preferred Irish men who were very much willing to undertake the work even if they only receive a very small wage. Workers who were uncooperative and who demanded for higher salaries were replaced by Irish men who were then called as �being owned by the company itself�. This statement can be heard in an audio recording entitled Immigrant Laborers in the Early 20th Century, which describes �how West Virginia coal operators fired union laborers and gave the jobs to Irish, Italian and African-American workers because, �[the] coal company owned them.� (Irish immigration, par 2). Others who were unemployed resorted to vice, violence, and crime such as alcoholism and robbery. The article entitled Irish Immigrants in America during the 19th century found in Kinsella website cited a comment from Chicago post that �the Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses...Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country." (par. 4).

Aside from the conflict arising in the work force, it was also important to note that Irish immigrants were mostly Catholic and the majority of the Americans were Protestants. The conflict in religion was so intense that it even led to the burning of St. Mary�s Catholic Church in New York in 1831. There were Protestant organizations which even cited in their mission that they will help the country and that no Catholic shall be elected as officer of the organization.

The experiences of the early Irish immigrants in the United States were characterized by unfortunate and disadvantaged situations. Their descendants, however, were able to acquire a better position in the society. Irish workers who were deemed as the first builder of the society hailed positions such as teacher, policeman, and firefighters. Scotch-Irish were better educated and skilled. Later generation of Irish immigrants started to gain influence in writing and politics. US President John F. Kenney was of Irish origin.

Because of the influx of Irish Immigrants to the United States, the government tried to control it by offering cheaper fares in other countries like Canada. Other Irish immigrants who tried to be practical over their situation chose to migrate to Canada

William J Smyth from the University of Ireland, Maynooth has written in his article entitled Irish Background found in Library and Archives in Canada that �approximately one million Irish men landed in Canada in the century before the First World War , three quarters of then before 1855, and almost half a million in the years 1825-1845� (Smyth, par. 2). He also noted on the same article that �the peak of the immigration was during the Famine period in 1847 when more than 100,000 Irish arrived� (Smyth, par. 5). K. J. James from the University of Guelph, Ontario claimed in his article entitled �The Irish in Urban Canada� that �the Irish tended to exert especially heavy influence in British North America, reflecting the fact that, numerically, they often were the largest immigrant group in its towns and cities.� (par.3). Unlike in America, Irish immigrants in Canada where spread out in the countryside. Cecil Houston from University of Windsor, Ontario wrote an article entitled The Rural and Agricultural Context of the Irish-Canadian Experience. In her article, she claimed that �the Irish in Canada recreated the familiarity of an Irish world of rural places and small town services.� (par.6)

Irish immigrants in Canada were seen to settle in agricultural communities and then later on, settled in large cities. One major difference between the Irish immigrants in United States and Canada was the strong agricultural feature of the settlers in Canada. Cecil Houston of University of Windsor, Ontario stated in her article entitled �The Rural and Agricultural Context of the Irish-Canadian Experience� that �Irish men used intensive garden culture and promoted grain culture and animal husbandry� (par. 5). This was despite the memories and the trauma brought about by the Great Famine. She also stated in the same article that �England's imperial needs for fish, timber and grain created the context for most rural Irish settlements: fish for Caribbean plantations co; wood for ships of commerce and war; and wood and grain for mmerce, war and growing industrial towns.� (par.2) To verify the sentiments of the Irish immigrants in Canada who were once again involved in agriculture, Cecil Houston included an article which showed letters of Nathaniel Carrothers, an Irish immigrant who owned a farm in Canada. Carrothers stated in his letters that his living condition in Canada was better because of the abundance in harvest in flowers and plants. He did not need to pay rent and tax collectors only came once to collect money from him which he stated was used to build roads and improve canals and bridges. In a letter dated 1853, Carrothers clearly stated in his letter that �� have been cutting down timber and burning it in the clearing of the land as much as would make a man rich if it was in Ireland as you have heard so much about the clearing of land in Canady�� (par. 3). He also highlighted in his letter that the discovery of oil in 1866 which was worth dollars per barrel at that time. He added in his letter that none of his friends died in Canada. Carrothers might have the Great Famine in mind where the lives of Irish people were mercilessly claimed. A small percentage of those who were unable to survive the difficulty brought by farming moved to major cities. Women still served as servants and domestic helpers.

Irish Immigrants in Canada also suffered from racism and persecution. This can be largely attributed to the difference or conflict in religion. Peter Toner of University of New Brunswick, Saint

John cited in his article entitled Integration of the Irish in Canada that �in Ireland, religion was code for many distinctions of class and power, and to a certain extent, this was brought to Canada by the immigrants. In 1871, one in three Catholic Irish lived in the cities and the major towns, and an analysis of their occupations would confirm that the Catholic Irish were the only candidates for consideration as an urban proletariat.� (par.3). Like the Irish immigrants in the United States, the clash between the Irish Catholics and the Protestants was very evident especially in Ontario which was dominated by the Protestants. This was resolved in New Brunswick in the later half of the 20th century when a secular institution was established which integrated both Irish Catholics and Protestants. An electoral process was also set up in such a way that a representative for each group was chosen.

David A Wilson from the University of Michael�s College, University of Toronto, Canada wrote in his article entitled Law, Order, and the Irish in Mid Nineteenth-century Canada that �when it comes to social violence one of the most graphic example is the Shiner�s War of 1835-1837, when Irish lumbermen joined together to break their French-Canadian competitors and terrorized the Inhabitans of Ontario.� (Wison, par. 3). Irish immigrants in the United States were seen as law breakers filling up the prisoner and jail houses. On the other hand, Wilson in the same article cited that �Irish immigrants in urban centres in Canada were over-represented in prison and in courts� ( Wilson, par.6) .

Just like the immigrants in the United States, Irish immigrants who settled in Quebec and Ontario accepted jobs which were in line with construction. They were hired to build canals, roads, and bridges. However, there were also a considerable number of settlers who decided to cultivate the agricultural land available to them. Seetlers in Quebec lived in a closely-knit working class and built communities both in urban and rural Quebec. In Newfoundland, Irish Catholics settled in cities and were wealthier than the Protestants. Furthermore, they were able get positions and occupations in the society which were higher than the spades and shovels that they used in construction. Irish men became successful merchants and farmers.

Irish immigrants, despite of the detailed description and highlights given to their living conditions in rural Canada, also obtained influence and social importance in urban areas. Irish immigrants in urban areas became string influence in trade, service, and industry and got employed as teachers �especially during the 1830s and 1840s, Irish schoolteachers were common, many having been displaced by the Irish National Schools system.� (Toner, par. 6).

There are a lot of similarities between Irish immigrants in America and Canada there were some noticeable differences also. Irish immigration in history entails a strong and adaptive mechanism to new environment. This is essential to their survival which was initially challenged due to the famine which plagued their country.


Irish Adaptation and Assimilation. Retrieved from

Irish Joining the Workforce. Retrieved from

Akenson, Donald. �What is Known About the Irish in North America.� Retrieved from

Toner, Peter. �Integration of the Irish in Canada� retrieved from

Houston, Cecil. �The Rural and Agricultural Context of the Irish-Canadian Experience� retrieved from

Wilson David. �Law, Order and the Irish in Mid Nineteenth-Century Canada� retrieved from

Lower east side tenement museum. Retrieved from

�Irish Immigrants in America during the 19th century� Retrieved from

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