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The Coming of The Irish

Updated on February 27, 2020
Irish Proverb
Irish Proverb

The Starving, Poor, Irish Immigrants

The Irish immigrants
The Irish immigrants

Coffin Ship hold

A Coffin Ship's Hold
A Coffin Ship's Hold

A Terrifying Trip Across An Ocean

Could anything be more terrifying than being packed like sardines in 18 inches of bed space in a cold, foul-smelling, dark area in the hold of a ship? They were the pitiful, starving remnants of a proud people who had been suppressed by the British for decades. The journey was long in those years, taking four weeks to cross 3000 miles into the unknown. Many would not make the final voyage, dying of disease and starvation. For those that died on board, their pain ended as they were wrapped in sheets, weighed down, and tossed overboard for burial.

Many had spent their last pennies on tickets to America while few had their passage paid for by their absent landlords. The absent British landlords thought it cheaper to pay the journey than arrange for charity.

Between the years 1845-1855, half of all immigrants to America were the Irish escaping the potato famine. Already 1.5 million had died in Ireland, and some 2 million emigrated to America and Canada. Ireland had now lost one-third of her population. Pictures of mothers, clothes tattered and falling off holding their dying infants begging for food. Wild dogs, starving feeding off hundreds of dead bodies.

The wheat, oats, and barley were unaffected by the devastating potato blight but the Irish were compelled to export these grains to feed the British.

Sir Charles E. Trevelyan (1807-1886) who was in charge of the grains of the British wrote of the plight of the Irish. he said, "this is the judgment of God who sent this calamity to teach the Irish a lesson".

Sir Charles E. Trevelyan

Sir Charles E. Trevelyan
Sir Charles E. Trevelyan

Sultan Khaleefah-Abdul-Majid

Help Was Not Enough

Was anyone willing to help the starving Irish? Sultan Majid asked Queen Victoria if he could send 10,000 to support the Irish. Queen Victoria told him he could only send 1,000 as she had only sent 2,000. He did as he was told but then also sent five ships of food and supplies to the Irish. America did send some aid, but they surely could have done much more.

The blight that caused the Irish famine leaving death and destruction has recently been identified as HERB-1 by scientists. It appears it originated from Mexico's Toluca Valley, through America and over to Ireland. This blight infected the leaves, dried them, leaving an inedible tuber.

Arriving in America

Upon arriving after the long, arduous voyage, they disembarked, tired, weak, some sick, no money, no skills, and a language barrier. Immediately they were preyed upon by "runners" and "man-catchers." These men were to get the unsuspecting immigrants to the tenements and promises to help them get jobs. The Irish had no choice but to follow these men, but eventually, they found their churches and sought refuge and information from the priests. The Irish were a proud race and devoted to their church, and they bound together for strength.

But the public was unaccepting of the Irish. Before long, organizations such as asRough Riders, Star-Spangled Banner, and the Know-Nothings had formed harassing the Catholic Irish. The organizations felt only American born citizens deserved to live here, vote, and work.

In Ellsworth, Maine, they dragged a Jesuit priest into the streets, stripped him, covered him with hot tar and feathered him. In Bath, Maine, they smashed the pews and artifacts in the church, hoisted an American Flag, and set fire to the church. And in Louisville, Kentucky, guarded the election polls preventing the Irish from entering, ransacked their homes and torched them. Although the Know-Nothings formed in 1855, they were abolished by 1860.

By now, Abraham Lincoln was so concerned he drafted a letter to the organization condoning their actions. in that letter, he said that if the Know-Nothings gained control, their motto would be "all men are created equal except Negroes, foreigners, and Catholics." He then said, " we can't let that happen.

Although most of the Irish arrived in America, others came to Canada and Australia. Several ships transported orphan girls. The orphan girls ranged in age from 14-19 from the workhouses of Ireland to work as servants in Melbourne, Australia.

Many of the orphan girls worked for several years, then married and raised their own families staying in Australia.

Cartoons of Irish by Thomas Nash

Irish Cartoon
Irish Cartoon
Irish Cartoon
Irish Cartoon

Cartoons by Thomas Nash

Circulating in the newspapers and flyers, Thomas Nash was ridiculing the Irish as apes, ignorant and unskilled. Many of the Americans were afraid of the Irish taking their jobs and believing their Catholic faith detrimental to America. They were digging trenches, canals, and building railroads. The women were finding work as servants, cleaners, and nannies. All of these jobs were the lowest pay, barely able to sustain the workers.

Irish Railroad worker

Irish Railroad Worker
Irish Railroad Worker

Mass Graves All Over Ireland

Map of unmarked Graves
Map of unmarked Graves
Mass Grave Memorial
Mass Grave Memorial

Ireland's Mass Graves

Still being found even today are the hundreds of the buried Irish. In 2005, during excavations for a commercial building, a mass grave of 1000 unmarked remains were found in Kilkenny. A memorial was placed to honor the dead. In Skibbereen, County Cork, some 9000 men, women, and children, were found in another unmarked grave. A monument was placed in honor of these souls. There is an Irish folk song of Skibbereen where a father is telling his son of the famine, the evictions, and the need to be free.

Lyrics of Irish Folk Song Skibbereen

Folk Song Skibbereen
Folk Song Skibbereen

Irish Becoming Accepted

After years of struggles, the Irish were finally able to be part of society. For years they were discriminated against for their language, faith, and their lack of employable skills. But they were the ones digging canals, trenches, and railroads. They willingly fought in the Civil War and gaining respect from the people.

Many, many monuments have been erected over the years honoring the Irish. Songs have been numerous, histories and novels have been written. St. Patrick's Day is celebrated worldwide, and on that day, it seems everyone is Irish!

A very popular song everyone has heard is the popular "Oh Danny Boy".

Here are a few Irish Proverbs:

May the Wind Always Be At Your Back.

A Good Laugh And A Long Sleep Are The Best Two Cures.

Who Keeps His Tongue Keeps His Friends.

If You're Lucky Enough To Be Irish.....You're Lucky Enough.


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