Paper Sample. Irish Catholic Migration to America in the 1800s

Published: 2023-01-17
Paper Sample. Irish Catholic Migration to America in the 1800s
Type of paper:  Term paper
Categories:  Immigration Christianity Church American history
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1495 words
13 min read

Immigration has existed in the history of America since the 19th century. Most immigrants moved to America in search of better living conditions and to make their dreams come true. The significant Irish migration occurred as a gust in 1845. These immigrants landed in America with only their clothes, a little faith, and the hope of beginning a new life in a foreign nation. Nonetheless, the Irish people had more advantages than the other groups of immigrants due to their labor unions, politics, and education, which helped them to overlay their spot in their new American motherland. The essay shall discuss the potato famine, which made many Irish Catholics settle in America after leaving Ireland in the 1800s, and the response they received from the American community due to their impacts on religion in America.

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The Catalyst for Irish Immigration to America

Irish Potato Famine

The great potato famine in Ireland killed nearly an eighth of the total population, which was the primary reason why the Irish migrated to America. The potato was the primary source of food in Ireland. Potato grew in large quantities on a small piece of land which made the low-income people able to produce them. Many people lived and survived on the potato. Others planted them on large scale farms and sold them to make money. Regretfully, in 1845 a blight which stemmed from a fungus made the potato farms turn black. As a result, potato rotted almost immediately after they were dug from the ground. People were struck by hunger and sometimes ate rotten potatoes and became sick. The more the blight spread over Ireland, the more the people became desperate. The effects of this famine became too rampant and too heavy for people to handle, so they had to move at last.

The Only Choice

Households were left with no choice but to America because they knew that the famine would not end shortly. The Irish packed their bags and left for America on ships. Some property-owners bought some of the Irish their tickets since they were aware that it would benefit them financially and help them get their way out of Ireland. Therefore, they promised clothes, money, and food, and transported people on parked inexpensive, murky, and unseaworthy ships, which were named "the coffin ships." Many people who used these ships to travel to America got a disease that was easily contracted and very transmittable. Eventually, some Irish died even before they got their foot in the 'promised land,' America. The journey to America took about eight to ten weeks, depending on the weather conditions. However, regardless of the unfavorable travelling conditions, the immigrants had a positive mentality and were hopeful of all the affluence America could bring for them and their households.

Reception in America

Philadelphia Riot

Members of the American Republican Party, also known as the Nativists held a public rally in Kensington, one of Irish dwellings. The residents attacked the podium where the nativists held the rally, and the natives escaped and came back later after three days in thousands. There were fights, and someone started shooting from a building where several nativists were murdered, stirring the mob to bout few local homes and the Seminary of the Sisters of Charity. Lots of people were injured two nativists died. The next morning, nativists called out for all the populace to stop the ruling of the pope, and they went back to Kensington again. On this day, gunshots vented, and a local fire station, the Nanny Goat Market, and thirty homes were burnt before the success of the state reservists to scatter the multitude. Bishop Kenrick called for the Catholics to keep peace and individuals suspended flags on their windows to avoid more ferocity.

However, the nativists went to Kensington for the third day, and they burnt down St. Michael's Church and completed their destruction of the Seminary of the Sisters of Charity. They then burn down St. Augustine and Vine, among other neighboring schools. Hundreds of people lost their houses, and 14 more people died and 50 others injured. The city settled for some time after a curfew was endorsed and the state militia and the jury blamed the individuals who had attempted to remove the bible in public schools. Later in the same year on July, another riot vented after a priest at St. Philip Neri hears that the nativists had organized a parade in the near residences and asked for muskets which were to be used for defense of the church. However, nothing happened on this day, but the nativists storm the churches the following day, ordering the removal of the muskets. As the crowd grew, canons moved onto the streets, rocks thrown, and prisoners were taken. Canons were fired to the church, and the crowd and the fighting continued for days with the people using broken bottles, knives and chains as their weapons. The riot led to the death of 15 people, while 50 were wounded. Again the jury blamed the Catholics for the same.

The know-nothings

This was an American political movement that was operational in the mid-19th century and was against the Catholics, chauvinistic, and unfriendly to the immigrants. The movement believed that the Roman Catholics occurred to sabotage the civil and religious freedom in the U.S. Therefore, they organized the American born Protestants politically in what they explained as a defense of their customary religious and political beliefs. The Know Nothings feared that the Irish priests had the power to control a large number of voters. In some regions, the party disintegrated due to lack of local leaders. In 1852 after the election of a congressman among the Know Nothings who created another party, the American Party.

Burning of Churches

Following the violence that broke out due to religious conflict, most Irish churches were burnt down. For instance, in 1854, the Know-Nothings mob in Bath, Maine damaged the forms of a church that was recently bought by the Irish Catholics and raised an American flag on a tower and set the church on fire. When one of the bishops from Portland came back to build it, a mob of anti-Catholics chased him away. In Kensington, several churches were burnt down during the Philadelphia riots. The main reason for the burning of the churches was due to the rising number of Irish Catholic churches to a level that the nativists could not take any more.

Overcoming of the Struggles

After getting into America, they had to look for ways of survival in the new country. Due to the end of slavery, the Irish had to compete with the African Americans for jobs for a low wage. The Irish worked to enjoy the same treats as the white, which was an achievement at the expenses of blacks. Moreover, they dominated blacks to gain a better socioeconomic status. They denied working with the blacks, and they threatened the blacks to remove them from the competition. They had an advantage over blacks since they were white, and most people needed workers they can trust and believed the Irish Catholics since they thought they had the same ancestry.

Growth of the Irish Catholic Community

Due to the increase in need of labor as from 1820, immigrants started to arrive in America to work as laborers. The population of the Irish had increased to about 2million. The laborers intermarried and bore children, which increased their population. According to a study done in 2019, on the number of immigrants that had moved to America, a total of 4,787,580 Irish Catholics located in America from 1820-2004, despite the large number which had died due to contracted diseases.


From the above discussion, it is evident that the immigration of the Irish Americans was triggered by great hunger due to a Potato famine caused by a disease known as blight. Many Irish moved to America in search of better living conditions and escaped death due to starvation. In America, they received considerable opposition and were mistreated due to their faith and poverty. Most worked as laborers and were loyal to their church. Although many of them died, they continued to increase in size, and their faith caused violence in the new country which left dozens dead, hundreds injured and houses destroyed. Although they faced tough times, they endured and continued to increase in population until they gained their right to vote as citizens of America


Brighton, Stephen A. Historical archaeology of the Irish diaspora: a transnational approach. Knoxville: the University of Tennessee Press, 2009.

Dolan, Jay P. The Irish Americans: a history. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

Fahey, Tony. Quality of Life in Ireland: Social Impact of Economic Boom. Dordrecht: Springer, 2008.

Joseph O Neill. Irish Potato Famine. Minnesota: ABDO Publishing Company, 2010., Kenneth W. The Philadelphia Nativist Riots: Irish Kensington Erupts. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013.

Petronella, Mary Melvin. Victorian Boston today: twelve walking tours. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004.

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