Friday, December 08, 2006
Irish Emigration During the Victorian Era - Part I
Since both my works in progress, Erin's Rebel and Katie Rose feature Irish immigrants at the time of the Civil War, and many Irish fought on both sides of this conflict, I've done research into why so many left Ireland both before and during the war years. Both England and America experienced a large influx of Irish immigrants during the Victorian era. While some of this was due to the potato famine, a great deal of the problem began back in the mid-17th century, when Oliver Cromwell invaded Ireland. Landowners who refused to give up Catholicism had their property confiscated and given to members of the English Army. "Between 1841 and 1851, Ireland's population of 8 million had dwindled down to 6 million. An estimated half of these people left the country while the other million died." http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/irish2.html One million emigrated to England and America, overwhelming both countries. American saw this surge of immigration between 1815 and 1845. The Irish had few technical skills, but were healthy and strong. They became a much needed source of cheap labor. In England ". . . The Irish lived on the absolute fringes of Victorian society . . ." http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/irish2.html They became unskilled day laborers and street peddlers. " . . . Thomas Malthus, noted English economist explained the earlier famines and starvation in Ireland as God's answer to overpopulation of those who refuse to show constraint . . ." http://www.gober.net/victorian/reports/irish2.html " . . . emigrating to America was not a joyful event . . . They left in droves on ships that were crowded, with conditions so terrible, that they were referred to as Coffin Ships." http://www.kinsella.org/history/histira.htm English oppression had made their country unlivable for them. Their only hope was to escape. Poor immigrants were forced to settle in their port of arrival, having no means of moving on. The offers of free land out west during this time period meant little to the Irish. The land back in Ireland had failed them, so they looked to other means of making a living in their new country. In Part II, I'll talk about the ways the Irish found to not only survive, but to prosper in the new world.