Saint Patrick’s Day, the death date of the patron saint of Ireland, is celebrated this month. The holiday originally commemorated the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, but has now taken on a role of celebrating Irish culture worldwide.
Did you know that Irish Americans constitute more than 10% of all U.S. citizens? In fact, there are 7 times more Americans of Irish origin than there are native residents of Ireland today!
Irish Americans have played a pivotal role throughout American history. Irish immigrants participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution, leading one British major general to testify at the House of Commons that “half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.”
During the Civil War, a great number of Irish Americans volunteered for the Union Army – nearly 150,000 Union soldiers were born in Ireland, and a similar number were of Irish descent. However, conscription was resisted by many, resulting in draft riots. Furthermore, recent immigrants viewed freed slaves as competition for scarce jobs, and African Americans were beaten or killed by mobs.
From 1820 to 1860, 2 million people migrated from Ireland to the United States; the majority settled in large cities near ports, railways, or mill towns, where they created supportive communities.
Irish Americans suffered from stereotyping and discrimination, but generally took great pride in their heritage. Their pride reached unimagined heights when John F. Kennedy was elected President – an Irish-Catholic president at long last.
Kennedy’s visit as sitting president to Ireland brought him tremendous personal joy – no one had ever seen him happier. Here you can read his words regarding that historic visit.