The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland retained by immigrants in America.
The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland retained by immigrants in America.

From the beginning of the 19th century and especially and Great Famine of 1845-47, up to the halfway point of the 20th century, Irish have left their homeland in search of better life conditions, primarily in the United States. Almost 200 years from the first organized Irish immigrants in America, the effects of their presence are still visible. Various aspects of the economy, society and the way of life have changed since the early 1800s, with the Irish diaspora playing a significant role.

Contribution to U.S. Economic Expansion

The growing economy of the United States in the early 1800s needed all the working hands available. Railway expansions, canals, as well as factories would be unable to work in full swing without the newcomers from abroad. Unemployment and poverty were something Irish immigrants were willing to avoid at all costs, so they undertook any available labor job, no matter how intensive and harsh it was. Their hard work contributed to the rapid economic growth of the country during the better part of the 19th century.

Spread of Catholicism

Immigrants from Ireland brought with them their Catholic faith. New Catholic churches were established in places where Irish were settled, such as Illinois Valley and New York City. According to the U.S. Catholic magazine, in 1820, Catholics were the smallest denomination in the United States, with 195,000 members. By 1860, they were the largest, rising to 3.1 million. New customs were introduced, as well; a common example is St. Patrick's Day, for which nowadays even the White House fountain is dyed green on March 17.

Urban Expansion

Newcomers from Ireland were too poor to buy their own land or at least find stable employment which would allow them to live in comfortable conditions. Instead, Irish immigrant families had to gather in the cheap accommodations urban centers provided, such as small, crumbling houses and cellars. This led to the inevitable expansion of the urban centers, primarily in the northeast states, contributing in a way to the bustling cities of today.

Rows and Riots

Settling in their new land was not an easy process for the Irish immigrants. In addition to their hardships, they had to cope with the English-American discomfort. The reasons for this sentiment was both religious (English-Americans were predominantly Protestants), as well as political, orchestrated by nativist organizations, including the "Know Nothing" movement. Discomfort grew to outright animosity on occasions, such as the Philadelphia nativist riots of 1844.