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Irish Emigration During the Victorian Era – Part II


Although the Irish immigrants arriving in America had come to escape hunger and oppression, they found that life for them didn’t change all that much.

By the height of the potato famine, an Irish immigrant wrote home saying that, “My master is a great tyrant, he treats me as badly as if I was a common Irishman. Our position is one of shame and poverty.”

Signs for employment were often followed by: “NO IRISH NEED APPLY”. The new immigrants had to live in cellars and shanties. Their brogue and dress were ridiculed. They were also held up to scorn for their poverty and illiteracy.

The Irish held together and met intimidation with violence. Prayer and drink solidified them, helping them to survive life in the city. One newspaper was led to say about them, “The Irish have become more Americanized than the Americans.”

“The Church played an integral part in their lives. It was a militant Church who fought not only for their souls but also for their human rights.”

America needed the Irish. Men were needed for the heavy work of building bridges, canals and railroads. Women worked as maids, cooks and child caretakers. Irish immigrants needed these jobs to survive and they proved to be hard workers.

Although they never forgot their homeland, the Irish loved America. But they never lost their hatred of the English. This led them to rebel against anything they saw as oppression on the part of their new country. “In New York City during the Civil War, they rioted against the draft lottery after the first drawing showed most of the names were Irish.”

The Irish, who’d suffered brutality back in Ireland at English hands were fierce warriors. They used brutal methods to fight back against the oppression of mine owners in Pennsylvania, forming a secret organization called the Molly Maguires. They also formed their own Irish Brigade during the Civil War.

As new immigrants of other nationalities later came to American shores, the Irish were finally hailed as an asset. They were fully Americanized. Hostility shifted to these new immigrants. The Irish finally found power and acceptance.

“In 1850 at the height of the Potato Famine, Orestes Brownson, a celebrated convert to Catholicism, stated, ‘Out of these narrow lanes, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets, will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor.’ ”


1 Comment

  1. Kristin-Marie says:

    It’s interesting that the Irish went from being resented to being appreciated during the timespan of the Victorian era.

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