Life for Many Irish Immigrants in America

“The mass exodus from Ireland following the Potato Blight of 1846 saw over 1 million Irish emigrants pass through Castle Gardens between 1847-1861,  all seeking to escape starvation, poverty and hardship.  The majority arrived on American shores penniless.

For most Irish emigrants a farm environment in Ireland was all they would have known, where very little time and attention was paid to literacy.  This meant that their only source of employment on arrival in New York was in the unskilled labour market (for men) and domestic service (for women). The 19th Century unskilled labour market was a dangerous one with very little pay, as our Irish Ancestors helped dig America’s first canals, lay the first Railroad tracks, and pave New York’s Streets.  The Domestic Service market was no better, where hard labour and long hours was met with minimal pay.

With no savings, income or employment, many of our Irish Ancestors found themselves trapped in New York.  The farmhouse and green fields of Ireland were replaced with over-crowded tenements filled with destitution, filth and disease.  Whilst in Ireland, our Ancestor may have complained about having to share the family home with numerous siblings, parents and grandparents.  In New York, they would have found themselves sharing a room with three, maybe four different families.  In 1862 over 6,000 families were found to be living in Cellars in New York, with no light, drainage or sanitation.    The stark reality in those early years of emigration was that most Irish Ancestors were worse off for leaving Ireland – many wanted to return home: few could afford to.

Yet despite the hardships of life in the New World, with perseverance, our Irish Ancestors were able to claw their way out of the slums and secure a better future for themselves, and ultimately their families, both in the New World and in Ireland.”

Source Irish Family Research

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