Irish Population in New England

Irish Population in New England

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There are more Irish people in New England than there is in Ireland. Irish people didn't just appear one day in the United States, though. Most of them emigrated here from Ireland over 55 years ago. Four in five people you meet in New England are at least one-eighth part Irish. It is easy to tell that when the Irish people came here, they didn't come in small groups.
Ireland is a beautiful country in Europe, about the size of Maine. Today, Ireland is mostly populated with middle-class families. Irish is famous for its potatoes, but in 1845 a disease attacked the potato crops. The potatoes were what most of the Irish families lived on. They ate and sold potatoes in order to make a living, so when the potatoes stopped growing, people ran out of money. This is known as "The Great Potato Famine". It was so bad; people were actually starving to death. Two million people died. There was almost no help from the British government. Often people rebelled against the government, angered by its carelessness. Many people didn't want to leave their beloved country, afraid of change. With no food to eat, emigration seemed to be the only solution for most of the population. People often talked about "streets paved with gold" in a country called America. There was said to be many job opportunities in this new country. America seemed like the best choice to settle down and finally start a new life.
The decision to leave Ireland was a difficult one to make, but to avoid starvation many Irish families boarded ships and traveled to America. No Irish families could afford first or second class on the ships, so they were forced to travel steerage. Steerage was the lowest and least expensive class. All the steerage passengers were tightly huddled together with almost no room, wallowing in filth. Many passengers became seasick, but there was no fresh air to at least slightly calm the sickness. The stench was horrible. Both from people who hadn't bathed in weeks, and from the spreading sicknesses and diseases. In the worst ships, no bathrooms were available. So many people died during these voyages, they were often referred to as ‘coffin ships'. One ship called the Elizabeth boarded 276 Irish passengers. By the end of the trip, 44 of these passengers had died. When Irish immigrants finally arrived in America, they sang songs and celebrated that the voyage was finally over.

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Most of the Irish people settled in New York City or Boston, and lived in tenements. They shared these tenements with several other families. Back in Ireland, the average house was made entirely from mud. The poor construction of these tenements didn't surprise the Irish; they were used to living in disgusting conditions. However, these quarters did surprise the government officials who were sent to inspect them. The Irish neighborhoods were often described as "wretched" and "unsanitary". Some tenements didn't even have a water supply. Although the Irish didn't have much in their neighborhoods, there was an ample amount of taverns and dance halls. With alcohol present at almost all times, the crime rate increased drastically. It became so bad that after moving to the United States, Irish immigrants were only expected to live fourteen more years. From earning this reputation, it was very hard for the Irish to find jobs. Often, signs were hung on store windows reading, "No Irish need apply". Business owners were also afraid that the Irish people carried disease, because of their filthy appearances. Because of this, the Irish could only find low-paying dangerous jobs like cleaning stables, unloading ships, pushing carts, and construction. Irish people were so worried about fitting in that they often changed their last names so that they had a more ‘American' sound to them. The Irish people had many difficulties in America, but they also had some advantages. First of all, they spoke English. Second, they understood the American system of government. This made it much easier for the Irish to understand what the laws were. Following laws wasn't exactly important to the Irish people, though. One thing that was important was education. Irish families made sure that all of their children attended school to at least the age of 14. After that, they were free to apply for jobs and try to make more money for their family, and for themselves.
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