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Teacher's Notes

The Background of Irish Americans

For the Irish, the potato was one of the most important source of food. The Irish depended on eating potatoes in order to live. In 1845, something terrible happened. A fungus caused The Great Famine in Ireland, which lasted about ten years. The fungus stopped all of the potatoes from growing, and there wasn't enough food for the Irish to eat. Farmers were not able to make enough money without growing potatoes, so they could not pay their rent to their landlords. About one million Irish people died during this famine. During this time, millions of Irish immigrated to the United States. Many people also left Ireland due to lack of jobs and rural overpopulation.

Most of the Irish fleeing the potato famine arrived in New York City. From 1855 to 1890 immigrants landed on an Island south of Manhattan called Castle Garden. Here they were able to find information about jobs and shelter and exchange their money. In 1890, due to the large number of immigrants coming to New York City, the government opened Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Ireland, was the first person to arrive at Ellis Island. Most of the immigrants were young people, and many young women went to work in private homes or in factories. The Irish faced much discrimination when they first arrived in the United States. Some employers put up signs that read "No Irish Need Apply."

In 1841, Ireland had a population of 8,000,000. By 1900, the population had dropped to half of this number. During the Great Depression in the United States, immigration laws did not allow as many Irish immigrants into the United States. The rate of Irish immigration slowed to about 13,000 a year. It stayed low until the 1980s when the Irish started to immigrate again in large numbers because there weren't enough jobs for everyone.

Adapted from Immigration by Sarah J. Glasscock