Irish Americans (Irish: Gael-Mheiriceánaigh) are an ethnic group comprising Americans who have full or partial ancestry from Ireland, especially those who identify with that ancestry, along with their cultural characteristics. About 33.3 million Americans—10.5% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2013 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This compares with a population of 6.4 million on the island of Ireland. Three million people separately identified as Scots-Irish, whose ancestors were Ulster Scots who emigrated from Ireland to the United States.
- 17th to mid 19th century
- Irish in the South
- Mid 19th century and later
- Civil War through early 20th century
- Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant relations
- Sense of heritage
- In politics and government
- American presidents with Irish ancestry
- Vice Presidents of Irish descent
- Other presidents of Irish descent
- Irish American Justices of the Supreme Court
- Contributions to American culture
- Gaelic sports
- Irish American communities
17th to mid-19th century
Many colonial settlers coming from the province of Ulster came to be known in the United States as the "Scots-Irish", although most descendants of the Scots-Irish today identify their ancestry as "American" or "Irish", some were descendants of Scottish and English tenant farmers who had been settled in Ireland by the British government during the 17th-century Plantation of Ulster. An estimated 250,000 migrated to the United States during the colonial era. Only 20,000 immigrants of these immigrants from Ireland were Catholics—English, Irish or a few Germans. Catholics numbered 40,000 or 1.6% of the total population of 2.5 million in 1775. However religious numbers should be noted in context that at this period of time the Roman Catholic religion was proscribed and discouraged and that many Protestants are descendants of Catholics by logical definition. The Scots-Irish settled mainly in the colonial "back country" of the Appalachian Mountain region, and became the prominent ethnic strain in the culture that developed there. The descendants of Scots-Irish settlers had a great influence on the later culture of the United States through such contributions as American folk music, country and western music, and stock car racing, which became popular throughout the country in the late 20th century.
Irish immigrants of this period participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution, leading one British major general to testify at the House of Commons that "half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland." Irish Americans signed the foundational documents of the United States—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—and, beginning with Andrew Jackson, served as President.
The early Ulster immigrants and their descendants at first usually referred to themselves simply as "Irish", without the qualifier "Scotch". It was not until more than a century later, following the surge in Irish immigration after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, that some descendants of the Protestant Irish began to refer to themselves as "Scots-Irish" to distinguish them from the predominantly Catholic, and largely destitute, wave of immigrants from Ireland in that era. However, most descendants of the Scots-Irish continued to consider themselves "Irish" or "American" rather than Scots-Irish. The two groups had little initial interaction in America, as the 18th-century Ulster immigrants were predominantly Protestant and had become settled largely in upland regions of the American interior, while the huge wave of 19th-century Catholic immigrant families settled primarily in the Northeast and Midwest port cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Buffalo, or Chicago. However, beginning in the early 19th century, many Irish migrated individually to the interior for work on large-scale infrastructure projects such as canals and, later in the century, railroads.
Irish in the South
During the colonial period, Scots-Irish settled in the southern Appalachian backcountry and in the Carolina Piedmont. They became the primary cultural group in these areas, and their descendants were in the vanguard of westward movement through Virginia into Tennessee and Kentucky, and thence into Arkansas, Missouri and Texas. By the 19th century, through intermarriage with settlers of English and German ancestry, the descendants of the Scots-Irish lost their identification with Ireland. "This generation of pioneers...was a generation of Americans, not of Englishmen or Germans or Scots-Irish."
In 1820 Irish-born John England became the first Catholic bishop in the mainly Protestant city of Charleston, South Carolina. During the 1820s and '30s, Bishop England defended the Catholic minority against Protestant prejudices. In 1831 and 1835, he established free schools for free African American children. Inflamed by the propaganda of the American Anti-Slavery Society, a mob raided the Charleston post office in 1835 and the next day turned its attention to England's school. England led Charleston's "Irish Volunteers" to defend the school. Soon after this, however, all schools for "free blacks" were closed in Charleston, and England acquiesced.
The Irish Catholics concentrated in a few medium-sized cities, where they were highly visible, especially in Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans. They often became precinct leaders in the Democratic Party Organizations, strongly opposed abolition of slavery, and generally favored preserving the Union in 1860, when they voted for Stephen Douglas.
After secession in 1861, the Irish Catholic community supported the Confederacy and 20,000 served in the Confederate Army. Gleason says:Support for Irish Confederate soldiers from home was vital both for encouraging them to stay in the army and to highlight to native white southerners that the entire Irish community was behind the Confederacy. Civilian leaders of the Irish and the South did embrace the Confederate national project and most became advocates of a 'hard-war' policy.
Irish nationalist John Mitchel lived in Tennessee and Virginia during his exile from Ireland and was one of the South's most outspoken supporters during the American Civil War through his newspapers the Southern Citizen and the Richmond Enquirer.
Although most began as unskilled laborers, Irish Catholics in the South achieved average or above average economic status by 1900. David T. Gleeson emphasizes how well they were accepted by society:
Native tolerance, however, was also a very important factor in Irish integration [into Southern society].... Upper-class southerners, therefore, did not object to the Irish, because Irish immigration never threatened to overwhelm their cities or states.... The Irish were willing to take on potentially high-mortality occupations, thereby sparing valuable slave property. Some employers objected not only to the cost of Irish labor but also to the rowdiness of their foreign-born employees. Nevertheless, they recognized the importance of the Irish worker to the protection of slavery.... The Catholicism practiced by Irish immigrants was of little concern to Southern natives.
Mid-19th century and later
Irish immigration had greatly increased beginning in the 1820s due to the need for labor in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast. The large Erie Canal project was one such example where Irishmen were many of the laborers. Small but tight communities developed in growing cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Providence.
From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 Irish arrived, 75% of these after the Great Irish Famine (or The Great Hunger, Irish: An Gorta Mór) of 1845–1852, struck.
Of the total Irish immigrants to the U.S. from 1820 to 1860, many died crossing the ocean due to disease and dismal conditions of what became known as coffin ships.
Most Irish immigrants to the United States during this period favored large cities because they could create their own communities for support and protection in a new environment. Another reason for this trend was that many Irish immigrants could not afford to move inland and had to settle close to the ports at which they arrived. Cities with large numbers of Irish immigrants included Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, as well as Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
While many Irish did stay near large cities, countless others were part of westward expansion. They were enticed by tales of gold, and by the increasing opportunities for work and land. In 1854, the government opened Kansas Territory to settlers. While many people in general moved to take advantage of the unsettled land, Irish were an important part. Many Irish men were physical laborers. In order to civilize the west, many strong men were needed to build the towns and cities. Kansas City was one city that was built by Irish immigrants. Much of its population today is of Irish descent. Another reason for Irish migration west was the expansion of railroads. Railway work was a common occupation among immigrant men because workers were in such high demand. Many Irish men followed the expansion of railroads, and ended up settling in places that they built in. Since the Irish were a large part of those Americans moving west, much of their culture can still be found today.
The Irish were having a huge impact on America as a whole. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish ancestry than Dublin's whole population, and even today, many of these cities still retain a substantial Irish American community. Mill towns such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Pawtucket attracted many Irish women in particular. The anthracite Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania saw a massive influx of Irish during this time period; conditions in the mines eventually gave rise to groups such as the Molly Maguires.The best urban economic opportunities for unskilled Irish women and men included "factory and millwork, domestic service, and the physical labor of public work projects."
During the mid-1900s Irish immigration to the United States began to decrease. From the years of 1941–1950, there were only 1,000,000 immigrants in total, and only 68,151 of them were coming from Ireland. These immigrants from Ireland were coming to the U.S. for the same reasons as those before them; they came looking for jobs.
Civil War through early 20th century
A second wave of post-famine Irish immigration, resulting largely from a changing rural economy and the lure of high-paying jobs in America, continued from 1855 to 1921, when the Emergency Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924 imposed a "quota system" that significantly limited immigration. These later immigrants mostly settled in industrial towns and cities of the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwestern United States where Irish American neighborhoods had previously been established.
During the American Civil War, Irish Americans volunteered in high numbers for the Union Army, and at least 38 Union regiments had the word "Irish" in their title. 144,221 Union soldiers were born in Ireland; additionally, perhaps an equal number were of Irish descent. Many immigrant soldiers formed their own regiments, such as the Irish Brigade.
General John McCausland was a notable brigadier general for the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. He was the son of an Irish immigrant.
However, conscription was resisted by many Irish Catholics as an imposition. When the conscription law was passed in 1863, major draft riots erupted in New York. It coincided with the efforts of the city's dominant political machine, Tammany Hall, to enroll Irish immigrants as citizens so they could vote in local elections. Many such immigrants suddenly discovered they were now expected to fight for their new country. The Irish, employed primarily as laborers, were usually unable to afford the $300 as a "commutation fee" to procure a replacement for service. Many of the Irish viewed blacks as competition for scarce jobs, and as the reason why the Civil War was being fought. African Americans who fell into the mob's hands were often beaten or killed. The Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue, which provided shelter for hundreds of children, was attacked by a mob. It was seen as a "symbol of white charity to blacks and of black upward mobility," reasons enough for its destruction at the hands of a predominantly Irish mob which looked upon African Americans as direct social and economic competitors. Fortunately, the largely Irish-American police force was able to secure the orphanage for enough time to allow orphans to escape.
In the Confederacy, the Irish Catholics were first reluctant to support secession; most voted for Stephen Douglas in 1860 presidential election. However several bishops were enthusiastic supporters of the Confederacy, and the Irish volunteered for service. Gleeson wrote that they had higher desertion rates than non-Irish, and sometimes switched sides, suggesting a tepid support for the Confederacy. During Reconstruction, however, they took a strong position in favor of white supremacy, and played major roles in attacking blacks in riots in Memphis and New Orleans.
In 1871, New York's Orange Riots resulted from Irish Protestants celebrating the British victory at the Battle of the Boyne with parades through Irish Catholic neighborhoods, taunting the residents who then responded with violence. Police Superintendent James J. Kelso, a Protestant, ordered the parade cancelled as a threat to public safety. Kelso was overruled by the governor, who ordered out 5000 militia to protect the marchers. The Catholics attacked but were stopped by the militia and police, who opened fire killing about 63 Catholics.
Relations between the U.S. and Britain were chilly during the 1860s as Americans resented British and Canadian support for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war American authorities looked the other way as Irish Catholic "Fenians" plotted and even attempted an invasion of Canada. The Fenians proved a failure, but Irish Catholic politicians, a growing power in the Democratic Party, demanded more independence for Ireland and made anti-British rhetoric—called "twisting the lion's tail"—a staple of election campaign appeals to the Irish Catholic vote.
The Irish-American immigration of women
The Irish people were the first of many to immigrate to the U.S. in mass waves, including large groups of single young women between the ages of 16 and 24. Up until this point, free women who settled in the colonies mostly came after their husbands had already made the journey and could afford their trip, or were brought over to be married to an eligible colonist who paid for their journey. Many Irish fled their home country to escape unemployment and starvation during the Great Irish Famine. The richest of the Irish resettled in England, where their skilled work was greatly accepted, but lower class Irish and women could find little work in Western Europe, leading them to cross the Atlantic in search of greater financial opportunities.
Women at this time were largely considered to be "unskilled" workers. Many Irish women would resort to working in factories doing "slopwork" for very low wages. Working in a factory meant long hours in deplorable conditions and more often than not Irish women were verbally and sexually assaulted by their managers. Some Irish women resorted to prostitution in higher populated cities such as Boston, MA and New York City, NY. Most of the single Irish women preferred service labor as a form of income. These women made a higher wage than most by serving the middle and high-class in their own homes as nannies, cooks and cleaners. The wages for domestic service may have been higher than that of factory workers, but the freedoms were virtually nonexistent as women were made to live with their employers family and work around the clock. By 1870, forty percent of Irish women worked as domestic servants in New York City, making them over fifty percent of the service industry at the time.
Irish men and women both had a hard time finding skilled work in the U.S. due to the stigmas of being both Irish as well as Catholic. Prejudices ran deep in the north and could be seen in newspaper cartoons depicting Irish men as drunkards and Irish women as prostitutes. Many businesses hung signs out front of their shops that read "No Irish Need Apply", or "NINA" for short. The initial backlash the Irish received in America lead to their self-imposed seclusion, making assimilation into society a long and painful process.
Down to the end of the 19th century a large number of Irish immigrants arrived speaking Irish as their first language. This continued to be the case with immigrants from certain counties even in the 20th century. The Irish language was first mentioned as being spoken in North America in the 17th century. Large numbers of Irish emigrated to America throughout the 18th century, bringing the language with them, and it was particularly strong in Pennsylvania. It was also widely spoken in such places as New York City, where it proved a useful recruiting tool for Loyalists during the American Revolution.
Irish speakers continued to arrive in large numbers throughout the 19th century, particularly after the Famine. There was a certain amount of literacy in Irish, as shown by the many Irish-language manuscripts which immigrants brought with them. In 1881 “An Gaodhal” was founded, being the first newspaper in the world to be largely in Irish. It continued to be published into the 20th century, and now has an online successor in An Gael, an international literary magazine. A number of Irish immigrant newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries had Irish language columns.
Irish immigrants fell into three linguistic categories: monolingual Irish speakers, bilingual speakers of both Irish and English, and monolingual English speakers. Estimates indicate that there were around 400,000 Irish speakers in the United States in the 1890s, located primarily in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Yonkers. The Irish-speaking population of New York reached its height in this period, when speakers of Irish numbered between 70,000 and 80,000. This number declined during the early 20th century, dropping to 40,000 in 1939, 10,000 in 1979, and 5,000 in 1995.
According to the latest census, the Irish language ranks 66th out of the 322 languages spoken today in the U.S., with over 25,000 speakers. New York state has the most Irish speakers of the 50 states, and Massachusetts the highest percentage.
Daltaí na Gaeilge, a nonprofit Irish language advocacy group based in Elberon, New Jersey, estimated that about 30,000 people spoke the language in America as of 2006. This, the organization claimed, was a remarkable increase from only a few thousand at the time of the group's founding in 1981.
Before 1800, significant numbers of Irish Protestant immigrants became farmers; many headed to the frontier where land was cheap or free and it was easier to start a farm or herding operation. Many Irish Protestants and Catholics alike were indentured servants, unable to pay their own passage or sentenced to servitude.
After 1840, most Irish Catholic immigrants went directly to the cities, mill towns, and railroad or canal construction sites on the East Coast. In upstate New York, the Great Lakes area, the Midwest and the Far West, many became farmers or ranchers. In the East, male Irish laborers were hired by Irish contractors to work on canals, railroads, streets, sewers and other construction projects, particularly in New York state and New England. The Irish men also worked in these labor positions in the mid-west. They worked to construct towns where there had been none previously. Kansas city was one such town, and eventually became an important cattle town and railroad center. Labor positions weren't the only occupations for Irish though. Some moved to New England mill towns, such as Holyoke, Lowell, Taunton, Brockton, Fall River, and Milford, Massachusetts, where owners of textile mills welcomed the new low-wage workers. They took the jobs previously held by Yankee women known as Lowell girls. A large fraction of Irish Catholic women took jobs as maids in hotels and private households.
Large numbers of unemployed or very poor Irish Catholics lived in squalid conditions in the new city slums and tenements.
Single, Irish immigrant women quickly assumed jobs in high demand but for very low pay. The majority of them worked in mills, factories, and private households and were considered the bottommost group in the female job hierarchy, alongside African American women. Workers considered mill work in cotton textiles and needle trades the least desirable because of the dangerous and unpleasant conditions. Factory work was primarily a worst-case scenario for widows or daughters of families already involved in the industry. Unlike many other immigrants, Irish women preferred domestic work because it was constantly in great demand among middle- and upper-class American households. Although wages differed across the country, they were consistently higher than those of the other occupations available to Irish women and could often be negotiated because of the lack of competition. Also, the working conditions in well-off households were significantly better than those of factories or mills, and free room and board allowed domestic servants to save money or send it back to their families in Ireland.
Despite some of the benefits of domestic work, Irish women's job requirements were difficult and demeaning. Subject to their employers around the clock, Irish women cooked, cleaned, babysat and more. Because most servants lived in the home where they worked, they were separated from their communities. Most of all, the American stigma on domestic work suggested that Irish women were failures who had "about the same intelligence as that of an old grey-headed negro." This quote illustrates how, in a period of extreme racism towards African Americans, society similarly viewed Irish immigrants as inferior beings.
Although the Irish Catholics started very low on the social status scale, by 1900 they had jobs and earnings about equal on average to their neighbors. This was largely due to their ability to speak English when they arrived. The Irish were able to rise quickly within the working world, unlike non-English speaking immigrants. Yet there were still many shanty and lower working class communities in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and other parts of the country.
After 1945, the Catholic Irish consistently ranked at the top of the social hierarchy, thanks especially to their high rate of college attendance, and due to that many Irish American men have risen to higher socio-economic table.
After the early example of Charles Lynch, Irish immigrants quickly found employment in the police departments, fire departments and other public services of major cities, largely in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes. By 1855, according to New York Police Commissioner George W. Matsell (1811–1877), almost 17 percent of the police department's officers were Irish-born (compared to 28.2 percent of the city) in a report to the Board of Aldermen; of the NYPD's 1,149 men, Irish-born officers made up 304 of 431 foreign-born policemen. In the 1860s more than half of those arrested in New York City were Irish born or of Irish descent but nearly half of the city's law enforcement officers were also Irish. By the turn of the 20th century, five out of six NYPD officers were Irish born or of Irish descent. As late as the 1960s, 42% of the NYPD were Irish Americans.
Up to the 20th and early 21st century, Irish Catholics continue to be prominent in the law enforcement community, especially in the Northeastern United States. The Emerald Society, an Irish American fraternal organization, was founded in 1953 by the NYPD. When the Boston chapter of the Emerald Society formed in 1973, half of the city's police officers became members.
Towards the end of the 19th century, schoolteaching became the most desirable occupation for the second generation of female Irish immigrants. Teaching was similar to domestic work for the first generation of Irish immigrants in that it was a popular job and one that relied on a woman's decision to remain unmarried. The disproportionate number of Irish-American Catholic women who entered the job market as teachers in the late 19th century and early 20th century from Boston to San Francisco was a beneficial result of the Irish National school system. Irish schools prepared young single women to support themselves in a new country, which inspired them to instill the importance of education, college training, and a profession in their American-born daughters even more than in their sons. Evidence from schools in New York City illustrate the upward trend of Irish women as teachers: "as early as 1870, twenty percent of all schoolteachers were Irish women, and...by 1890 Irish females comprised two-thirds of those in the Sixth Ward schools." Irish women attained admirable reputations as schoolteachers, which enabled some to pursue professions of even higher stature.
Upon arrival in the United States, many Irish women became Catholic nuns and participated in the many American sisterhoods, especially those in St. Louis in Missouri, St. Paul in Minnesota, and Troy in New York. Additionally, the women who settled in these communities were often sent back to Ireland to recruit. This kind of religious lifestyle appealed to Irish female immigrants because they outnumbered their male counterparts and the Irish cultural tendency to postpone marriage often promoted gender separation and celibacy. Furthermore, "the Catholic church, clergy, and women religious were highly respected in Ireland," making the sisterhoods particularly attractive to Irish immigrants. Nuns provided extensive support for Irish immigrants in large cities, especially in fields such as nursing and teaching but also through orphanages, widows' homes, and housing for young, single women in domestic work. Although many Irish communities built parish schools run by nuns, the majority of Irish parents in large cities in the East enrolled their children in the public school system, where daughters or granddaughters of Irish immigrants had already established themselves as teachers.
Religion has been important to the Irish American identity in America, and continues to play a major role in their communities. Irish Americans today are predominantly Protestant with a Catholic minority. The Protestants' ancestors arrived primarily in the colonial era, while Catholics are primarily descended from immigrants of the 19th century. Irish leaders have been prominent in the Catholic Church in the United States for over 150 years. The Irish have been leaders in the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions, as well.
Surveys in the 1990s show that of Americans who identify themselves as "Irish", 51% said they were Protestant and 36% identified as Catholic. In the South, Protestants account for 73% of those claiming Irish origins, while Catholics account for 19%. It is common for Protestant Scotch-Irish Americans to call themselves "Irish", in particular because most immigration to colonial America was of Protestant settlers, so there was no need to distinguish themselves from Irish Catholics. In the North, 45% of those claiming Irish origin are Catholic, while 39% are Protestant. Many African Americans and Native Americans claim Irish Protestant or Scots-Irish ancestry.
Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant relations
Between 1607 and 1820, the majority of emigrants from Ireland to America were Protestants who were described simply as "Irish". The religious distinction became important after 1820, when large numbers of Irish Catholics began to emigrate to the United States. Some of the descendants of the colonial Irish Protestant settlers from Ulster began thereafter to redefine themselves as "Scotch Irish", to stress their historic origins, and distanced themselves from Irish Catholics; others continued to call themselves Irish, especially in areas of the South which saw little Irish Catholic immigration. By 1830, Irish diaspora demographics had changed rapidly, with over 60% of all Irish settlers in the US being Catholics from rural areas of Ireland.
Some Protestant Irish immigrants became active in explicitly anti-Catholic organizations such as the Orange Institution and the American Protective Association. However, participation in the Orange Institution was never as large in the United States as it was in Canada. In the early nineteenth century, the post-Revolutionary republican spirit of the new United States attracted exiled United Irishmen such as Theobald Wolf Tone and others, with the presidency of Andrew Jackson exemplifying this attitude. Most Protestant Irish immigrants in the first several decades of the nineteenth century were those who held to the republicanism of the 1790s, and who were unable to accept Orangeism. Loyalists and Orangemen made up a minority of Irish Protestant immigrants to the United States during this period. Most of the Irish loyalist emigration was bound for Upper Canada and the Canadian Maritime provinces, where Orange lodges were able to flourish under the British flag.
By 1870, when there were about 930 Orange lodges in the Canadian province of Ontario, there were only 43 in the entire eastern United States. These few American lodges were founded by newly arriving Protestant Irish immigrants in coastal cities such as Philadelphia and New York. These ventures were short-lived and of limited political and social impact, although there were specific instances of violence involving Orangemen between Catholic and Protestant Irish immigrants, such as the Orange Riots in New York City in 1824, 1870 and 1871.
The first "Orange riot" on record was in 1824, in Abingdon Square, New York, resulting from a 12 July march. Several Orangemen were arrested and found guilty of inciting the riot. According to the State prosecutor in the court record, "the Orange celebration was until then unknown in the country." The immigrants involved were admonished: "In the United States the oppressed of all nations find an asylum, and all that is asked in return is that they become law-abiding citizens. Orangemen, Ribbonmen, and United Irishmen are alike unknown. They are all entitled to protection by the laws of the country."
The later Orange Riots of 1870 and 1871 killed nearly 70 people, and were fought out between Irish Protestant and Catholic immigrants. After this the activities of the Orange Order were banned for a time, the Order dissolved, and most members joined Masonic orders. After 1871, there were no more riots between Irish Catholics and Protestants.
America offered a new beginning, and "...most descendents of the Ulster Presbyterians of the eighteenth century and even many new Protestant Irish immigrants turned their backs on all associations with Ireland and melted into the American Protestant mainstream."
Irish priests (especially Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Capuchins) came to the large cities of the East in the 1790s, and when new dioceses were erected in 1808 the first bishop of New York was an Irishman in recognition of the contribution of the early Irish clergy.
Saint Patrick's Battalion (San Patricios) was a group of several hundred immigrant soldiers, the majority Irish, who deserted the U.S. Army during the Mexican–American War because of ill treatment or sympathetic leanings to fellow Mexican Catholics. They joined the Mexican army.
In Boston between 1810 and 1840 there had been serious tensions between the bishop and the laity who wanted to control the local parishes. By 1845, the Catholic population in Boston had increased to 30,000 from around 5,000 in 1825, due to the influx of Irish immigrants. With the appointment of John B. Fitzpatrick as bishop in 1845, tensions subsided as the increasingly Irish Catholic community grew to support Fitzpatrick's assertion of the bishop's control of parish government.
In New York, Archbishop John Hughes (1797–1864), an Irish immigrant himself, was deeply involved in "the Irish question"—Irish independence from British rule. Hughes supported Daniel O'Connell's Catholic emancipation movement in Ireland, but rejected such radical and violent societies as the Young Irelanders and the National Brotherhood. Hughes also disapproved of American Irish radical fringe groups, urging immigrants to assimilate themselves into American life while remaining patriotic to Ireland "only individually". In Hughes's view, a large-scale movement to form Irish settlements in the western United States was too isolationist and ultimately detrimental to immigrants' success in the New World.
In the 1840s, Hughes crusaded for public-funded Irish Schools modeled after the successful Irish public school system in Lowell, Massachusetts. Hughes denounced the Public School Society of New York as an extension of an Old-World struggle whose outcome was directed not by understanding of the basic problems but, rather, by mutual mistrust and violently inflamed emotions. For Irish Catholics, the motivation lay largely in memory of British oppression, while their antagonists were dominated by the English Protestant historic fear of papal interference in civil affairs. Because of the vehemence of this quarrel, the New York Legislature passed the Maclay Act in 1842, giving New York City an elective Board of Education empowered to build and supervise schools and distribute the education fund—but with the proviso that none of the money should go to schools which taught religion. Hughes responded by building an elaborate parochial school system that stretched to the college level, setting a policy followed in other large cities. Efforts to get city or state funding failed because of vehement Protestant opposition to a system that rivaled the public schools.
In the west, Catholic Irish were having a large affect as well. The open west attracted many Irish immigrants. Many of these immigrants were Catholic. When they migrated west, they would form "little pockets" with other Irish immigrants. Irish Catholic communities were made in "supportive, village style neighborhoods centered around a Catholic church and called 'parishes'". These neighborhoods affected the overall lifestyle and atmosphere of the communities. Other ways religion played a part in these towns was the fact that many were started by Irish Catholic priests. Father Bernard Donnelly started "Town of Kansas" which would later become Kansas City. His influence over early stages Kansas City was great, and so the Catholic religion was spread to other settlers who arrived. While not all settlers became Catholics, a great number of the early settlers were Catholic. In other western communities, Irish priests wanted to convert the Native Americans to Catholicism. These Catholic Irish would contribute not only to the growth of Catholic population in America, but to the values and traditions in America.
Jesuits established a network of colleges in major cities, including Boston College, Fordham University in New York, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Fordham was founded in 1841 and attracted students from other regions of the United States, and even South America and the Caribbean. At first exclusively a liberal arts institution, it built a science building in 1886, lending more legitimacy to science in the curriculum there. In addition, a three-year bachelor of science degree was created. Boston College, by contrast, was established over twenty years later in 1863 to appeal to urban Irish Catholics. It offered a rather limited intellectual curriculum, however, with the priests at Boston College prioritizing spiritual and sacramental activities over intellectual pursuits. One consequence was that Harvard Law School would not admit Boston College graduates to its law school. Modern Jesuit leadership in American academia was not to become their hallmark across all institutions until the 20th century.
The Irish became prominent in the leadership of the Catholic Church in the U.S. by the 1850s—by 1890 there were 7.3 million Catholics in the U.S. and growing, and most bishops were Irish. As late as the 1970s, when Irish were 17% of American Catholics, they were 35% of the priests and 50% of the bishops, together with a similar proportion of presidents of Catholic colleges and hospitals.
The Scots-Irish who settled in the back country of colonial America were largely Presbyterians. The establishment of many settlements in the remote back-country put a strain on the ability of the Presbyterian Church to meet the new demand for qualified, college-educated clergy. Religious groups such as the Baptists and Methodists did not require higher education of their ministers, so they could more readily supply ministers to meet the demand of the growing Scots-Irish settlements. By about 1810, Baptist and Methodist churches were in the majority, and the descendants of the Scotch-Irish today remain predominantly Baptist or Methodist. They were avid participants in the revivals taking place during the Great Awakening from the 1740s to the 1840s. They take pride in their Irish heritage because they identify with the values ascribed to the Scotch-Irish who played a major role in the American Revolution and in the development of American culture.
The first Presbyterian community in America was established in 1640 in Southampton, Long Island New York. Francis Makemie, an Irish Presbyterian immigrant later established churches in Maryland and Virginia. Makemie was born and raised near Ramelton, County Donegal, to Ulster Scots parents. He was educated in the University of Glasgow and set out to organize and initiate the construction of several Presbyterian Churches throughout Maryland and Virginia. By 1706, Makemie and his followers constructed a Presbyterian Church in Rehobeth, Maryland. In 1707, after traveling to New York to establish a presbytery, Francis Makemie was charged with preaching without a license by the English immigrant and Governor of New York, Edward Hyde. Makemie won a vital victory for the fight of religious freedom for Scots-Irish immigrants when he was acquitted and gained recognition for having "stood up to Anglican authorities". Makemie became one of the wealthiest immigrants to colonial America, owning more than 5,000 acres and 33 slaves.
New Light Presbyterians founded the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University, in 1746 in order to train ministers dedicated to their views. The college was the educational and religious capital of Scots-Irish America. By 1808, loss of confidence in the college within the Presbyterian Church led to the establishment of the separate Princeton Theological Seminary, but deep Presbyterian influence at the college continued through the 1910s, as typified by university president Woodrow Wilson.
Out on the frontier, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians of the Muskingum Valley in Ohio established Muskingum College at New Concord in 1837. It was led by two clergymen, Samuel Wilson and Benjamin Waddle, who served as trustees, president, and professors during the first few years. During the 1840s and 1850s the college survived the rapid turnover of very young presidents who used the post as a stepping stone in their clerical careers, and in the late 1850s it weathered a storm of student protest. Under the leadership of L. B. W. Shryock during the Civil War, Muskingum gradually evolved from a local and locally controlled institution to one serving the entire Muskingum Valley. It is still affiliated with the Presbyterian church.
Brought up in a Scots-Irish Presbyterian home, Cyrus McCormick of Chicago developed a strong sense of devotion to the Presbyterian Church. Throughout his later life, he used the wealth gained through invention of the mechanical reaper to further the work of the church. His benefactions were responsible for the establishment in Chicago of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of the Northwest (after his death renamed the McCormick Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church). He assisted the Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He also supported a series of religious publications, beginning with the Presbyterian Expositor in 1857 and ending with the Interior (later called The Continent), which his widow continued until her death.
Irish immigrants were the first immigrant group to America to build and organize Methodist churches. Many of the early Irish immigrants who did so came from a German-Irish background. Barbara Heck, an Irish woman of German descent from County Limerick, Ireland, immigrated to America in 1760, with her husband, Paul. She is often considered to be the "Mother of American Methodism." Heck guided and mentored her cousin, Philip Embury, who was also an "Irish Palatine" immigrant. Heck and Embury constructed the John Street Methodist Church, which today is usually recognized as the oldest Methodist Church in the United States. However, another church constructed by prominent Irish Methodist immigrant, Robert Strawbridge, may have preceded the John Street Methodist Church.
Catholics and Protestants kept their distance; intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants was uncommon, and strongly discouraged by both Protestant ministers and Catholic priests. As Dolan notes, "'Mixed marriages', as they were called, were allowed in rare cases, were warned against repeatedly, and were uncommon."
Irish-American journalists "scoured the cultural landscape for evidence of insults directed at the Irish in America." Much of what historians know about hostility to the Irish comes from their reports in Irish and in Democratic newspapers.
While the parishes were struggling to build parochial schools, many Catholic children attended public schools. The Protestant King James Version of the Bible was widely used in public schools; Catholics were forbidden to read or recite it. Many Irish children complained that Catholicism was openly mocked in the classroom. In New York City, the curriculum vividly portrayed Catholics, and specifically the Irish, as villainous. The Catholic archbishop John Hughes, an immigrant to America from County Tyrone, Ireland, campaigned for public funding of Catholic education in response to the bigotry. While never successful in obtaining public money for private education, the debate with the city's Protestant elite spurred by Hughes' passionate campaign paved the way for the secularization of public education nationwide. In addition, Catholic higher education expanded during this period with colleges and universities that evolved into such institutions as Fordham University and Boston College providing alternatives to Irish who were not otherwise permitted to apply to other colleges.
Prejudice against Irish Catholics in the U.S. reached a peak in the mid-1850s with the Know Nothing Movement, which tried to oust Catholics from public office. After a year or two of local success, the Know Nothing Party vanished. Some historians, however, maintain that actual job discrimination was minimal.
Many Irish work gangs were hired by contractors to build canals, railroads, city streets and sewers across the country. In the South, they underbid slave labor. One result was that small cities that served as railroad centers came to have large Irish populations.
In 1895, the Knights of Equity was founded, to combat discrimination against Irish Catholics in the U.S., and to assist them financially when needed.
Irish Catholics were popular targets for stereotyping in the 19th century. According to historian George Potter, the media often stereotyped the Irish in America as being boss-controlled, violent (both among themselves and with those of other ethnic groups), voting illegally, prone to alcoholism and dependent on street gangs that were often violent or criminal. Potter quotes contemporary newspaper images:
You will scarcely ever find an Irishman dabbling in counterfeit money, or breaking into houses, or swindling; but if there is any fighting to be done, he is very apt to have a hand in it." Even though Pat might "'meet with a friend and for love knock him down,'" noted a Montreal paper, the fighting usually resulted from a sudden excitement, allowing there was "but little 'malice prepense' in his whole composition." The Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati in 1853, saying that the "name of 'Irish' has become identified in the minds of many, with almost every species of outlawry," distinguished the Irish vices as "not of a deep malignant nature," arising rather from the "transient burst of undisciplined passion," like "drunk, disorderly, fighting, etc., not like robbery, cheating, swindling, counterfeiting, slandering, calumniating, blasphemy, using obscene language, &c.
The Irish had many humorists of their own, but were scathingly attacked in political cartoons, especially those in Puck magazine from the 1870s to 1900; it was edited by secular Germans who opposed the Catholic Irish in politics. In addition, the cartoons of Thomas Nast were especially hostile; for example, he depicted the Irish-dominated Tammany Hall machine in New York City as a ferocious tiger.
The stereotype of the Irish as violent drunks has lasted well beyond its high point in the mid-19th century. For example, President Richard Nixon once told advisor Charles Colson that "[t]he Irish have certain — for example, the Irish can't drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. Particularly the real Irish."
Discrimination against Irish Americans differed depending on gender. For example, Irish women were sometimes stereotyped as "reckless breeders" because some American Protestants feared high Catholic birth rates would eventually result in a Protestant minority. Many native-born Americans claimed that "their incessant childbearing [would] ensure an Irish political takeover of American cities [and that] Catholicism would become the reigning faith of the hitherto Protestant nation." Irish men were also targeted, but in a different way than women were. The difference between the Irish female "Bridget" and the Irish male "Pat" was distinct; while she was impulsive but fairly harmless, he was "always drunk, eternally fighting, lazy, and shiftless". In contrast to the view that Irish women were shiftless, slovenly and stupid (like their male counterparts), girls were said to be "industrious, willing, cheerful, and honest—they work hard, and they are very strictly moral".
There were also Darwinian-inspired excuses for the discrimination of the Irish in America. Many Americans believed that since the Irish were Celts and not Anglo-Saxons, they were racially inferior and deserved second-hand citizenship. The Irish being of inferior intelligence was a belief held by many Americans. This notion was held due to the fact that the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.
Sense of heritage
Many people of Irish descent retain a sense of their Irish heritage. Article 2 of the Constitution of Ireland formally recognizes and embraces this fact:
…the Irish Nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
Irish independence from Great Britain encouraged the hope that descendants of Irish abroad who had retained a cultural connection and identified with Ireland would resettle there, as opposed to attracting immigrants from other cultures in other countries. One member of an Irish government of the early republic expressed his hope as follows:
I do not think [the Irish Free State] will afford sufficient allurements to the citizens of other States ... The children of Irish parents born abroad are sometimes more Irish than the Irish themselves, and they would come with added experience and knowledge to our country....|4=Sen. Patrick Kenny, Seanad Éireann 1924,
A sense of exile, diaspora, and (in the case of songs) even nostalgia is a common theme. The modern term "Plastic Paddy" generally refers to someone who was not born in Ireland and is separated from his closest Irish-born ancestor by several generations but still considers themselves "Irish". It is occasionally used in a derogatory fashion towards Irish Americans, in an attempt to undermine the "Irishness" of the Irish diaspora based on nationality and (citizenship) rather than ethnicity. The term is freely applied to relevant people of all nationalities, not solely Irish Americans.
Some Irish Americans were enthusiastic supporters of Irish independence; the Fenian Brotherhood movement was based in the United States and in the late 1860s launched several unsuccessful attacks on British-controlled Canada known as the "Fenian Raids". The Provisional IRA received significant funding for its paramilitary activities from Irish expatriates and Irish American supporters—in 1984, the US Department of Justice won a court case forcing the Irish American fund-raising organization NORAID to acknowledge the Provisional IRA as its "foreign principal".
Irish Catholic Americans settled in large and small cities throughout the North, particularly railroad centers and mill towns. They became perhaps the most urbanized group in America, as few became farmers. Areas that retain a significant Irish American population include the metropolitan areas of Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where most new arrivals of the 1830–1910 period settled. As a percentage of the population, Massachusetts is the most Irish state, with about a quarter, 21.2%, of the population claiming Irish descent. The most Irish American towns in the United States are Scituate, Massachusetts, with 47.5% of its residents being of Irish descent; Milton, Massachusetts, with 44.6% of its 26,000 being of Irish descent; and Braintree, Massachusetts with 46.5% of its 34,000 being of Irish descent. (Weymouth, Massachusetts, at 39% of its 54,000 citizens, and Quincy, Massachusetts, at 34% of its population of 90,000, are the two most Irish cities in the country. Squantum, a peninsula in the northern part of Quincy, is the most Irish neighborhood in the country, with close to 60% of its 2600 residents claiming Irish descent.)
Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago have historically had neighborhoods with higher percentages of Irish American residents. Regionally, the most Irish American states are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, according to the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey in 2013. In consequence of its unique history as a mining center, Butte, Montana, is also one of the country's most thoroughly Irish American cities. Smaller towns, such as Greeley, Nebraska (population 466), with an estimated 51.7% of the residents identifying as Irish American as of 2009-13 were part of the Irish Catholic Colonization effort of Bishop O'Connor of New York in the 1880s.
The states with the top percentages of Irish:
In politics and government
The United States Declaration of Independence contained 56 delegate signatures. Of the signers, eight were of Irish descent. Three signers, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith, were born in Ireland; the remaining five Irish Americans, George Read, Thomas McKean, Thomas Lynch, Jr., Edward Rutledge and Charles Carroll, were the sons or grandsons of Irish immigrants. Though not a delegate but the secretary at the Congress, Charles Thompson, also Irish American, signed as well. The Constitution of the United States was created by a convention of 36 delegates. Of these, at least six were Irish American. George Read and Thomas McKean had already worked on the Declaration, and were joined by John Rutledge, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, and Thomas Fitzsimons. The Carrolls and Fitzsimmons were Catholic, the remainder Protestant.
After 1850 the Catholic Irish moved rapidly into law enforcement and built hundreds of schools, colleges, orphanages, hospitals, and asylums. They were stalwart Democrats and the most intense political opposition came in 1854-55 in the short-lived Know Nothing Party.
By the 1850s, the Irish were already a major presence in the police departments of large cities. In New York City in 1855, of the city's 1,149 policemen, 305 were natives of Ireland. Within 30 years, Irish Americans in the NYPD were almost twice their proportion of the city's population. Both Boston's police and fire departments provided many Irish immigrants with their first jobs. The creation of a unified police force in Philadelphia opened the door to the Irish in that city. By 1860 in Chicago, 49 of the 107 on the police force were Irish. Chief O'Leary headed the police force in New Orleans, and Malachi Fallon was chief of police of San Francisco.
The Irish Catholic diaspora are very well-organized and since 1850 have produced a majority of the leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church, labor unions, the Democratic Party in larger cities, and Catholic high schools, colleges and universities. Al Smith and later John F. Kennedy were political heroes to many Irish Americans. Al Smith, who lost to Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidential election, was the first Irish Catholic to run for president. From the 1830s to the 1960s, Irish Catholics voted 80–95% Democratic, with occasional exceptions like the election of 1920. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who inspired the term "McCarthyism", is a notable Republican exception to the Irish-American connection with the Democratic Party.
Today, Irish politicians are associated with both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan boasted of his Irishness. Historically, Irish Catholics controlled many city machines and often served as chairmen of the Democratic National Committee, including County Monaghan native Thomas Taggart, Vance McCormick, James Farley, Edward J. Flynn, Robert E. Hannegan, J. Howard McGrath, William H. Boyle, Jr., John Moran Bailey, Larry O'Brien, Christopher J. Dodd, Terry McAuliffe and Tim Kaine. In Congress, the Irish are represented in both parties; currently, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Maria Cantwell of Washington are Irish Americans serving in the United States Senate. Former Vice Presidential Candidate and current Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is another prominent Irish-American Republican. Exit polls show that in recent presidential elections Irish Catholics have split about 50–50 for Democratic and Republican candidates. The pro-life faction in the Democratic party includes many Irish Catholic politicians, such as the former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn and senator Bob Casey, Jr., who defeated Senator Rick Santorum in a high visibility race in Pennsylvania in 2006.
In some states such as Connecticut, the most heavily Irish communities now tend to be in the outer suburbs and generally support Republican candidates, such as New Fairfield.
Many major cities have elected Irish American Catholic mayors. Indeed, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Houston, Newark, New York City, Omaha, Scranton, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Saint Paul, and San Francisco have all elected natives of Ireland as mayors. Chicago, Boston, and Jersey City, New Jersey have had more Irish American mayors than any other ethnic group. The cities of Milwaukee (Tom Barrett; 2004-), St. Paul (Chris Coleman; 2006-), Northampton, Massachusetts (Clare Higgins; 2000-), Rockford, Illinois (Lawrence Morrissey; 2005-) and Detroit (Mike Duggan; 2012-) currently (as of 2016) have Irish American mayors. Pittsburgh mayor Bob O'Connor died in office in 2006. New York City has had at least three Irish-born mayors and over eight Irish American mayors. The most recent one was County Mayo native William O'Dwyer, elected in 1949.
The Irish Protestant vote has not been studied nearly as much. Historian Timothy J. Meagher argues that by the late 19th century, most of the Protestant Irish "turned their backs on all associations with Ireland and melted into the American Protestant mainstream." A minority insisted on a "Scotch-Irish" identity.
In Canada, by contrast, Irish Protestants remained a political force, with many belonging to the Orange Order. It was an anti-Catholic social organization with chapters across Canada. It was most powerful during the late 19th century.
American presidents with Irish ancestry
A number of the presidents of the United States have Irish origins. The extent of Irish heritage varies. For example, Chester Arthur's father and both of Andrew Jackson's parents were Irish-born, while George W. Bush has a rather distant Irish ancestry. Ronald Reagan's father was of Irish ancestry, while his mother also had some Irish ancestors. John F. Kennedy had Irish lineage on both sides. Within this group, only Kennedy was raised as a practicing Roman Catholic. Current President Barack Obama's Irish heritage originates from his Kansas-born mother, Ann Dunham, whose ancestry is Irish and English.
Vice Presidents of Irish descent
Other presidents of Irish descent
Irish-American Justices of the Supreme Court
Contributions to American culture
The annual celebration of Saint Patrick's Day is a widely recognized symbol of the Irish presence in America. The largest celebration of the holiday takes place in New York, where the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade draws an average of two million people. The second-largest celebration is held in Boston. The South Boston Parade is one the nation's oldest, dating back to 1737. Savannah, Georgia, also holds one of the largest parades in the United States.
Since the arrival of nearly two million Irish immigrants in the 1840s, the urban Irish police officer and firefighter have become virtual icons of American popular culture. In many large cities, the police and fire departments have been dominated by the Irish for over 100 years, even after the ethnic Irish residential populations in those cities dwindled to small minorities. Many police and fire departments maintain large and active "Emerald Societies", bagpipe marching groups, or other similar units demonstrating their members' pride in their Irish heritage.
While these archetypal images are especially well known, Irish Americans have contributed to U.S. culture in a wide variety of fields: the fine and performing arts, film, literature, politics, sports, and religion. The Irish-American contribution to popular entertainment is reflected in the careers of figures such as James Cagney, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, John Ford, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly, Tyrone Power, Chuck Conners, Ada Rehan, Jena Malone, and Spencer Tracy. Irish-born actress Maureen O'Hara, who became an American citizen, defined for U.S. audiences the archetypal, feisty Irish "colleen" in popular films such as The Quiet Man and The Long Gray Line. More recently, the Irish-born Pierce Brosnan gained screen celebrity as James Bond. During the early years of television, popular figures with Irish roots included Gracie Allen, Art Carney, Joe Flynn, Jackie Gleason, Luke Gordon and Ed Sullivan.
Since the late days of the film industry, celluloid representations of Irish Americans have been plentiful. Famous films with Irish-American themes include social dramas such as Little Nellie Kelly and The Cardinal, labor epics like On the Waterfront, and gangster movies such as Angels with Dirty Faces, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and The Departed. Irish-American characters have been featured in popular television series such as Ryan's Hope, Rescue Me and Blue Bloods.
Prominent Irish-American literary figures include Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winning playwright Eugene O'Neill, Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, author and poet Edgar Allan Poe, social realist James T. Farrell, and Southern Gothic writer Flannery O'Connor. The 19th-century novelist Henry James was also of partly Irish descent. While Irish Americans have been underrepresented in the plastic arts, two well-known American painters claim Irish roots. 20th-century painter Georgia O'Keeffe was born to an Irish-American father, and 19th-century trompe-l'œil painter William Harnett emigrated from Ireland to the United States.
The Irish-American contribution to politics spans the entire ideological spectrum. Two prominent American socialists, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, were Irish Americans. In the 1960s, Irish-American writer Michael Harrington became an influential advocate of social welfare programs. Harrington's views profoundly influenced President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. Meanwhile, Irish-American political writer William F. Buckley emerged as a major intellectual force in American conservative politics in the latter half of the 20th century. Buckley's magazine, National Review, proved an effective advocate of successful Republican candidates such as Ronald Reagan.
Notorious Irish Americans include the legendary New Mexico outlaw Billy the Kid. Many historians believe he was born in New York City to Famine-era immigrants from Ireland. Mary Mallon, also known as Typhoid Mary, was an Irish immigrant, as was madam Josephine Airey, who also went by the name of "Chicago Joe" Hensley. New Orleans socialite and murderer Delphine LaLaurie, whose maiden name was Macarty, was of partial paternal Irish ancestry. Irish-American mobsters include, amongst others, George "Bugs" Moran, Dean O'Banion, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Buddy McLean, Howie Winter and Whitey Bulger. Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of John F. Kennedy, had an Irish-born great-grandmother by the name of Mary Tonry. Colorful Irish Americans also include Margaret Tobin of RMS Titanic fame, scandalous model Evelyn Nesbit, dancer Isadora Duncan, San Francisco madam Tessie Wall, and Nellie Cashman, nurse and gold prospector in the American West.
The wide popularity of Celtic music has fostered the rise of Irish-American bands that draw heavily on traditional Irish themes and music. Such groups include New York City's Black 47, founded in the late 1980s, blending punk rock, rock and roll, Irish music, rap/hip-hop, reggae, and soul; and the Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, nearly a decade later. The Decemberists, a band featuring Irish-American singer Colin Meloy, released "Shankill Butchers", a song that deals with the Ulster Loyalist gang of the same name. The song appears on their album The Crane Wife. Flogging Molly, led by Dublin-born Dave King, are relative newcomers building upon this new tradition.
Starting with the sons of the famine generation, the Irish dominated baseball and boxing, and played a major role in other sports. John L. Sullivan (1858 – 1918), The heavyweight boxing champion, was the first of the modern sports superstars, winning scores of contests – perhaps as many as 200—with a purse that reached the fabulous sum of one million dollars.
Famous in their day were NFL quarterbacks and Super Bowl champions John Elway and Tom Brady, NBA forward Rick Barry, tennis greats Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball shortstop Derek Jeter, basketball point guard Jason Kidd, boxing legend Jack Dempsey, world champion pro surfer Kelly Slater, national champion skier Ryan Max Riley, and legendary golfer Ben Hogan.
The Irish dominated professional baseball in the late 19th century, comprising a third or more of the players and many of the top stars and managers. The professional teams played in northeastern cities with large Irish populations that provided a fan base, as well as training for ambitious youth. Casway argues that:Baseball for Irish kids was a shortcut to the American dream and to self-indulgent glory and fortune. By the mid-1880s these young Irish men dominated the sport and popularized a style of play that was termed heady, daring, and spontaneous.... Ed Delahanty personified the flamboyant, exciting spectator-favorite, the Casey-at-the-bat, Irish slugger. The handsome masculine athlete who is expected to live as large as he played.
Irish stars included Charles Comiskey, Connie Mack, Michael "King" Kelly, Roger Connor, Eddie Collins, Roger Bresnahan, Ed Walsh and New York Giants manager John McGraw. The large 1945 class of inductees enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown included nine Irish Americans.
The Philadelphia Phillies always play at home during spring training on St. Patrick's Day. The Phillies hold the distinction of being the first baseball team to wear green uniforms on St. Patricks Day. The tradition was started by Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw, who dyed his uniform green the night before March 17, 1981.
The Irish brought their native games of handball, hurling and Gaelic football to America. Along with camogie, these sports are part of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The North American GAA organization is still very strong.
Irish Americans have been prominent in comedy. Notable comedians of Irish descent include Jackie Gleason, George Carlin, Bill Burr, Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Conan O'Brien, Denis Leary (holds dual American and Irish citizenship), Colin Quinn, Charles Nelson Reilly, Bill Maher, Molly Shannon, John Mulaney, Kathleen Madigan, Jimmy Fallon, Des Bishop, and Jim Gaffigan, among others. Musicians of Irish descent include Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Kurt Cobain, Bing Crosby, Tori Kelly, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Tim McGraw, Mandy Moore, Hilary Duff, Fergie, Judy Garland, Katy Perry, Tom Petty, Pink, Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, Bruce Springsteen, Gwen Stefani, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and others.
Fictional Irish Americans: In the Comic Strips:
Boston and Philadelphia have the two largest Irish American populations in the country. There are Irish neighborhoods scattered all throughout Boston, most notably South Boston. Many of Philadelphia's Irish neighborhoods are located in the Northeast Philadelphia section of the city, neighborhoods in Southwest Philadelphia, and a few in the South Philadelphia section, most notably the Pennsport neighborhood. There are large Irish populations in the Boston and Philadelphia metropolitan areas as well.