Celebrate St Patrick’s Day by Remembering Your Irish Ancestors

Who were the first Irish immigrants in America?

Why did they immigrate; when did they leave; how did they get here; where did they settle?  

Some historians point to the Scotch-Irish, who began arriving in Philadelphia about 1713. Most were born in Northern Ireland, but their ancestors came from Scotland. King James I of England recruited their Scottish ancestors from Scotland’s lowlands to resettle the Irish land that the English King had confiscated in 1608 from rebellious Irish Ulster nobles. The first Scottish immigrants began arriving in Ulster in 1609. However, the Scotsmen felt disappointed with the reception from the Anglican English and the Catholic Irish. They had difficulties assimilating into their Irish lands.

The Catholic Irish resented the Scots because the English Crown gave the Scots land confiscated from the deposed Irish Lords. Further English authorities discriminated against the Scots by not giving them equal rights after inviting them to Ireland. English laws also required the Scots to pay tithes to the Anglican Church of England, even though they also paid tithes to their Presbyterian churches. This double discrimination caused tensions to grow, and the Scots began a mass exodus within three generations after arriving in Ireland. In the early 1700s, the Scots started leaving Ireland for the Pennsylvania and South Carolina Colonies in America to enjoy the religious tolerance and the vast new lands that the colonies offered.

Small groups of Irish Catholics also came to the American colonies in the early 1700s from the southern Irish counties. They left from the ports of Cork and Kinsale along the south coast. They were answering the invitation from the governors of the English colonies of Virginia and Maryland. The governors hired agents to recruit European men because their colonies needed workers to build their settlements, clear the land for farming, and produce goods for export.

The Scotch-Irish immigrants receive more recognition as early Irish immigrants because of their numbers and contributions to the settlement of western Pennsylvania, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Appalachian region of America. The Catholic Irish were in the colonies in the early 1700s, and in the mid-1800s, they began coming to America in large waves.

If you are researching your family history, finding the origins of your Irish roots is crucial. Study the phases of Irish and United States history that affected immigration to America.

Remember that each immigrant has a unique story. Many Irish immigrants kept the details of their stories hidden in their hearts and memories. It was very personal and painful to discuss with anyone. Our challenge is to dig out as many details of their immigration saga as we can for our family history. Match some reasons for immigration to parts of their stories and then merge them with the rest of your family’s oral history.

Our immigrant ancestors laid the foundation of our roots in the United States. Our lives would be much different if they did not endure the challenges of emigration from Ireland. Do not underestimate their contributions. They performed vital roles in the development of America. Many of them cleared fields on the frontier and worked on farms. Many Irish were unskilled and toiled constructing the canals and railroads or in factories. Yet, their lives became building blocks in the growth of their new country.

The voyage and arrival process was a tremendous challenge to our ancestors, and understanding what they overcame should give more respect for their lives. I had a very different picture of my grandparents after identifying the challenges they overcame to settle in the United States.

Hopefully, your efforts will bring your ancestors’ story alive for your future generations.

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