Immigration is a crucial historical period in many countries around the whole world. Some countries lost people because of different political, economical, or social challenges, and some countries lodged people and use their skills, knowledge, and experience in a variety of ways. Irish immigration was one of the well-known periods in the history of Ireland and the USA. The Irish were eager to leave their native country and follow the American Dream to avoid the consequences of famine in 1845 and to get more opportunities in a new country.
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In the middle of the 19th century, Irish immigration occurred in many American cities, and Philadelphia was one of them. Both, Americans and Irish people, faced some challenges when people had to unite their cultures, traditions, and beliefs. Still, one of the main challenges that Irish immigrants faced in Philadelphia was the necessity for people with different religious preferences to living and learn in the same places: Irish Catholicism and American Protestants were not ready to co-exist.
The main reasons for the migration of the Irish were the conditions developed in the country. A considerable part of the population in Ireland was killed by famine in 1845 (Jackson, 2014). The Irish people were known due to their farms and potatoes. As soon as the potato blight hit the country, many Irish people lost their chances to survive. People had nothing to eat, land became inappropriate for living, and even landowners had to let their workers go to protect themselves against the possible famine outcomes. People bought ship tickets and went to America, the only safe neighbor country to live in.
Because many Irish were sick, they had to visit the port in Philadelphia and checked for possible illnesses in a quarantine station called the Lazaretto. Due to its location, Philadelphia turned out to be a home for many Irish and British people between in the middle of the 19th century (Ignatiev, 2012). The Irish were better prepared to emigration to the USA due to properly developed educational, political, and social views and the ideas on how they can use their experience and contribute the American society.
As soon as the Philadelphia Irish defined themselves as a separate community in the city, several Nativists were not satisfied with the fact that immigrants brought their Catholic faith and did not want to change it even being aware of the already developed American protestant beliefs (Poxon & McCaffery, 2013). City life was changed considerably because the Irish were able to take the positions many Americans did not want to get involved in. “The sons of the famine immigrants became machinists, loom fixers, stevedores, locomotive mechanics, and skilled tradesmen. The daughters… worked in mills, garment factories, nursing wards, and domestic services” (Poxon & McCaffery, 2013, p. 9).
In a short period, the Irish gained the possibility to become a middle-class community in Philadelphia and could send their children to schools and universities. However, the Irish did not want to consider themselves as guests in the country anymore. They wanted to gain rights and opportunities the same way the Americans had.
In other words, the Irish understood that their education and cultural development were the keys to a successful future of their life in America. However, they also realized that the majority of schools their children had to visit were the protestant schools. Being devoted Catholics, the Irish could accept the fact that their children had to study under the religion of other people. In Philadelphia schools, much attention was paid to the ideas discussed in the protestant bible and the writing of King James. The basics of the Catholic Church were neglected, and the Irish had to think about the possible solution to that problem.
It was a real challenge for the Irish to prove the necessity of special Catholic schools and Universities, where people should not make choices or neglect their interests. The representatives of the Irish middle-class and those, who acquired wealth in Philadelphia, contributed the possibility to build special Catholic churches, schools, and even hospitals (Poxon & McCaffery, 2013). Such a decision was successful for the majority of the Philadelphia Irish because it helped to change the directions in different spheres of life and promote the rise of political, economical, and social sectors.
Great public support, abilities to protect the ideas from a legal point of view, and even inconsiderable opposition from the Nativists’ side served as good motivational factors for the Irish to overcome the problem of religious diversity and create appropriate living and working conditions for the migrants and native citizens of Philadelphia.
In general, the history of Irish immigration to Philadelphia is one of the brightest examples of how the problems that bothered people for several years could be solved logically and acceptably. The Irish realized that it was not right to come to a new country and started dictated the rules according to which they used to live. It was necessary to prove their rights, learn the traditions of the Nativists, and understand whether it was possible to find a solution instead of neglect their religion and beliefs.
Ignatiev, N. (2012). How the Irish became white? New York, NY: Routledge.
Jackson, A. (2014). The Oxford handbook of modern Irish history. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Poxon, M.K. & McCaffery, J.S.P. (2013). Irish Philadelphia. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.