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Irish-American Heritage Month, History and Significance

Mary Harris

Magazine, The Immigrant Experience

During the nineteenth century, millions of Irish people found a home in America. The Great Famine forced millions out of their homeland and made them settle in America. A significant number of Irish people landed particularly in New York City. 

The Irish migrants had no money and they were not skilled. The majority found work as laborers, barkeepers, and domestic servants. Some also worked as school teachers and politicians. They fought a variety of difficulties while trying to settle down in their new home as many groups stood against them and tried to create hurdles in their way. 

However, the Irish continuously evolved and influenced American culture. The Irish picture constructed in New York City traveled throughout the country. The unhindered flow has led to the evolution of Irish and American identity as it was the Irish blood that has been flowing through the heart of America. A large number of the most famous, prolific, and influential Americans are of Irish descent; John F. Kennedy, Brad Pitt, and Jimmy Fallon are just a few names to mention. 

March is the month to recognize the overcoming of obstacles that Irish-Americans faced soon after they arrived in the country. The month also provides us with the opportunity to honor and celebrate the incredible contributions made by the Irish to American society. 

The Irish-American Heritage Month was first celebrated in 1991 by a proclamation of the President. March was chosen as a month to celebrate and acknowledge the endowment of Irish immigrants and their generations towards US society because of March 17, which marks the traditional death date of Saint Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. 

The month is of huge importance as it provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon our heritage, learn more about it, and celebrate what is a unique and brilliant strand of history.

Irish Immigrants and enrichment of US culture

The Irish were quick to partake in activities that strengthen the US economy. For example, as many as 12,000 Irish laborers took part in the construction of High Bridge and Croton Aqueduct in the mid-1900s. They constituted 86% of the Manhattans laborers and 74% of domestic servants of the city by 1855. 

Besides, more than 150,000 Irishmen, most of whom were recent immigrants and many of whom were not yet US citizens, joined the Union Army during the American Civil War. That’s one of the biggest sacrifices the Irish made for making America what it is today.  

The Irish women also actively participated in activities of nurses and laundresses in urban areas. Exceeding half of the urban population, bricklayers, masons, weavers, stonecutters, plasterers, polishers and weavers involved Irish origin men.

Irish men and women became professional craftspeople leading to advancement in the clothing industry. They worked in positions such as tailors, dressmakers, hatters, seamstresses, and furriers. They were appointed to jobs by well-established Irish businessmen such as Charles Knox, A.T Stewart, and O’Neill, and Daniel Devlin. The development of the Irish middle class was initiated by small businesses, groceries, saloons, and carting concerns.

Irish also contributed to theater, minstrel shows, and vaudeville, by providing appealing topics and skilled artists. They also provided a large audience. Edward Harrigan along with Tony Hart performed the fictional Mulligan Guard, a series of plays to depict Irish in New York City. The introduction of Dixie by the Bryant brothers depicts stage Irish men.


The Irish have played a tremendous role to keep our country on the top tiers of accomplishment. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their sacrifices in the Civil War, and marvelous successes in the economic, political, social, intellectual, and technology sectors. 

Moreover, we also need to recognize the never-ending contributions of Irish immigrants in American culture which continue till today. The Irish residing in American society continue to bring life, enrichment and evolve the American culture. In fact, a month is a quite short period to celebrate the Irish-Americans in true spirit.

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