The Irish in America


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This may be old news to many of you, but I wanted to share the new RTÉ documentary Arrivals. It aired a couple of weeks ago, but I just caught it today. RTÉ describes Arrivals:

Catching up with Irish emigrants one year after they left to start new lives abroad. All participants featured in the ‘Departure Day’ documentary screened in January.

Click here to view the program.  It will be available on RTÉ’s website until December 12th.

The original documentary Departure Day told the story of the most recent wave of Irish emigration. Small business owners, carpenters, electricians, lawyers, and recent university graduates are faced with the grim reality of a stagnant Irish economy and prepare to leave Ireland in search of jobs and a future.

Arrivals picks up with the Irish subjects settled in their new homes in Canada and Australia. If we take away the mobile phones and computers, the story of Irish emigration in 2011 appears basically unchanged from that of previous generations. While I watched the documentary, I found myself drawing parallels between the subjects and my own emigrant relatives who came to America more than one-hundred years ago.

When Larry, an electrician Ireland, mentions the loneliness of working on an 18,000 acre ranch in Australia, I am reminded of my ancestors who moved to the virgin prairie of Western Minnesota in the 1870s. I have often wondered what they thought of the flat, vast expanse of land before them, with their nearest neighbor at least a mile away, and town up to ten miles.

One thing that is different for the present-day emigrants featured in Arrivals when compared to earlier generations is that these Irish seem to be moving to a city or country where they have no ties – no family or friends to welcome them and help them adjust to their new lives. I have mentioned on this blog many times how networks helped generations of Irish in the New World during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. New communities were created around these networks in cities and settlements throughout North America with churches, schools, pubs, sporting groups, and other institutions.

The young man from Cahir, County Tipperary seems to follow the traditional model of a single male emigrant. He works hard, but he finds time to socialize and have fun with a community of other Irish in Sydney. He’s the frequent passenger on the “party bus”. I have the feeling that a couple of my ancestors would have definitely joined him on that bus!

What will happen next to the emigrants featured in Arrivals? I hope another follow-up is in the works.


Author: Aine

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My heritage pretty much covers the map of Ireland: great-great-grandparents from Cork (Crowley, Foley, Regan), a great-great-grandmother from Clare (Quinn), a great-great-grandfather from Fermanagh (McMahon) and his wife's parents from Mayo (McAndrew), a great-grandmother from Connemara (Hannon) married to my great-grandfather from Laois (McCormack), great-grandparents from Sligo (Flannery), and a great-grandmother from Kildare (Hill). All of those people ended up in Minnesota, where my four grandparents were born. Three and four generations after my people left Ireland for America, I retain all Irish heritage. So much for the melting pot...

One thought on “Arrivals

  1. great insight Aine. Seeing the sameness and differences, one is reminded of how important the institutions you mentioned provided the support systems the new arrivals needed.

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