Irish Emigration

mes to America, Britain, Canada and Australia… and beyond
See the Contents at bottom of Page for this Emigration Section.

Irish emigration is an expansive topic – historically, socially, and genealogically. Evidence for this lies in the fact that more than 70million people worldwide claim Irish heritage; within America alone, seven times more Irish-Americans exist than currently reside on Ireland itself.

Genealogists who are studying Irish immigration history tend to fall into two camps:

Who are eligible to research their Irish roots? Individuals whose direct ancestors left Ireland and who wish to trace their heritage / genealogy within Ireland.
Researchers already knowing their Irish heritage but seeking information about ancestors/extended family who may have left.
Before I address either group, let me make clear that my experience lies primarily with Irish records – not British, North or South American or Australian ones – thus precluding my ability to provide guidance for conducting genealogy research outside of Ireland.

However, what you will discover here at Irish Genealogy Toolkit will still prove useful in your family history research.

It provides essential background on Irish emigration and provides tips on locating and using passenger lists as well as an overview of Irish immigrant experiences in certain countries and a selection of websites where you could start researching overseas.

Unless you live in Ireland, if you are of Irish heritage but live outside its borders it is essential that you trace back your family tree until finding an immigrant ancestor and learning everything possible about their life as they adjusted to new life in America as well as identifying their exact place of origin.

Genealogical research should begin in your own country before turning to Irish records. If you haven’t begun this journey yet, these two pages are especially helpful: Begin Hunting Your Irish Roots and Irish Ancestry: the Hunt for Townlands.

Ireland and Britain lack centralised records of emigration: when passenger lists were kept, they were usually maintained according to port of arrival rather than departure; authorities at that time were more focused on those entering than leaving their countries.

Irish Emigration during the 17th and 18th Centuries The initial waves of Irish emigration occured during the second half of 17th Century following Cromwellian regime’s downfall, predominantly by Catholics seeking refuge in America or West Indies as slaves or voluntary migrants; many Waterford and Wexford residents chose a second route – Newfoundland as their destination.

Emigration was seen by Irish Catholics of the 17th and 18th century as going against traditional Celtic practices of extended family relationships and clan relationships.

Departing one’s family and homeland was seen as an unimaginable burden; therefore, an ambition of leaving Ireland and finding better lives abroad did not concern most Irish residents regardless of poverty they currently faced or oppression due to religion.

Where would they go? Catholic emigration to North America was illegal until after the War of Independence and most lived below poverty line conditions – so how could they afford their passage? For most Catholic Irish families emigration simply was not on the agenda; those that did have enough means typically sailed from Cork or Kinsale for North America where settlements often sprung up along its eastern coastline.

Ulster’s northern counties were marked by a different attitude among a significant proportion of residents.

Presbyterians with Scottish ancestry had also endured discrimination in Ireland; however, this wasn’t as detrimental because of an ancestral tie to the land; many felt they would find greater tolerance, freedom and happiness in North America.

They were also, to various degrees, economically independent than their Catholic neighbors; many were artisans, shopkeepers or young professionals while some worked in the Irish linen trade.

These early waves of Irish emigration often reflected economic cycles.

Before 1720, when New England became the destination of choice for most, immigration to that state was steady but numbers weren’t large. They temporarily surged at the end of each decade but ultimately decreased again.

Famine in the early 1740s caused renewed interest in Atlantic passage and Irish emigration never really subsided afterwards. From 1771-1773 alone, over 100 ships left from Ulster ports such as Newry, Derry, Belfast Portrush Larne carrying some 32,000 Irish immigrants (many Catholic). Dublin Cork Waterford were also major sources of immigrant arrivals with many Catholics setting sail from there alone for America – this figure peaked by 1790 with 447,000 Irish immigrant arriving. Two-thirds originated in Ulster!

Back in Ireland, population had surged from just 2.3 million at midcentury to as many as 5 million by 1800; most lived in poverty.