Emigration and the Irish Diaspora

The Irish diaspora consists of Irish emigrants and their descendants in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa. The Irish diaspora is said to contain over 80 million people. The term first came widely into use in Ireland in the 1990s when the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, began using the term to describe all those of Irish descent.

Much of Irish history records that the Irish Famine was the catalyst for the emergence of mass emigration but the actual impetus is more complex. Emigration began well before the Irish Famine of the 1840s, over 1.5 million emigrated from Ireland before 1845 with as high an annual concentration in the next one hundred years with varying geographical destinations.

People have left the island of Ireland for many centuries and for many economic, political, social, religious, and personal reasons. One of the most striking features about this emigration is its duration, scale and gender balance. Uniquely among other European emigrant groups Irish emigration consisted of almost 50% women and mostly young, single women.

Irish people have contributed to their countries of adoption as academics, business people, civil servants, doctors, domestics, dramatists, entertainers, journalists, labourers, lawyers, missionaries, navvies, nurses, poets, politicians, revolutionary leaders, soldiers, teachers, trade unionists, writers and more.

Due to the success of the Irish economy and Ireland’s performance and enhanced status on European and international levels this trend of outward migration is being reversed. The country is experiencing two strands of inward migration: Irish emigrants returning and new migrants arriving from other countries, cultures and ethnicities leading to more ethnic and cultural diversity and vibrancy.

There are now a number of academic units in the UK dedicated to the study of Irish emigration such as the Irish Diaspora Research Unit at the University of Bradford and the British Library has a vast collection of material for the average and academic reader.

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