The emigration from Ireland has its roots in the 1500’s, when the English tried to take over Catholic Ireland. After the final conquest in 1690, Protestant families gained rule over most of Ireland, and most Catholics became workers and servants. When these Catholics could not pay their rent and were evicted, they began to leave for America. In 1815, the economic depression made things so bad the emigration increased dramatically. In 1840, three-fourths of the people in Ireland were dependent on the potato crop. When the crop failed, more than a half million people were evicted, and a million died. For many, the only alternative to starvation was emigration.
When they got to America, the Irish found jobs as millworkers, servants, cooks, factory workers, miners, lumbermen, dockhands, ditch diggers, and road, canal, and railroad builders. Many lived in shacks and tenements, and many died from overwork, accidents, and disease, but most were convinced that they were better off than they would have been in Ireland. They also had to deal with anti-Irish sentiment: signs said “No Irish Need Apply,” Catholic churches were burned, and immigrants were killed. Yet the Irish persevered and by the 1850’s some had even gotten into politics. By the 1880’s, there were Irish American organizations ready to welcome new immigrants, and by the early 1900’s Irish were everywhere in American society.
OUT OF IRELAND was first a documentary film, and the documentation illustrates this book as well, in songs, poems, letters from those starving in Ireland asking relatives in America for passage money, and letters from the new immigrants writing back about the new country; and in exquisite photographs of the old towns and villages, the extended families newly arrived in America, and the new immigrants at work.