Given this century’s wars, it’s not hard to fathom Irish immigrant bigotry. The great Irish potato famine lasted from 1845 to 1855 and brought massive numbers of Irish refugees to American shores. Strict landlords evicted tenant farmers who could no longer pay rent with blighted crops. So faced with starvation or death, hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrated to the US, a nation which boasted freedom, liberty and opportunity.
To say there were not welcomed is an understatement.
Irish bigotry included the stereotype of belligerent Irish drunkards, not to be trusted, or downright dangerous. Cartoons depicted a prehistoric species to bolster claims the Irish were an inferior, servant race compared to white Anglo-Saxons. The common derogatory terms tossed about were ‘Micks, Paddies or Biddies,’ based on common family names. Irish culture and customs were openly ridiculed by politicians and the press alike.
Immigrant refugees were subjected to distortions of their religion and ostracized simply because of their faith. Catholics were labeled as pagans, not being ‘real’ Christians, even barbaric. Some ministers forbid association between Catholics and Protestants. Many Protestants distrusted a religion that in their eyes was highly suspicious with its rosary beads and Latin prayers to the Saints. The sheer numbers coming across the Atlantic border caused wide spread fear and even led to attacks on churches.
Many came ashore with few skills besides farming, but just enough to be servants or factory workers. The Irish monopolized the lowest-paying jobs, creating growing resentment as they were seen as taking work from ‘real’ Americans. It became common practice for those with foreign accents or names to be barred from public buildings and employment opportunities.
NO IRISH NEED APPLY signs were common in the windows of businesses and advertisements for work.
It was felt in the 1800’s that the Irish hated the American way of life and its ‘purer’ form of Christianity. They were considered illiterate, kept to themselves, and bred like rabbits. The ‘native’ Americans felt that this ‘reckless, slothful, and superstitious’ race had no place in the US and should all be deported back where they came!
During the Civil War, the Irish found respect of sorts as Yankee soldiers that could help outnumber the Southern Confederacy. However, the camaraderie during the war did not change the opinion of most Americans. By the 1870’s and 1880’s, many Irish still occupied the slums of major US cities. Of course, we know today that the Irish were eventually embraced and became a vibrant, healthy part of America’s melting pot culture, as did many waves of immigrants since whether from Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.
BRING US YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR, YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE! – Statue of Liberty inscription.