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Color illustrated map of Ireland from the early 18th century, delineating the provinces. Town and city names are identified in small print.
Homann, Johann Baptist, Creator, William Petty, and Nicolaes Visscher. The Kingdom of Ireland, Divided as Much into the Main Regions of Ulster, Connacht, Leinster and Munster. Nuremberg: Johann Baptist Homann, 1715. Map.

Commemorating Irish-American Heritage Month

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March is well-known for St. Patrick’s Day, the commemoration of the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and a modern celebration of Irish culture. Irish immigration to the United States began well before the American Revolution, with an estimated 300,000 Irish natives having settled in the United States by 1776. This legacy can be further traced in the Library’s Irish American resource guide, which includes genealogy resources.

Color illustrated map of Ireland from the early 18th century, delineating the provinces. Town and city names are identified in small print.
The Kingdom of Ireland, Divided Much into the Main Regions of Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, and Munster. Johann Baptist Homann et al. 1715. Map. World Digital Library.

Between the 1820s and 1860s, Irish immigration drastically increased and was often met with harsh anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment. In the 1840s, many immigrants arrived following the potato famine that devastated Ireland. In 1875, the Supreme Court ruled that immigration regulations were the responsibility of the federal government. (Chy Lung v. Freeman, 1875.) By the time of the 1880 census, the number of immigrants from Ireland had grown to 1,854,571. Following the passage of the 1882 Immigration Act (22 Stat. 214), restrictions tightened. Every non-citizen entering the country would now be charged “a duty of fifty cents,” and those judged to be a “convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge” would be denied entry. Many Irish who were successful in their immigration efforts over the 19th century labored in working-class positions. Businesses that discriminated against Irish workers often advertised in newspapers that “No Irish Need Apply.” (This became the title of an American folk song.)

Black and white scan of song lyrics, with decorative rectangular border surrounding the lyrics.
No Irish need apply. J. H. Johnson, Stationer & Printer, 7 N. 10th Street, Phila. [1862?]. Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Nonetheless, Irish American culture flourished. The Library’s digitized newspaper collection includes three publications specifically aimed toward local Irish communities across the midwest and southern states – The Irish Standard (Minneapolis, MN 1866-1920), The Irish Republic (Chicago, IL 1867-1868), and the Kentucky Irish American (Louisville, KY 1898-1968). These newspapers often weighed in on political issues “at home” in Ireland and in the United States. “The Irish race occupies at presents a very prominent, as well as trying position,” mused one writer on the burgeoning Irish-American community and its potential to support the “resuscitation” of Ireland.

The Easter Rising in 1916 led to the Irish War of Independence. In 1921, an address was presented to the United States Congress on behalf of Éamon de Valera, the president of the short-lived Irish Republic (Dail Eireann) between 1919 and 1921. De Valera addressed “our brethren in the common effort to hasten the day when the nations may dwell together in justice and harmony,” likening the struggle of the Irish people to that of the American revolutionaries. “We feel certain that the struggle of our people…against the aggression of England is not passing unobserved by you.”

Black and white head and shoulders photograph of Eamon De Valera, body facing to the right and face looking at the camera with a somber expression.
[Eamon De Valera, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right]. ca. 1919. Prints and Photographs Division.
Despite de Valera’s efforts, the United States never explicitly recognized the Irish Republic. However, in 1924, following the end of the Irish Civil War and the partitioning of Ireland into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, Secretary of State Charles E. Hughes recognized the Irish Free State. The United States and Ireland first signed a bilateral treaty in 1931, which recognized load-line certificates. Thirty years later, in 1961, John F. Kennedy became the first Irish-American President of the United States.

The first Congressionally-recognized Irish-American Heritage Month took place another thirty years later, in 1991. (Public Law 101-418.) In the text of the bill, Congress acknowledged the contributions of Irish immigrants and Irish Americans over the years, including Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson and architect of the White House James Hoban.

Color illustration of the White House, as envisioned by architect James Hoban.
[The White House (“President’s House”) Washington, D.C. East front elevation] / B H Latrobe 1807. S.P.B.U States. Latrobe, Benjamin Henry. 1807. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
You can learn more about laws and governance in Ireland and Northern Ireland through the Law Library’s Legal Reports collection and the Global Legal Monitor.

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