Irish Americans' Contributions to Our Nation

As each generation moves into the future, we must give all we have inherited to them. If we don’t possess the stories of our past, we must seek them—or what can we give our children to define who they truly are? If we only bring trivial legends, tales and media impressions of our heritage created by others, instead of our true history, we have nothing of value to offer those who come after us. And with nothing for them to pass on to their heirs, those stories that were left to us will be lost forever. 

America has been a mecca for Irish immigrants since the 1600s. They and their sons participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution. There were Irish Americans among the signers of the foundational documents of the United States: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

In 1790, the first national census was held to count everyone and learn where Americans had come from. From a total population of 3.9 million, 65% were from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland—the majority was Irish. A little more than 19% were from Africa and the rest were from the Netherlands, France, Sweden or were Jewish with no homeland.

Though they started at the bottom of the economic ladder, Irish and Irish American insistence on education for their children paid off. By 1900, Irish Americans slowly rose within the working world and had jobs and earnings about equal on average to their neighbors. The yet there were still shanty towns in major cities.

After 1945, the Irish consistently ranked at the top of the social hierarchy and business world contributing to the shaping of America, thanks to their high rate of college attendance. According to the last Census, there are 34.5 million Americans who list their heritage as either primarily or partially Irish. That number is, incidentally, seven times larger than the population of Ireland itself. From their coming, America has seen 22 Presidents of Irish descent and countless CEOs of major corporations. The story of Irish America is truly one of the more remarkable success stories in the History of America.

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor Arizona (March 26, 1930 - ?) Episcopalian, Attorney, Author, U.S. Supreme Court Justice

At a party at her Arizona home in 1981, a middle-aged Sandra Day O’Connor, ever the consummate hostess, served enchiladas poolside with good cheer. But when she greeted a friend of her son who was soon to begin a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, her mood shifted. As Evan Thomas describes the scene in “First,” his illuminating and eminently readable biography of the Supreme Court’s first female justice . . .

Honorable Ronald Wilson Reagan: Life Before Politics California (February 6, 1911 - June 5, 2004) Irish Catholic, Ireland, Scotland, Veteran, Actor, Politician, Governor of California, President of the U.S.

On February 6, 1911, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois in a five-room apartment on the main street. Like most homes in town, it did not have running water or an indoor toilet. In addition to the main street, the town had a population of 820, a railroad station, two or three churches and a couple of stores.

Honorable Ronald Wilson Reagan: Political Career California (February 6, 1911 - June 5, 2004) Irish Catholic, Ireland, Scotland, Veteran, Actor, Politician, Governor of California, President of the U.S.

As a result of his travels on behalf of General Electric (who had hired him as a home office goodwill ambassador), he became convinced that big business was not the problem in the economy, it was big government. As a result, more Republican groups began to extend him speaking invitations. In the fall of 1962, he officially joined the Republican party. In 1964, he acted in his final film, playing a villain for the first and only time in “The Killers.”