America has been a mecca for Irish immigrants since the 1600s. They arrived to seek opportunity, flee persecution or preserve their religion. During America’s colonial period, about 250,000 of all religions arrived from Ireland and had no love for their British colonial rulers. They participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution and according to The Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, Volume 9, page 455, General Lee stated that “half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.”
According to Immigration in American History by Elliot Robert Barkan, from 1720 to 1820, 468,400 Irish arrived in America. From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 more Irish arrived, 75% of these after the Great Hunger. They took jobs in mills, mines, laying tracks or digging canals helping to build America and they also helped to defend her as they filled the ranks of her military from the many Irish regiments in the Union Army and the legendary Irish Brigade itself. In addition, Irish immigrant women worked in mills or as domestics.
Together, they finally overcame nativist bias and fought their way to acceptance, all the while contributing to the shaping of America. By 1910, 4,787,580 Irish had arrived and though they started low on the social scale, they insisted on education for their children and it paid off. By 1900 they and their children had jobs and earnings about equal on average to their neighbors.
Many have said that the Irish didn’t as much become totally American as America itself became partly Irish. They are truly one of the more remarkable success stories in America’s book of immigrants.