Why were/are the Irish discriminated against?

In the US and UK. Why the Irish? What were reasons for discrimination against them?

Many Irish immigrants were Catholic. In the 1850s there was a movement by people known as the ‘Know Nothings’ to try to exclude Catholics from public office. In addition, due to the large immigrations during that period, many native-born Americans believed that the Irish were taking their jobs – a sentiment familiar even today.

In general? In america in the middle/late 19th centuries, there were swarms of them arriving all at once, willing to work cheap to survive. 2nd and 3rd generation English-Americans didn’t like that, unless they were in a position to exploit the cheap labor, rather than compete with it. Some was holdover from antagonisms from generations back on the Islands, with English Protestand Landlords exploiting Irish Catholic, er umm, ex-peasants, subjects, non-landowning agrarian specialists. (Down, Croppies, Down!)

This is an overly broad, simplified view, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Irish Protestants faired much bette than Irish Catholics.

That’s coz God loved them more.

There was the perception, deserved or not, that the Irish had very degenerate moral and cultural standards. Certainly the Irish had been an underclass in their own country, dominated by the British and often extremely poor. To an extent, they developed a mindset of glorifying their very debasement, scathingly satired in The Playboy of the Western World, by Irish playwright J.M. Synge. And Irish writer Roddy Doyle went so far as to call the Irish “the niggers of Europe”. And then after emigrating to America, many lived in only slightly better conditions in the slums and tenements of the cities, where such social ills as prostitution, alchoholism and street gangs were endemic.

Look at this cartoon by Thomas Nast.

The figure on the far left is supposed to be an Irishman.

This is about as good an indication as any as to how the Irish were seen back then - literally, as apes. They were frequently referred to as niggers and I’ve read that blacks were even sometimes called “smoked Irish.” The bottle in that character’s pocket and the primitive club in his hand represent what the Irish were best known for - drinking and violence. His hat says “5 points,” which was the New York neighborhood where most of the poor Irish immigrants lived.

It’s because they all had gingervitis

This overly broad, simplified view can be applied to each successive wave of immigration to America (to this day): Germans, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, Hispanic, whatever. As they were coming in in large numbers, the existing population discriminated against the new immigrants until they were sufficiently assimilated.

I have often seen references to U.S. employment notices of the mid-19th Century which stated “No Irish Need Apply.” Can anyone cite a contemporary account that proves such notices actually existed?

Well, here, from the Library of Congress archives, is a song from 1862 lamenting the prevalence of such signs. I’ll keep looking for more direct proof (i.e. an actual image of such a sign).

ETA: Oh, it actually seems that this song is the source of the “NINA myth”. Hm…

What a coincidence. I was just reading about a book called “How the Irish Became White.”

In researching this post, I have found that there are people out there today who are still using the terms “white nigger” and “smoked Irish.” Whoopie. :frowning:

I think the OP was mainly well answered by “a whole lotta Irish suddenly showing up” . I also agree that what someone the pre-1920 U.S. usually meant by what we would call inner-city gangs and crime = Irish

However, if you were not liable to be victimized or weren’t in direct competition with them in the labor pool (in NYC, Boston, Chicago on the RailRoads etc,) In an America that was still mainly agrarian, I think the Catholicism of the Irish is what largely grated -and I’d like to expand on why that that was and how it fueled the anti-Irish sentiment. True there was some Italian and German Catholic immigration to the US then too - but most of the 19th Century Catholic leader in the U.S. were Irish and it was this community that was seen as the spearhead of Roman Catholicism in America. By the 1850’s Roman Catholicism was the single largest Christian denomination in the U.S. (and remains so today). There was a subset of the American elites to whom this was horrifying - and there was entire subset of literature (which included great literary personages on both sides of the Atlantic) who looked to continue to stir things up to make it horrifying.

There was a further belief that Catholicism was incompatible with democratic government. In fact, this belief was reflected and an “issue” as late as the 1960 Presidential campaign. As Machine politics began to spread and Irish political clout grew … this tension grew.

The drinking was also a serious problem, in that the Irish arrived at a time when at least lip service to the temperance movement was the socially correct thing to do–especially for women. The Irish, by and large, wanted nothing to do with it, and that had all sort of negative connotations for the middle-class WASPs of the day.

As an Irish immigrant, and a Catholic, it was not such an unrealistic notion. Irish immigration was extremely curtailed in the late 1850s which was a good thing. This made it easier for existing Irish in the US to assimilate as they had to look to America, not back to Ireland.

Lastly, many of the Irish were dirt poor, uneducated peasants who generally tend to be put upon in most societies.

Most of the responses have been about prejudice in the US. This was nothing compared to prejudice in England. However, I suspect the two things are intrinsically linked.

Anti-Irishism in England goes back about 800 years, commencing with the first English incursions into Irish territories, nominally by invitation of one of the warring clans, embroiling the English in a territory that became suddenly strategically important, but with a disdain for those who were being ‘assisted’ (think how Arabs are viewed by the majority of the US today).

In extremely brief summary thereafter (apologies for any inaccuracies - corrections welcomed) this continued during further settlement of “the Pale” in the east of Ireland, where those not assimilating to the exported English culture were deemed “defective”; through the rise of Protestantism in England, the Catholic terror in England under Queen Mary, and resultant anti-Catholic reprisals, which were then held against Catholic Irish, who in turn showed support for the anti-English conquering Catholic armies in Europe, which culminated in the Spanish Armada, the remnants of which were reputedly given succour in Ireland; then - importantly for US attitudes - the Puritan Protestant overthrow of Charles I and the massive crackdown in Ireland on the indigenous Catholics (“to hell or to Connacht” - convert or be exiled - and the Drogheda massacre, commanded by the Pilgrim Fathers’ spiritual inheritor Cromwell); the increase in ethnic loading of Ireland with Scottish and English Protestant settlers; the Battle of the Boyne in which an English battle was fought by proxy in Ireland and the resulting schism still have repercussions; through the French Revolution-inspired rebellion of 1798 and the massive put-down by the English; via the Famine during which many English parliamentarians and landowners legislated against and scorned their constituents who were starving to death; through minor rebellions to the Easter Rising when the (now British) authorities sent warships into Dublin and executed the revolutionaries and the revolutionaries were seen as thuggish, ape-like rabble-rousers; through the partition of Ireland and the huge upsurge in disgust in England that the Empire had lost its nearest outpost; from the postwar era when the Irish economy, having lost its ties to its most economically successful neighbor, stagnated, leading to the massive diaspora of Irish people, to Bloody Sunday in the 1960s, and the rise of the IRA and the 1970s and 80s terrorist attacks on England, during all of which time in England the Irish Catholics in general were viewed with suspicion, disdain, ignorance, fear, or outright hatred. And pretty much the whole time, the English/British media portrayed Irish Catholics (and eventually British confusion led to all Irish, North, South, Catholic and Protestant being branded thus) as sub-human.

In other words: we English both shat on the Irish, and despised them, for centuries. For no real reason whatsoever. And a lot of that prejudice went over to the US too, regardless of arriving peasantry, crime syndicates, etc.

The signs in London in the 1950s said “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.”

The good news is that most of this has recently been forgotten, on both sides, and though there are many resentments still felt in Ireland about the English, largely we English now have pretty much nothing but affection for the Irish.

I find this quite difficult to believe. Do you mean re-emigration, or in terms of sentiment? On the first count, very few could have dreamed of having the means to go home; on the second, the communities in NYC, Chicago and Boston attest that this is a facile statement - as well as the “I’m Irish” sentiment encountered all over the US. The Irish in England, where immigration wasn’t stinted, and going “home” is much easier, have behaved pretty much in the same way they did in the US too.

I woluld not agree that it was a “nominal” invitation. Dermot MacMurrough needed that aid and actively sought the assistance of Herny II. That said, given the proximity of the islands and Herny’s own plans for expansion there is little doubt that Ireland would have been invaded by England.

You clearly missed my point or I wasn’t clear. By curtailing Irish emmigration the Irish were able to generational integrate in the American mainstream. That is, the Irish ghettos weren’t being constantly replenished by new immigrants who would encourage the existing immigrants to retain their ties to Ireland. Once this valve was cut off, the Irish gradually integrated.

The “I’m Irish” sentiment preached by Irish-Americans is just that, sentitment. They are uniquely American and loyal to America as their true home rather than Ireland. Put another way, other than a romantic idealism of the “ould sod” they have little connection, interest or understanding of modern Ireland.

Excuse me, Lochdale, but you have no way of knowing that because you have no way of knowing all of the millions of Irish-Americans, their connections to Ireland, their interests in Ireland or their understandings of modern Ireland. Nor do you have any way of knowing if they are loyal to America.

I mean you no offense.

I am dubious about the existence of this mindset of “glorifying their very debasement.” Synge may have attempted satire of “it” in The Playboy of the Western World, but as a Protestant he would be altogether unfamiliar with the motives and minds of the Irish Catholics. How like him to assume. I too am denied this access.

Oh, indeed. I almost added ‘They were the Mexican’s of their day’, but thought that might be to topical, and hence political. Plus, in context, they weren’t immigrating illegally, just unpopularly.

None taken but the direct role of Irish-Americans in Irish life is fairly minimal given the sheer number of them. Unless you want to argue that the past 20 years of heavy American investment are as a result of Irish-American sentiment then I think it’s fair to say that most Irish-Ameircans are loyal to America. For example, many Irish-Americans supported Ronald Regan despite his support for Margaret Thactcher who was not very popular in either northern or southern Ireland.

Indeed, John F. Kennedy who was an Irish-American did not appear to overly favour Ireland over relations with the United Kingdom.

Over all, I am very comfortable with my statement.

My central point, I think, stands which is that immigrant communities will assimilate generationally when they are not being constantly replenished by their more and more of their own ethnic group. Put another way, if there is a moratorium on the numbers then eventually they have to assimilate into the majority population.