Irish Immigrants in New York City, 1945-1995

Irish Immigrants in New York City, 1945-1995

Irish Immigrants in New York City, 1945-1995

Irish Immigrants in New York City, 1945-1995

Synopsis

It is estimated that one in three New York City residents is an immigrant. No other American city has a population composed of so many different nationalities. Of these “foreign born,” a relatively small percentage come directly from Ireland, but the Irish presence in the city—and America—is ubiquitous. In the 1990 census, Irish ancestry was claimed by over half a million New Yorkers and by 44 million nationwide. The Irish presence in popular American culture has also been highly visible. Yet for all the attention given to Irish Americans, surprisingly little has been said about post–World War II immigrants. Almeida’s research takes important steps toward understanding modern Irish immigration. Comparing 1950s Irish immigrants with the “New Irish” of the 1980s, Almeida provides insights into the evolution of the Irish American identity and addresses the role of the United States and Ireland in shaping it. She finds, among other things, that social and economic progress in Ireland has heightened expectations for Irish immigrants. But at the same time they face greater challenges in gaining legal residence, a situation that has led the New Irish to reject many organizations that long supported previous generations of Irish immigrants in favor of new ones better-suited to their needs.

Excerpt

At the beginning of the twenty-first century it is estimated that one in three New York City residents is an immigrant. No other American city has a population composed of so many different nationalities—more than a hundred at last count.

Of these “foreign-born” a relatively small percentage come from Ireland, but the Irish presence in the city (and in the country) in the last half of the twentieth century was ubiquitous. in the 1990 census forty-four million Americans identified themselves as having Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry. of these over half a million lived in New York City. From a president who has taken a personal role in the Northern Ireland peace process (and who claims Irish ancestry himself); to Frank McCourt and Alice McDermott, whose books have topped the best-seller lists and captured the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; to films such as My Left Foot, the Crying Game and The Brothers McMullen; to musicians such as Sinead O’Connor and the bands U2 and Black 47; to the phenomenally successful Riverdance, the Irish presence is everywhere.

Ironically, while thousands of books and articles have been written about the Irish in America, relatively little information is available on post–World War ii immigrants. Hence this book. I identify two distinct waves of Catholic Irish immigrants: one in the 1950s and one in the 1980s. These were the largest postwar groups to come out of Ireland, and they were the first to leave an independent Ireland.

This book grew out of surveys conducted among the 1980s group—the selfproclaimed New Irish. These surveys revealed a tense distance between the eighties migrants and the established Irish American and immigrant community, and with a little probing it became obvious that the breach was deeper than mere genera-

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