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Green Beer and Immigration

Friday, March 11, 2016

We are approaching that time of year when we all claim to be a little Irish. On St. Patrick’s Day, many of us wear green, cities host parades, and a good time is had by all. But, for those of us who really have no Irish heritage, it’s difficult not to wonder why everyone makes so much fuss over March 17. There are many likely reasons why St. Pat’s has become such a big deal in the United States. Ultimately, it likely comes down to the impact that Irish immigrants have had on both American culture and our economy – and that is something worth celebrating.
For more than 400 years, individuals have been leaving the shores of Erin for those of America. The first half of the 19th century, particularly during the Great Famine, which occurred between 1845 and 1847, saw a tremendous increase in Irish immigration. The trend continued through the mid-20th century.
Irish immigrants, along with their counterparts from Italy, comprised the workforce that drove the nation’s burgeoning industrial economy. In their drive to overcome the hunger and poverty they left in their homeland, Irish immigrants gained a reputation for taking any job offered, no matter how hard. They worked in factories, built cities, dug subway tunnels: The economic expansion of the late 1800s was built largely on Irish labor.
Because many Irish immigrants were unable to afford land or home ownership, they tended to congregate of the urban centers of major cities in the Northeast and Midwest, such as Boston, New York and Chicago. The increased population led to increased infrastructure and upward expansion, driving these cities to become the metropolises they are today.

The increase in Irish immigration also led to the rise of Catholicism in the United States. In 1820, there were fewer Catholics than members of any other Christian denomination in the country. Within a few decades, Catholicism had become the largest such group, and the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick, was celebrated heartily in the densely-populated urban centers of the United States.
Over the years, as Irish American fraternal organizations grew in both wealth and influence, the celebrations got bigger and more extravagant. In many instances, they grew into municipally-sponsored citywide celebrations. So, on this St. Patrick’s Day, as you don your shamrock lapel pin and hum “Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” hoist a green-dyed pint to the immigrants who brought the party to the U.S.

Have a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day!

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