The Irish Emigration

The Irish Emigration

Ireland is one of the countries to have experienced one of the highest rates of emigration when compared to its total population. Between 9 and 10 million people born in Ireland have emigrated to another country. This is more than the total population of Ireland itself, which is projected to be just about five million by 2022. In history, Ireland’s population all-time high was 8.5 million, and that was as far back as 1845, just before the Great Famine. Although it is typical for every country to experience regular inflow and outflow of people, there are tendencies for emigration rates to become particularly heavy during certain periods in a country’s history. The Irish have been emigrating since the Early Middle Ages. However, specific details with statistics have only been recorded from around the 1700s. Almost two centuries from that time, Ireland experienced situations that triggered its natives to massively emigrate from the country to other regions.

When Was the Irish Emigration?

Ireland’s significant emigration rates began during the early to the mid-nineteenth century with the advent of the Great Famine. Although the Irish had been emigrating before then and have also continued to leave the country after the period, there has never been another time when the country experienced such noticeable emigration as during the mid-nineteenth century.

What Caused the Irish Emigration?

The peak of the Irish Emigration was a result of the Great Famine. The disaster was caused by the failure of the potato crop due to blight infection. Because there were no sufficient food alternatives in Ireland at the time, the famine became a major issue, ravaging the whole country and some parts of the United Kingdom between 1845 and 1852. Within this period, Ireland’s population fell by over 2 million. While a significant cause of the decline was due to death, the population fall was triggered more by natives leaving the country. Some parties believe that the Great Famine might have been the event that convinced Irish natives they could successfully migrate to other parts of the world and live better lives. By 1900, more than half the population data of Ireland recorded before the great famine had emigrated from the country to other regions.

Where Did the Irish Emigrate the Most?

The Great Famine particularly encouraged Irish natives to immigrate to other regions beyond the United Kingdom and the whole of Europe. The period of famine and the years after it caused a heavy influx of the Irish into the United States and Canada.

By the late nineteenth century, about 5 million Irish immigrated to the United States alone. At the advent of the 21st century, an estimated 80 million people across the world claimed some form of Irish descent. 36 million people out of this population are Americans who claim Ireland as their primary country of origin.

One of the factors that helped the Irish population to thrive in the United States and Canada was the emigration of a large number of young single females from Ireland. Half of all Irish emigrants between 1856 and 1921 were young women. Because a larger percentage of them immigrated to Northern America, they were able to marry and speedily increase their population in these regions.

Irish emigrants to Northern America had the option of either moving to the United States or Canada. There were open ports to Canada in Quebec, New Brunswick, Halifax, and Nova Scotia which encouraged immigration into the country.

Moreover, the larger ports in New York were so congested at that time that Irish emigrants were encouraged to come first to Canada with the hope of moving later to the United States through the less congested ports.

The United Kingdom and Australia also claim a major share of Irish emigrants. Even without including Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom is second only to the United States in terms of its Irish population.


It is not only interesting but also important for Irish natives to understand what may have triggered the first major bouts of emigration to other parts of the world. It is also greatly important for Irish around the World to cherish their Irish Heritage, and appreciate the difficulties their ancestors had to endure during their emigration to a better life. It is amazing to think that through such difficult circumstances the Irish were able to retain our amazing culture and love for our Country.