Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Questions for Curatorial: Do You Speak Irish?

What percentage of Irish immigrants to New York in the mid-19th century spoke Irish or Gaelic?

During the mid-19th century, immigrants from the Irish-speaking west of Ireland were less likely to have the resources needed to cross the Atlantic than those from other parts of the island. Nevertheless, according to historian Kevin Kenny, “it is estimated that somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of America-bound emigrants during the famine were Irish speakers. Half of all the famine emigrants came from two provinces of Connacht and Munster, where at least half the population still spoke Irish as late as 1851.”

Figures gathered by historian Kenneth Nilsen suggest that approximately 28% (73,000 out of a total of 259,000) of the Irish living in New York in 1860 were Irish speakers.

Sources: Kevin Kenny, The American Irish: A History (London: Longman, 2000); Kenneth Nilsen, “The Irish Language in New York, 1850-1900,” in Ronald Bayor and Timothy Meagher, eds., The New York Irish (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

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