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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Immigration
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Immigration Irish
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Adaptation and Assimilation

The Irish immigrants left a rural lifestyle in a nation lacking modern industry. Many immigrants found themselves unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States. Though these immigrants were not the poorest people in Ireland (the poorest were unable to raise the required sum for steerage passage on a ship to America), by American standards, they were destitute.

They often had no money beyond the fare for their passage, and, thus, settled in the ports of their debarkation. In time, the sum total of Irish-Americans exceeded the entire population of Ireland. New York City boasted more Irishmen than Dublin, Ireland!

The Irish established patterns that newcomers to the United States continue to follow today. Housing choices, occupations entered, financial support to families remaining in the homeland, and chain immigrations which brought additional relatives to America, are some of these patterns.

Irish immigrants often crowded into subdivided homes that were intended for single families, living in tiny, cramped spaces. Cellars, attics and make-do spaces in alleys became home. Not only were many immigrants unable to afford better housing, but the mud huts in which many had lived in Ireland had lowered their expectations.

A lack of adequate sewage and running water in these places made cleanliness next to impossible. Disease of all kinds (including cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, and mental illness) resulted from these miserable living conditions. Thus, when the Irish families moved into neighborhoods, other families often moved out fearing the real or imagined dangers of disease, fire hazards, unsanitary conditions and the social problems of violence, alcoholism and crime.

How might the living conditions of the Irish have influenced their acceptance in the United States? How do living patterns of new immigrant groups affect their acceptance in the United States today? Who determines these patterns or conditions?



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