Skip to Main Content

Irish immigration to the US: Timeline

A brief overview of the history of Irish immigration into the United States and how it has influenced the modern customs of St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Irish immigrant history

17th century - 1820

  • Irish immigrants constituted a fraction of the colonists and eventual US citizens in the United States.

1820 - 1845

  • The Irish potato famine launched a huge wave of immigration to the US. Between 1820 and 1860, Irish immigrants accounted for a third of the immigrant population.

1845 - 1854

  • No Irish Need Apply has begun to be posted in job ads in newspapers all over the country, with more subtle ads asking for "Protestants" (most Irish immigrants were Catholic). Irish were stereotyped as drunkards and brutes, to the point that a Cholera outbreak in Boston in 1849 was blamed on "Irish brutes."

1860 - 1865

  • Many Irish immigrants from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania served in the Irish brigade. They fought in the Battle of Antietam and took heavy losses on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. It is debated by historians that Irish Americans' service in the war slowly began to change public opinion towards the Irish.


In June of 1877, a group of labor rights protestors associated with the Molly Maguires were hanged in Carbon and Schuylkill county. While the Molly Maguires engaged in brawling and sabotage, their murder charge is considered unjust, as the judge was influenced by the mining companies they were protesting the work conditions of. The king of the Molly Maguires, John Kehoe, was only given a full state pardon in 1979, 102 years after his execution.

1892 - 1900

Ellis Island opens to process new immigrants from all nationalities. Many Irish immigrants still live in poverty, but there are many who have climbed the social ladder and have gained respect in American society. In places such as Boston, Chicago, and New York many Irish Americans were elected to political office.

1928 - 1960

2nd generation Irish & Italian American Al Smith loses the presidential election. The Ku Klux Klan played a major role in bringing him down. Despite this, many Irish Americans rose to fame in places like Hollywood, politics, and radio. As a result, they changed the way America viewed the Irish.


John F. Kennedy is elected to presidential office. He is the youngest president to ever be elected, and he is of Irish descent. While Catholicism is still viewed with heavy stigma by American culture, Irish hatred has diminished heavily in comparison to what it was a century ago.

St. Paddy's day in the US

St. Patrick's Day 1737

  • A small group of Presbyterian Irish colonists came together to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland with a feast

St. Patrick's Day 1762 

  • A group of Irish redcoats began the tradition of America's biggest St. Patrick's day parade in lower Manhattan

Postcard from St. Patrick's Day 1850

  • This postcard demonstrates how many of the St. Paddy's day traditions began to form in Irish American culture, from wearing green to the holiday meal of corned beef and cabbage (which was a meal tradition created because that was the best meat immigrants in places like New York could afford). The holiday begins to become a way for immigrants to celebrate their heritage while dealing with discrimination and oppression.

St. Patrick's Day 1862

  • The Battle of Fredericksburg resulted in a bloody defeat for the Union, but the 116th PA Regiment still celebrated St. Patrick's after the battle. Col. St. Clair Mulholland reflected that "this time honored national anniversary was observed with all the exhaustless spirit and enthusiasm of Irish nature."

 Chat with a librarian