The Famine Diaspora. What became of them? Many who went to the United States of America fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Many suffered terrible wounds. Many died. In the USA Civil War veterans are remembered with pride and all things Civil War have enormous tourist potential. Isn’t it time that we Irish acknowledge the contribution our starving ancestors made to the formation of America? Isn’t it time that we Irish acknowledge the tourism potential in having memorials to this part of our very proud history? For an academic ‘take’ on it, read Damian’s recent blog post above.
Originally posted on Irish in the American Civil War:
The Great Famine is an event seared into Irish national memory. Although the victims of the Great Hunger are rightfully remembered and commemorated, as is the physical fact that vast numbers of people were forced to leave, Ireland today largely leaves the memory of these emigrants at the dock, as they boarded ships to a new life far from home. Preserving the memory and experiences of emigrants once they arrived in their new countries has for the most part been left to their own descendants, despite the broader pride that Ireland takes in her global diaspora.
Perhaps the most stark example of this is the way Ireland views the American Civil War. At the commencement of that conflict 1.6 million Irish-born people lived in the United States, the vast majority having arrived as a direct consequence of the Famine. In New York City, which in 1860 had a population of 793,186, a little over one in four people were born in Ireland. In the region of 170,000 Irish-born men fought during the conflict, and tens of thousands most certainly died. Irish communities in cities such as New Orleans and Memphis experienced the war up close, as did those who bore witness to the New York Draft Riots in 1863. The effects of the conflict on the families of those lost or severely injured often lasted well into the twentieth century. The Irish experience of the American Civil War is a popular theme in the United States, where a large number of historians and enthusiasts study, commemorate and remember the huge influence the war had on the Irish community. (1)