Ireland's Global Diaspora

Tuesday, 1 November, 2016
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The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.

Irish Emigrants arriving in Ellis Island New York

The community of Irish is one that is scattered around the world and emigration is not a new concept for Irish people. President Higgins recently thanked Irish agencies and those working with the Diaspora who sustained engagement with our country’s emigrants over many years. Many organisations, he said, have ‘served a vital purpose over the decades in providing sanctuaries of Irishness around the globe. In halls in Camden, Boston and Melbourne they satisfied the need in our emigrants to reconnect with their culture and ethnicity, and the deeper need to form communities in new and often alien environments. While the context may have changed, groups...continue to fulfill those functions today’. 

Our Diaspora is not one, focused cohort; rather they are a varied group, who include those who left recently and those whose ancestors left in the wake of the Great Famine. Many recent emigrants don’t consider themselves emigrants at all, seeing themselves instead as "citizens abroad". In our highly technological world, emigration no longer means exile. When we use new technologies we can connect with that energetic Irishness at home and abroad. In doing so we celebrate it best and recognise that our emigrants are important.

Ireland's long history of emigration has not been an easy one and every family in Ireland has been affected by emigration at some point. Those who were left behind also felt a great loss as a family member left for Canada, Australia, the USA or other places far away. Often the last they saw of their son or daughter was on the quay side. Elderly parents and sometimes young families had to cope alone and were often completely reliant on money sent from abroad in order to survive. While some left in family groups or with friends as part of Assisted Emigration Schemes, many more traveled alone, with few belongings and no support. While this may have led to a greater industriousness among Irish emigrants, nonetheless the experience must have been financially and emotionally exhausting. Our modern emigrants feel that same tug as they leave to make new homes elsewhere. Successive generations who make up the estimated 70 million of our Diaspora have worked in challenging times to open up new opportunities, yet all the time staying in touch with home.


Emigration Records

There are many websites and other resources devoted to the history of emigration but as there is no centralised repository for emigration records in Ireland it is important to know what sources are available, how they came about and where you can access them.

Often sources like Passenger Lists, were simply administrative lists used to record who entered a country. Today, they are a vital resource, often containing information about an ancestor’s place of origin, intended destination, eye colour, height and named family members. It is important to remember though that at the time of creation these records were not important genealogical documents and so the fact that we now use them for a different purpose means that the information they contain can be limiting. This means too that we must think of other ways or sources to help us in our search. Perhaps this can be a newspaper article, a diary, books or journal article. Sometimes you will learn much more about your Irish ancestor by researching the records of their adopted country.

Passenger Lists – United States

Ellis Island: For arrivals in the USA between 1892 and 1924

Castle Garden: For arrivals in the USA prior to 1892: www.castlegarden.org

National Archives and Records Administration: Passenger Ship and Land Border Entries to the USA

Passenger Lists – Canada

Library and Archives Canada: For arrivals 1832-1937

Passenger Lists – Australia and New Zealand

National Archives of Australia

Archives New Zealand

Passenger Lists – Argentina

Irish Passengers to Argentina:

Famine Memorials

Australian Monument to the Great Famine and Orphans’ Database

Parliamentary Papers

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

Irish Folklore Collection:

National Folklore Collection including the Schools’ Folklore Collection