Irish-American Resources on the Internet



            Many people study immigration for various reasons:  historians look for patterns of the past that are reflected today and genealogists search for personal links to the past.  Immigration history is deeply intertwined with American history.  Ethnicities have become the subcultures of the overreaching American culture.  The Irish are important piece of American history because of the persecution they faced in Ireland, the roads they paved in America, and the cultures they created and maintained at home and abroad.  This essay searches for information available on the internet relating to the experiences of the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.


            The Ellis Island site is geared more for genealogists searching for a particular person rather than focusing on the immigration experience as a whole.  While Ellis Island was only open from 1892 to 1924, this site does explore the experiences of immigrants before and after this time.  This site features modern day stories as well as a timeline with statistics of the different immigrant groups.  With registration, a browser can search the records of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.


            The Library of Congress provides a site for teachers and students, giving basic information on immigration.  Immigration has descriptions of eleven ethnic experiences in America.  Along with links to digital primary documents in American Memory and other teaching guides, “Immigration” has a special Pot Luck section where visitors can browse regional and ethnic recipes that make up the American fare.  There are eight different topics to the Irish section which highlight the immigration since the American colonial age, issues of Irish Catholicism, conflict with the overarching society, and contributions to that culture.  While the information in these pages is general and textbookish, it is very well written and would be a good starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about immigration or a particular ethnic group.


            The Library of Congress also offers an online children’s program called Celtic Roots.  This annual program like a symposium designed for elementary schools visiting Washington, D.C.  While this site offers more information about the program itself, there are links to a webcast from the previous year’s program, background information on Irish immigration, word games, and a bibliography for teachers to incorporate into their lesson plans.


The Internet Modern History Source Book at Fordham University offers to links to other immigration sites, all of which I have included here regarding Irish Immigration.  Nevertheless, this site has links to many other non-Irish immigration sites which may be of interest to the immigration researcher.


The plight of all immigrants begins in their mother country.  Severe conditions in Ireland culminated with the Famine at mid-nineteenth century, resulting in millions of Irish seeking asylum in the United States.  Late in the seventeenth century, the British government imposed Penal Laws against the Roman Catholics in Ireland, preventing Catholics from many basic rights their Protestant neighbors enjoyed.   A project at the Law Library at the University of Minnesota has made the text of these documents available online.


The Famine of 1845 and criticism of the British Government's involvement spurred many Irish Catholics to flee their homeland.  Liz Szabo of the University of Virginia (see below) has created an archive Interpreting the Irish Famine 1846-1850.  This archive includes contemporary Irish, American, and British viewpoints of this devastating era.  In these sections are transcriptions from newspapers and other primary documents.  She also includes a handful of dramatic photographs and drawings.  Included in the Glossary are maps, biographies, and legislation, all of which, unfortunately, were linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which requires a subscription for access. 


Steve Taylor at Vassar University has also compiled an archive of newspaper articles of the Famine at Views of the Famine.  This is an online collection of selected articles and illustrations from the Illustrated London News, the Cork Examiner, the Pictorial Times, Punch, and a pamphlet by Lord Dufferin and the Honorable G.G. Boyle.  Like Szabo's archives, this collection is invaluable to researchers who have difficulties obtaining out-of-print or hard to find works.  One of the advantages Views of the Famine has over Interpreting the Famine is that Taylor has made a concerted effort to include many illustrations from these sources.  He has also included a master list of all the images to facilitate researchers looking for images.


The Digital History Web Project at the University of Houston, "designed and developed to support the teaching of American History in K-12 schools and colleges," has a section dedicated to immigration history.  Clicking on The Huddled Masses leads to "guided readings" that links essays together chronologically for a broader understanding of immigration in America.  There are two essays that relate to the Irish-American experience.  Irish American Solidarity relates the solidarity that Irish Catholics created in American as a political force.  This essay also address the issue of American anti-Catholicism.  The second essay, The Irish Potato Famine, outlines the causes for the Famine and the inactivity of the British and the disastrous results of the loss of millions through death or emigration.  Because the intended audience, Digital History has the feel of an expanded textbook entry.  The supporters of this website (namely, the University of Houston, the Chicago Historical Society, and the National Park Service, among others) makes the content more reliable.


The Nebraska Department of Education and the Connecticut Department of Education have put teaching guides to the Famine online.  The Nebraska teaching guide, The Great Irish Famine, was "approved by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education ... for inclusion in the Holocaust and Genocide Curriculum at the secondary level."  This lengthy guide (120 pages) includes sections on the Penal Laws, Racism, Emigration, and Genocide.  Along with activities for the classroom, this guide contains bibliographies and information about the important political figures, legislation, other contemporary world events, and relevant statistics. 


The Connecticut teaching guide, The Irish:  The Great Hunger and Irish Immigration to America, tackles many of the same issues as the Nebraska teaching guide, but in slightly fewer pages.  The first three sections outline Irish history from prehistoric eras to the Famine.  Like the Nebraska Guide, this guide includes information on the Celts and the influence of the Vikings, Normans, and eventually the British.  The Connecticut guide addresses the history of the Irish in America more explicitly than the Nebraska guide does.  It addresses the Irish in America from the nineteenth century to the present, focusing on the Irish's political involvement, religious identity, and educational advancements.  Local information of the Irish in Connecticut is also included.  This guide also includes bibliographies along with the informational essays.  The Connecticut Board of Education has developed activities for elementary through high school levels.  These guides would be essential to any teacher wishing to cover nineteenth-century Irish emigration.


Unable to financially move to other sections of the United States, many poor Irish immigrants clustered around the port cities where they first arrived.  The New Orleans public library posts a listing of all archives in the New Orleans area.  This handy listing also posts contact information archives that are not yet online (such as the Archives of the Sisters of Mercy).  The Louisiana State Museum has a good number of photographs and other items relating to the Irish experience in Louisiana.  The New Orleans Public Library houses much information on local history, including the Irish Cultural Society of New Orleans, and the Louisiana Division Vertical Files probably hold more information regarding Irish immigration.


In Boston, one can browse the Irish Heritage Trail, which is a walking tour of the memorials and historic sites dedicated to Boston's Irish population.  The Boston Public Library Collections include documents from modern Ireland, centering on the quest for an Irish Free State (see the Fenian Collection at Catholic University).  This library also holds many important American newspapers, including the Boston Irish Reporter and New York City's Irish Echo.


New York is home to the American Irish Historical Society, whose collection consists of over 10,000 objects.  Unfortunately there are no online finding aids, but contact information is available.  The society also publishes quarterly the Recorder, highlighting Irish-American history and culture.  The New York Public Library has several Irish sources, including Tithe Applotment Books, 1823-1832.  The Manuscripts and Archives Division and the Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy probably hold a wealth of information of the Irish in New York.  However, not all of the collections have online finding aids and they are not always available for a simple search.


            Religion was a very important facet to Irish-Americans.  There are a great number of repositories of Irish Catholic artifacts, especially with each diocese.  However, because of the sensitive nature of many of the sacramental documents, diocesan archives restrict access to their collections.  Fortunately, with the internet these archives can communicate to researchers their holdings and availabilities.  The Archdiocese of New Orleans does not have finding aids online, but does outline guidelines and contact information for researching the collections.  The Archdiocese of Boston has a brief description of the collections, which include bishops’ journals and audio-visual materials.  This site also includes guideline for going about researching the archive.  The Archdiocese of Chicago is similar, yet it also includes links to their museum, which includes many photographs from the collection. 


            Increasingly archives are posting finding aids and pieces of their collections online.  The University of Notre Dame Archives holds 680 collections (not including nearly 450 collections of University-related records), of which each collection could have thousands of documents.  While few primary documents are actually available online records, finding aids exist for most of the collections and are searchable online.   Many of these holding are the private papers from clergy and other religious, as well as many parish histories and other documents from parishes around the country .  This collection and the online finding aids are quite extensive and it is easy to get lost in all of the information.  The search function is quite useful, though the returns are numerous.  Of interest to researchers regarding Irish-Americans would be the Alphabetical Pamphlet Collection,  many books, manuscripts, and newspapers.  See these basic searches for documents on Irish American,  Irish in the Civil War, and anti-Catholic literature for numerous listings. 


            Notre Dame's Rare Book Collection might also be worth perusing.  In the collection are Irish Maps and Sea Charts, pamphlets from the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Traditional Irish Music, and the Wolf Collection of Irish Postage Stamps.


ÛLiz Szabo, presumably a graduate student at the University of Virginia, has placed many primary documents on her personal website.  She has created the Mary Anne Sadlier Archive.  This archive honors Sadlier, a nineteenth century Irish-American writer.  Szabo has posted a copy of Sadlier’s novel Bessy Conway: or, the Irish Girl in America (1861), bibliographies that include works regarding other aspects of nineteenth-century life, contemporary reviews, and a couple of Szabo’s own essays.  Szabo also includes links to “Mary Anne Sadlier's Cultural Context”:  Irish History, religion, women’s roles.  Szabo is very thorough in recreating important aspects of Sadlier’s life and detailing the Irish Famine; one wonders if this project were part of a dissertation.  Unfortunately, Szabo gives no explanation as to why she created these archives.  The most disappointing part of the online collection, which is dated 1996, is that many links to outside pages are broken.  However, the onsite pages are quite detailed and provide much pertinent information.


           ÛCatholic University has posted some of the Fenian Brotherhood Collection on the WRCL Special Collections’ page.  In the nineteenth century, this Brotherhood formed in the United States “with the avowed purpose of overthrowing British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish Republic.”  The collection highlights letters and newspaper articles regarding their activities.  The online digital collection allows the researcher to access to over three hundred objects.


            Another Roman Catholic University, Boston College, has many Irish-related artifacts in their libraries and archives.  Housed in the John J. Burns Library is the Irish Music Center, which is "committed to documenting the history of Irish traditional music in America."  The collection names are listed, but few finding aids are provided.  However, the Irish Music Center does hold a number of audio and visual materials available to the researcher.  The Irish Music Center also provides a webpage discussing upcoming Events and Exhibits, which also includes listings for concerts and lectures.  The Irish and Irish American Manuscripts collection includes information about particular people, many of whom are writers or political figures, and about related societies and organizations.


            The New York University Library holds Archives of Irish America.  The online collection includes primary documents of the New York City Irish American Athletic Club, finding aids for the physical collection, and online exhibits, which are definitely worth a look.


            For more primary documents, the Bringham Young University Library has links to online primary documents regarding the history of IrelandThis site includes many of the above sites, but include other political documents dating from the eleventh century to 1916.  Since all of the links are to outside sites, it is difficult to discern how long this site will remain in working order, as the links could easily be broken.


            The Special Collections and Archives at the University of Louisville has sixteen reels of microfilm of The Kentucky Irish American in their holdings.  This newspaper ran from 1898-1968 and was written for the Irish community of Kentucky and held an strong "ethnic flavor" until the final decades of its publication.


            Finally, two other websites explore "non-traditional" views of the Irish in AmericaTangle Roots at the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University is a project focused on the Irish and African American experiences.  The site contains primary documents from the Gilder Lehrman collection as well as links to other websites for those searching for more information on a particular topic.  Standford's The Irish-American West details this experience through online texts of "rare and out-of-print works of Irish-American writing from western America."  This site also provides a forum for scholarly articles, although there are none posted.  This project began in 2001 and the lack of scholarly articles may attest to the fact that this is a little-studied subject of Irish-American history.


            The internet provides researchers, both amateur and professional, the opportunity to view rare documents and artifacts that may otherwise be restricted to public use.  Even an online finding aid allows for researchers to know which collections or repositories will be most helpful in their search.  Sometimes useful resources come in unexpected forms such as teachers' guides or virtual exhibits.  The Irish immigration experience is important to both Irish and American histories and cultures.  The Irish paved the way for many other immigrant groups and their influences on Protestant American society have been deeply felt.  Having these resources on the internet are valuable to the understanding of history, but at this stage, the bulk of the research will still have to be done the old fashioned way, in libraries and archives.




Elizabeth Hogan

November 22, 2003