Irish Tribute: Our Shared Heritage
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 History of Irish NY

By John Fay

The Irish have been in New York since colonial days. The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in the city in 1766. After the Potato Famine in the late 1840s, the Irish population of New York grew rapidly. Archbishop John Hughes's vision, St. Patrick's Cathedral, marked the changes in the city’s Irish population when it opened in 1879. By then, Irish Catholics made up half of the city’s population.

It’s probably fair to say that the Irish met a great deal of resentment during the years just after the Famine, when millions of poor Irish Catholics arrived in New York. After the US Civil War, however, when the Irish Brigade – especially New York’s ‘Fighting’ 69th regiment – displayed exceptional commitment to the Union cause, the Famine Irish began to gain acceptance in New York and across the USA.

During the decades between the Civil War and the Great Depression, the Irish dominated New York. They acquired political and economic power, culminating in New York Governor Al Smith’s nomination as the Democratic candidate for President in 1928.

Although there have been two waves of immigrants from Ireland since World War II, the numbers of Irish born New Yorkers has declined. However, the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the previous generations have reached the top of the ladder in New York’s, and the world’s, leading banks, insurance companies and investment firms. During the 1990s these ‘lost sons and daughters of Ireland’ used their prestige and influence to help to build the peace process in Northern Ireland that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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