Irish Americans have plenty to celebrate today

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Of the millions of Irish immigrants who fled the "Great hunger" of the potato famine, religious and social persecution, many, in poverty and ill health, didn't even live to make it to refuge in North America.

When the lucky ones disembarked from their "coffin ships," they found harsh conditions, more poverty and brutal work conditions.

The United States was the land of opportunity, however, and over many years, the Irish immigrants made the most of it.

At first, they found work as laborers, digging canals and laying rail. Later, justified or not, they were known as politicians, policemen and other occupations which might be more questionable.

But they survived and thrived to the point that today, they are among one of the most prosperous ethnic groups in America.

According to the Census Bureau, the 34.7 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry is almost nine times the population of Ireland itself.

Irish is the nation's most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only those of German ancestry.

If the Kennedy clan wasn't enough of a clue, 24 percent of Massachusetts residents are of Irish ancestry, compared to 12 percent for the nation as a whole.

And like the Kennedys, most Irish have done well for themselves.

Thirty-one percent of people of Irish ancestry, 25 or older, have at least a bachelor's degree, and 91 percent of Irish-Americans in that age group have at least a high school diploma. That compares to 27 and 84 percent for the nation as a whole.

Better education is probably an important factor in the next statistic cited by the Census Bureau, a median household income of $51,937 among households headed by an Irish American, compared to $46,242 for all households.

They hold good jobs; 39 percent of them in management, 28 percent in sales and office occupations, 15 percent in service occupations, 10 percent in production, transportation and material-moving occupations, and 9 percent in construction, extraction, maintenance and repair.

And, while 9 percent of people of Irish ancestry live in poverty, that's lower than the rate for all Americans, 13 percent.

In fact 72 percent of householders of Irish ancestry own the home in which they live, compared to the national rate of 67 percent.

Yes, the Irish went through a lot in the old country -- why else would they have left?

But their new home has treated them well, and they have plenty to celebrate on today's St. Patrick Day, and plenty of which to be proud.

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