The United States boasts a lot of Irish-American citizens. Irish immigrants have flocked to the United States at several points in history, including the Irish Potato Famine and the severe economic downturn of the early 2000s. As of 2013, Americans of Irish descent are the second-largest ethnic group in the United States, falling behind only German-Americans. That said, Irish-Americans have arguably maintained the most distinct cultural identity throughout the generations. Irish heritage is unquestionably an important ingredient in the great “melting pot” of the United States.
Claims of Irish identity
Throughout generations, the sense of “Irishness” is kept alive in families living in the United States and elsewhere. Most Irish love their home country very much, even if it’s an ancestral home and the individual has never actually been there.
During periods of massive migration, the Irish have endured criticism and prejudice from the existing citizens of the country to which they moved. Jobs, houses, and other such necessities were often denied people simply because they were Irish until the laws in the United States prohibited such actions. While this led some to lie about their ancestry, it more often helped solidify the Irish cultural identity. If anything, it’s created an even more indelible image of the hard-working, hard-playing, tenacious Irish.
Today, about 11% of the population of the United States claims Irish heritage. While many of these people come from more than one ethnic background, the pride in their Irish heritage has been persistently reinforced. The result is that it’s not just first- and second-generation immigrants claiming to be Irish, but even fifth-generation and more. Arguably, it is the rich culture of “being Irish” that helps ensure the distinct cultural identity for Irish-Americans.
Irish religion and celebration
Ireland is primarily a Catholic country, and immigrants in the United States brought that strong devotion with them. With entire congregations of Irish Catholics, the traditions and style of Ireland have remained largely intact.
While the Gaelic language isn’t widely used in the United States, choice words and ideas have remained intact. At the same time, a number of Irish traditions remain strong. It’s not unusual to see an Irish-American give a beloved a Claddagh ring or to offer an Irish blessing to a friendly passerby.
St. Patrick’s Day is the most recognized Irish holiday in the United States, and some may even argue that it’s more Irish-American than Irish in its current form. The fierce pride and loyalty of Irish living outside of Ireland is readily apparent throughout this celebration. The green of the Irish flag figures prominently in the attire, decorations, and even beverages for St. Patrick’s Day. A hearty dinner of corned beef and cabbage, accompanied by Irish music and dance, finish this holiday of unambiguous cultural roots.
Official recognition of the Irish diaspora
Even in families that are removed from Ireland by generations, it’s common to still find support for Irish causes. In fact, the tie between the Irish abroad and Ireland itself is so strong that the diaspora are specifically mentioned in the Constitution of Ireland. No doubt, this kind of recognition from their home country has helped encourage Irish-Americans to maintain their distinct cultural identity.