A lot has changed since the great Irish migration in the mid-1800s. Today, we all love the Irish, their melodic accent and gift for storytelling. Throughout the country and regardless of heritage, one and all will raise their glasses and sing the praises of the Emerald Isle on Saint Paddy’s Day.
In 1845, the Potato Blight launched a huge wave of Irish immigration to America. Potato crops were decimated and a devastating famine hit Ireland. Within five years, a million Irish were dead and boatloads had fled to America. As proud as many of us are of our melting pot heritage, near and past history shows that too many immigrants, including the Irish, received a far from warm welcome.
The plight of the Irish sticks out for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there were a lot of them. In the 1840s, about fifty percent of all immigrants to the United States were Irish. And, of course, like all of us, they had accents … but theirs were different. Plus, they were farmers without a farm. Whole families arrived with little more than what they had on their backs. Once landed, they didn’t have the resources to move to the countryside and buy a homestead to farm. Instead, port cities like New York and Boston were suddenly teaming with countryfolk.
And then, let’s not forget, most of these new Irish immigrants were Catholic. Even though the United States was founded by people escaping religious prosecution, the well-established protestants did not see that as a reason to tolerate, let alone embrace, people of other faiths.
Finally, the Irish were destitute or close to it; otherwise, they’d have stayed home. Desperate to find housing and jobs, they did what they could to survive. They took any job available and accepted any roof to live under, leaky or not. Although generally forced to take the most menial work, they were accused of stealing jobs and driving down wages. Poverty forced them into unsanitary tenements and they were then ridiculed for poor hygiene.
Anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings ran high. In newspapers and shop windows, help wanted advertisements boldly told these new immigrants that “No Irish Need Apply” or specified only Protestants would be considered. This sentiment peaked in the 1850s and ever-so-slowly dissipated over several decades.
From Mother Jones to John Sweeney, Irish and Irish-Americans played a key role in the development of labor unions. Organized labor gave many working men and women the opportunity to earn a living wage with reasonable hours. The movement also brought safer conditions to workplaces and protected children from exploitation. In other words, Irish immigrants and their descendants played a key role in building a strong middle class in the United States.
Today there are laws in place that prohibit an employer or landlord from warning that the Irish or any other nationality need not apply. Unfortunately, these laws are not always foolproof. Too many immigrants continue to receive a less than warm welcome to melting pot America.
On Saint Patrick’s Day, we honor Irish contributions to our country and the world. We celebrate James Hoban – the designer of the White House and John F. Kennedy who served in it, actress Saoirse Ronan, writers Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, brewer Arthur Guinness, mathematician George Boole and many, many others. Perhaps it’s a good day to honor all immigrants.
Let’s lift our glasses together and embrace our melting pot nation. Bon appétit!
Potato Soup with Ale, Smoked Sausage & Greens
The potato famine drove the Irish out of Ireland. I’m not a corned beef fan so potato soup sounds like a deliciously hearty way to celebrate the Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. Enjoy!
Makes 4-5 quarts
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 3 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 ounces ale or beer
- 2 pounds red skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 8-10 cups chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound your favorite smoked sausage, cut in quarters lengthwise and 1/2-inch thick
- 12-16 ounces greens – Swiss chard, baby kale, spinach or escarole
Lightly coat a stockpot with olive oil and heat on medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and leek, sprinkle with rosemary, thyme, paprika and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the ale and simmer until reduced by half.
Add the potatoes, 8 cups chicken stock and the bay leaf, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
For a thicker soup, remove the pot from the heat and gently crush some or all of the potatoes to with a masher. Don’t overdo it; you don’t want mashed potatoes.
Add the sausage to the pot and simmer until heated through, 5-10 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your liking, add more chicken stock.
If you have the time, remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Bring the soup to a boil, add the greens and stir to combine. Reduce the heat and simmer until the greens are wilted and tender.
Remove the bay leaf and serve hot in soup bowls or mugs.
- One Year Ago – Maple Muffins
- Two Years Ago – Roasted Carrot Salad
- Three Years Ago – Irish Lamb Stew
- Four Years Ago – Roasted Parsnips with Rosemary
- Five Years Ago – Not-Really-Irish and Not-Really-French Potato Gratin
- Six Years Ago – Zucchini Pancakes
- Seven Years Ago – Traditional Irish Soda Bread
- Eight Three Years Ago – Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons
- Nine Years Ago – Grilled Strip Steak with Gorgonzola Sauce
- Ten Years Ago – Linguine with Sundried Tomato Pesto & Roasted Eggplant
- Eleven Years Ago – Fettuccine with Classic Bolognese Sauce
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
Do you have a favorite story about an Irish ancestor? Feel free to share!
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020