The Irish immigrants
Many of the first emigrants from Ireland came to work. They then found work on the railroads. Many, perhaps most, were skilled workers. Often they had migrated first to England where they had acquired experience.
In the 1840s, the size and nature of Irish immigration changed increasingly. The potatoes started to rot which destroyed the Irish diet produced famine. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were driven from their cottages and forced to immigrate most often to North America. Unlike the earlier migration, these people had no skills, no previous experience in adapting to a new country. They also had no money, few clothes, and very little hope. Most had no education and had had little formal religious training.
Even before the famine, these people had been desperately poor, most likely the poorest in Europe. Suddenly they found themselves evicted from "cottages". Family and neighbours fell victim to cholera and other infectious diseases. More died of the cholera outbreak than of hunger. The survivors who washed up on the shores of the United States and Canada had few resources of any kind to draw upon.
Through 1840 total emigration exceeded 100,000 only once and Canada rivalled the United States as a destination. After 1845 totals climbed sharply in 1849, almost 220,000 of the nearly 300,000 emigrants (73%) came to the U.S. In 1851 the Census of Ireland disclosed the overall impact of death, disease, and emigration.
Living conditions for the immigrants were very bad. They often crammed into shanty towns, living in shacks cobbled together out of discarded boards and other debris. There were no streets but only paths
Jobs were hard to find. Employers often advertised their unwillingness to take on the newcomers by hanging out "No Irish Need Apply" signs. Irish women did find work as domestics, stereotyped as "Biddies," short for Bridget. Irish men also became servants or took unskilled jobs in construction. Harper's...