No such thing as "No Irish Need Apply" signs argues historian

Was the 'No Irish Need Apply' sign just a myth?

Unlike the employment market for men, the market for female servants included a small submarket in which religion or ethnicity was specified. Thus newspaper ads for nannies, cooks, maids, nurses and companions sometimes specified "Protestant Only." "I can't imagine, Carrie, why you object so strongly to a Roman Catholic," protests the husband in an 1854 short story. "Why, Edward, they are so ignorant, filthy, and superstitious. It would never do to trust the children alone with one, for there is no telling what they might learn."

Intimate household relationships were delicate matters for some families, but the great majority of maids in large cities were Irish women, so the submarket that refused to hire them could not have been more than ten percent.

The first American usage was a printed song-sheet, dated Philadelphia, 1862. It is a reprint of a British song sheet. The narrator is a maid looking for a job in London who reads an ad in London Times and sings about Irish pride. The last verse was clearly added in America


Written and sung by Miss KATHLEEN O'NEIL.

WANTED.—A smart active girl to do the general housework of a large family, one who can cook, clean plates, and get up fine linen, preferred. N. B.—No Irish need apply

—London Times Newspaper, Feb. 1862.

I'm a simple Irish girl, and I'm looking for a place, I've felt the grip of poverty, but sure that's no disgrace, 'Twill be long before I get one, tho' indeed it's hard I try, For I read in each advertisement, "No Irish need apply."

Alas! for my poor country, which I never will deny, How they insult us when they write, "No Irish need apply." Now I wonder what's the reason that the fortune-favored few, Should throw on us that dirty slur, and treat us as they do, Sure they all know Paddy's heart is warm, and willing is his hand, They rule us, yet we may not earn a living in their land,

Ah! but now I'm in the land of the "Glorious and Free," And proud I am to own it, a country dear to me, I can see by your kind faces, that you will not deny, A place in your hearts for Kathleen, where "All Irish may apply." Then long may the Union flourish, and ever may it be, A pattern to the world, and the "Home of Liberty!"

In 1862 or 1863 at the latest John Poole wrote the basic NINA song that became immensely popular within a matter of months.


Written by JOHN F. POOLE, and sung, with immense success, by the great Comic-Vocalist of the age, TONY PASTOR.

I'm a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad;

I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.

I saw a place advartised. It's the thing for me, says I;

But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish need apply.

Whoo! says I; but that's an insult—though to get the place I'll try.

So, I wint to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply.

I started off to find the house, I got it mighty soon;

There I found the ould chap saited: he was reading the TRIBUNE.

I tould him what I came for, whin he in a rage did fly:

No! says he, you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply!

Thin I felt my dandher rising, and I'd like to black his eye—

To tell an Irish Gintleman: No Irish need apply!

I couldn't stand it longer: so, a hoult of him I took,

And I gave him such a welting as he'd get at Donnybrook.

He hollered: Millia murther! and to get away did try,

And swore he'd never write again: No Irish need apply.

He made a big apology; I bid him thin good-bye,

Saying: Whin next you want a bating, add: No Irish need apply! [End Page 408]

Sure, I've heard that in America it always is the plan

That an Irishman is just as good as any other man;

A home and hospitality they never will deny

The stranger here, or ever say: No Irish need apply.

But some black sheep are in the flock: a dirty lot, say I;

A dacint man will never write: No Irish need apply!

Sure, Paddy's heart is in his hand, as all the world does know,

His praties and his whiskey he will share with friend or foe;

His door is always open to the stranger passing by;

He never thinks of saying: None but Irish may apply.

And, in Columbia's history, his name is ranking high;

Thin, the Divil take the knaves that write: No Irish need apply!

Ould Ireland on the battle-field a lasting fame has made;

We all have heard of Meagher's men, and Corcoran's brigade. 2

Though fools may flout and bigots rave, and fanatics may cry,

Yet when they want good fighting-men, the Irish may apply,

And when for freedom and the right they raise the battle-cry,

Then the Rebel ranks begin to think: No Irish need apply

After a few rounds of singing and drinking, you could easily read the sign. Note that in the New York City version, Poole changed the London maid to a newly arrived country boy; the maid lamented, but the lad fights back vigorously. This is a song to encourage bullies. The lad starts his job search by scanning the want ads in the city's leading Republican newspaper, the New York Tribune, which seems an unlikely resource for a new arrival from a remote village. In the draft riots of 1863 the Tribune was a special target of Irish mobs.