Despite the whole golden pavements thing being a total lie, Irish people still flock to the US in their droves. Originally, it was the lure of a better life free from repression and poverty, but this was quickly diluted with the promise of free land, gold and a sustainable potato crop. As Tom Cruise proved in Far And Away, such dreams were achievable despite having the second worst Irish accent ever heard.
Obviously, Richard Gere in The Jackal takes first spot. That was terrifying. It’s still terrifying.
With a reported 35 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, it’s clear we breed like rabbits when given the space, so much so that the population of Ireland itself is now dwarfed by a ratio of around 7:1 by our North American cousins. A quick look at the map from the Washington Post reveals the geographical trend, with the Mid West and North East proving popular spots. The hotter, desert states weren’t as attractive, with decent sunscreen only coming to the market in the early 20th century. We burn easily, us Irish folk.
Once a foothold was established in the US social and political scene, immigrants and their offspring went about infiltrating all aspects of American life. 21 Presidents claim Irish ancestry, or have had it claimed on their behalf via a process known as “Éirefication.” Since the end of WWW II, only three - Eisenhower, Johnson and Gerald Ford – successfully avoided being tarred with the green brush. Since Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977, every single President has some claim to Irishness, which is nice. Obama even made a dedicated trip to his Irish ancestor's birthplace.
It’s estimated there are around 133,000 first generation Irish expats living in the US at the moment. Given Ireland’s economic comedy of the last decade or so, more people leave for America than move to Ireland, resulting in a net annual loss for the motherland. As recently as 2008, this wasn’t the case, but thanks to the decision makers, who made such poor decisions, we’re now haemorrhaging talent at levels unseen since the mid-80’s.
Sadly, almost half of those who emigrate from Ireland are between the ages of 25 and 44, which suggests necessity over choice. America is the third most popular destination, behind the UK and Australia.
It’s not hard to understand why Irish people need to emigrate these days, but why do they choose America? Why not go to Brazil instead? The weather is as good, if not nicer, and there’s a lot more public nudity. Brazilians also have a better knowledge of football, and don’t call it “soccer”.
So, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why Irish people choose the US.
Thanks to colonialism, English has become the “world language”. It was a clever move by the early empire, who must have foreseen the internet and instantaneous communication as far back as the 1500’s. If you speak English, you’re already one rung up the ladder in terms of employment and social integration.
While English is the dominant language in Ireland, we’ve done our usual trick of mixing it up with our native tongue, with some devastatingly sexy results. We’re renowned worldwide for our poets and musicians, and this romanticism has bled into our language too. We use it however we see fit, and sometimes purely to play up to that romanticism and confuse foreigners at the same time. Irish sayings and phrases are a currency in themselves, particularly for Americans who seem unable to resist when they’re combined with the accent.
Knowing you speak the language, and also that most people love your accent, is certain to be a big factor when deciding where to emigrate to. Sharing a language means we can share news, entertainment, music, insults and everything else in between.
The chance to live in a drier, warmer and altogether more pleasant climate is bound to draw people west. While it doesn’t literally rain all the time here in Ireland, we do love to complain about it.
Most of our moisture comes from the Atlantic and spreads east, picking up warmth from the Gulf Stream and depositing said moisture all over our little island. For this, we must blame the Gulf of Mexico, where the warm water originates – sort it out America, please. It’s not helpful, and it’s not nice. Throwing in a few ice cubes now and again can’t be too much to ask.
When it snows in Ireland, sure we can’t get anything done at all. Schools close, cars slide from side to side like drunken new-born deer, and the entire nation panics as if we hadn’t gone through the exact same thing 12 months ago.
In America, things don’t grind to a halt at the first sign of snow. Roads don’t close, people know what to expect, and the world keeps turning. While the weather is generally more extreme, the country is prepared for nearly all possibilities, and coming from Ireland that’s a fascinating thing.
Everybody needs to eat, so why not eat nice things?
America is legendary for its culinary treats; waffles for breakfast, sometimes even steak for breakfast, more waffles, free refills on coffee and soft drinks, salt on everything, cheese from an aerosol…it’s bewildering for most newbies to the US.
The much feared “Boston Belly” describes the few extra pounds a lot of Irish people put on after a few months across the Atlantic. Waffles for breakfast? Come on, it’s bound to happen.
Pretty self-explanatory, but most Irish people moving to the US do so for work reasons. It seems a little counter-intuitive, given the fact Google, Facebook, Apple and many more US entities have moved in the other direction, but unfortunately individuals can’t take advantage of Ireland’s notoriously low corporate tax rates. If we could, we wouldn’t have to leave at all.
As a result, the talent bleed continues. Similar to those who move to Australia, the construction, health and hospitality industries are traditionally kind to Irish expats. Nurses, builders and barmen would be a somewhat accurate stereotype.
Ireland is known as something of a digital paradise these days though, and is considered by many to be the tech start-up hotspot of Europe, so hopefully the trend of immigration will turn once we capitalise on this.
Irish people like American sports. We don’t fully understand them all, but we do enjoy them, in between advertisements.
There’s an innate sense of pride in every Irish person regarding our sporting achievements considering our small population. Being able to flaunt our success in a country so much bigger is always fun. We can point to the similarities between hurling and lacrosse, for example, and massage our sense of superiority - we don’t need nets on the end of our sticks to catch the ball.
Beginners hurling, that’s what lacrosse is.
6. The American Dream
Just kidding, we’re far too sceptical to fall for that kind of sorcery.
So there you have it! A far-from definitive guide to the Irish love for America, and why it’s the third most popular destination for expats. Since St. Brendan first discovered the Americas 1500 years ago (he just didn’t make a fuss), we’ve created a solid bond that serves both nations well to this day.
James Kielty joined CurrencyFair.com in 2013, managing the blog and all things search engine related. A well travelled Dublin native with no plans to ever live anywhere else, he worked with PaddyPower for six years before moving into the startup world. He loves music, red wine and football (soccer!) – in that order. CurrencyFair.com is an Irish based online currency exchange company, which uses a peer-to-peer marketplace to cut the costs of sending money abroad by up to 90%! If you need currency exchange, look no further!
*Originally published in August 2014