A new nationwide survey shows that Irish Americans, despite being many generations removed from Ireland, continue to be attracted to their Irish heritage because of Irish history and culture, and the positive perceptions of Irish identity in the US.

Asked what attracts them most to their Irish American identity, 33 percent said Irish history, 24 percent Irish music, 12 percent said positive perceptions of Irish identity in the US, and 11 percent said travel in Ireland. 

The survey by Change Research, a nationally rated polling firm, polled 736 Irish Americans nationwide from January 24-28, 2023. The modeled margin of error for this survey is 3.8%, which uses effective sample sizes that adjust for the design effect of weighting.

According to the survey, the vast majority of Irish Americans' ancestors emigrated from Ireland more than three generations ago.

The survey shows that religion plays less of a role in Irish American identity than in the past. While almost half (47 percent) of respondents either identify as Catholic or were raised Catholic, only 12 percent regularly attend church, 20 percent do not regularly attend church, and 15 percent were raised Catholic but no longer identify as Catholic.

In addition, young Irish Americans do not identify with Catholicism as much as their older counterparts; just 23% of those under the age of 35 identify as Catholic. (An additional 17% of those under 35 were raised Catholic but no longer identify as such) 

The survey confirms that a sizable number of Irish Protestant immigrants from the 18th and 19th centuries still identify as Irish American, amounting to 19 percent of respondents. 3 percent say they are Evangelical, 1 percent are Jewish and 16 percent are non-religious.

Asked what most connects them to their Irish American identity, 33 percent of respondents say family, 18 percent chose a sense of social justice and responsibility for one another, followed by honesty and work ethic, love of country, faith, and social life.

The survey indicates that 77 percent of respondents who are descended from earlier generations of Irish immigrants enjoy a meaningful connection with their Irish heritage through Irish studies and culture, including music concerts, theater, and dance. They also become engaged when peace and equality are threatened in Northern Ireland, as is the case currently with the Brexit fallout. 

Asked what Ireland can do to strengthen Irish American links with their ancestral home, 52 percent choose more opportunities for young Irish Americans to study, volunteer, and work in Ireland. This was followed by more support for Irish studies in US colleges, and lobbying for immigration reform for Irish immigrants in the US.

Asked what is the most important issue for US politicians to address in relation to Ireland, 31 percent say support for peaceful Irish unification, 29 percent choose two-way trade and investment between Ireland and the US, followed by support for the Good Friday Agreement, visas for new Irish immigrants, and visas for Irish undocumented.

The survey shows that Irish Americans are largely progressive with clear majorities in favor of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, climate change action, gender equality, labor rights, racial equality, abortion, and reproductive rights, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. Small majorities favor conservative positions on national security, crime, and gun rights.

By a margin of 71 to 28 percent, respondents disagree with the proposition that “Poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” Irish Americans also disagree by 72 to 24 percent that “Immigrants are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care.” But a majority of 62 to 34 percent agree that “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.”

For those in Ireland and America who are seeking ways to engage succeeding generations of young Irish Americans with their identity and with Ireland, the key takeaway from the survey is to provide more opportunities for young Irish Americans to study, volunteer, and work in Ireland; devote more resources to Irish studies in US colleges; lobby for immigration reform for Irish immigrants in the US; and give Irish citizens overseas the ability to vote in Irish presidential elections.

The survey was commissioned by Glucksman Ireland House NYU and the non-profit Council for American Irish Relations. Brian O’Dwyer, Chair of the Council, said, “The survey is designed to increase our understanding of Irish Americans and how better to engage them in their ethnic heritage and with Ireland.”  

Ted Smyth, President of the Advisory Board of Glucksman Ireland House, said, “In the relative absence of surveys of Irish Americans, I hope that this will be the first of many for researchers and Irish organizations to better understand trends in the values and priorities of Irish American identity.”

For further information, contact Glucksman Ireland House NYU at ireland.house@nyu.edu.