On a recent visit to EPIC: The Irish Immigration Museum, I began to reflect on the recent rise of anti-immigration protests that have taken place in Ireland, almost doggedly ignoring Ireland's reliance on emigration throughout history. 

EPIC offers a fascinating insight into the Irish emigration story, detailing the influence that Irish immigrants have had around the world for hundreds of years, but it also highlights the hypocrisy of the abhorrent anti-refugee and anti-asylum seeker protests that have taken place with alarming regularity around the country in the past few months. 

As EPIC highlights, Irish people have been emigrating from Irish shores throughout history for a variety of reasons. 

Most notably, the Irish Famine in the mid-19th century saw roughly two million people flee from starvation and hunger-related diseases. Many of them arrived in the United States and the United Kingdom and went on to play a vital role in the development of the countries. 

More recently, Irish people have left Ireland in search of a better life abroad, fleeing economic stagnation and unemployment at home. That used to mean flocking to New York or Boston, but nowadays, young Irish people are moving in their droves to Australia, taking advantage of the country's high wages. 

Every Irish person who has ever emigrated has done so for a good reason and almost every Irish immigrant has contributed positively to their adopted homes, as EPIC so brilliantly points out. 

Anti-immigrant sentiment

This is what makes these recent anti-immigration protests so difficult to fathom. 

How can Irish people be opposed to immigration considering Ireland's long connection to it? Do they not see the utter hypocrisy? 

Refugees fleeing war in Syria or Ukraine are not coming to Ireland for malevolent reasons but because they have little choice. 

In reality, their story is no different from the millions of Irish people who fled the Famine in the 19th century. Like those Irish famine emigrants, these asylum seekers and refugees are fleeing a horrifying situation in their own country that is out of their control. Like the Irish famine emigrants, most of them will contribute positively to their new home and bring a welcome cultural diversity to Irish shores. 

Street art in support of Ukraine.

Street art in support of Ukraine.

A common tactic used by anti-immigration advocates has been to decry the arrival of men of a "military age", which essentially includes all men over the age of 18 and under the age of 65. 

The use of such language is rooted in racism and makes no sense at any level. 

Of course, some men are going to flee war-torn countries as well, or do these people think that every single one of Ireland's two million famine emigrants were women and children? 

Granted, many Irish famine emigrants faced appalling discrimination and lived in squalor, but could you imagine the disaster if they were turned away because the local population didn't want them? 

All of the Irish men who have moved to Australia in recent years are men of a "military age" and there would be justifiable uproar in Ireland if footage emerged of Australian protesters gathered outside their accommodation looking for them to be kicked out of the country. 

Chief among the concerns of Ireland's anti-immigrant brigade is the risk of crime associated with the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers. 

Every time an immigrant is involved in any sort of crime, it is heralded as irrefutable evidence that immigration brings crime and should be curtailed as a result. 

But the vast majority of these immigrants will be upstanding citizens and shouldn't be persecuted because of the actions of a very small minority. 

No community is without fault, including the Irish abroad. In my three years working with IrishCentral, I have covered my fair share of stories involving Irish criminals abroad, but thankfully these crimes, no matter how heinous, have caused the local population to be up in arms about the presence of Irish immigrants in their country. 

Anti-immigration advocates have also regularly - and incorrectly - claimed that refugees and asylum seekers have come here illegally. This is both wrong (since it is not illegal to claim asylum) and completely ignores the fact that there are literally tens of thousands of undocumented Irish immigrants in the US right now. 

The whole thing stinks of a "holier than thou" attitude. 

The juxtaposition of anti-immigrant sentiment in a country that has relied on emigration throughout its history will simply not fly and the majority of Irish people are aware of the benefits of immigration. 

Ireland is not full

The population of the island of Ireland remains significantly smaller than it was in 1841 before the beginning of the Great Hunger. There is plenty of space for refugees and asylum seekers in search of a better, safer life, and they can contribute immensely to dying rural communities. 

In fact, they already have. Consider the heartwarming story of Lismoil National School in County Roscommon, which was saved from potential closure in January thanks to the arrival of 14 Ukrainian students. 

EPIC wonderfully points out how Irish ex-pats contributed immensely in the fields of science, business, sports, fashion, and art when they left Ireland for pastures new. Ireland will, in time, reap the rewards of taking in asylum seekers and refugees who offer a different culture and a different way of thinking. 

These people should be welcomed with open arms, like the human beings that they are. 

Ireland prides itself on being a welcoming nation. It is time to start proving it.