Many people may not realise how intrinsically linked Ireland and the USA are. If you have ever visited parts of America, you might have noticed a large Irish population, but not quite understood why.

In the 1800s, Ellis Island in New York opened as one of the largest federal immigrant processing stations. In other words, it became the entrance to a new life for millions of future Americans. Officially opened on January 1st 1892, Ellis Island was a portal for so many people trying to find a better life.

For the people of Ireland, moving to America began thanks to the famine that blighted the country. Years of starvation and struggle forced the Irish people to leave in the hope of a better quality of life. Reaching a height in 1847, the emigration process lasted for quite some time.

Irish emigration

It was incredibly tough, with many of those making the journey not actually surviving. Many Irish emigrated to Boston and then on to New York, where the influx of new inhabitants was dealt with better.

By 1850, Irish people made up 43% of the foreign-born population in America. New York had more Irish-born citizens than Dublin. It was clear that many Irish had moved their whole lives to America in search of escape from the ongoing poverty and disease that was raging across their home.

‘Irish quarters’ began to develop, partly due to the Irish culture of living in close-knit communities. Communities like this can still be seen in modern Ireland, especially across the Aran Islands.

Annie Moore

When Ellis Island opened, the first passenger to proceed through it was a teenager, but not just any teenager. She was a young Irish girl, named Annie Moore. Her arrival became a very famous and historical moment.

Annie Moore was travelling with her two younger brothers to be reunited with their parents who had already arrived in New York City. The journey took them 12 days and departed from Queenstown, which is now known as Cobh.

Her story epitomised the struggles of 19th century Irish emigration; the decision to leave home and everything they knew, being separated from the family and arriving in a completely new and unknown culture.

It’s a constant reminder of Ireland’s complex history, and a reminder of the millions who passed through Ellis Island in pursuit of the American dream. Over 34 million Americans now claim Irish ancestry; around 7 times the population of Ireland itself. With the two countries linked so closely over the years, it’s impossible to forget how steeped in culture and history Ireland really is. To partake in some of your own Irish culture, browse our beautiful collection of Aran sweaters today.