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Migration of Irish Women in the Post-Famine Period

Thesis statement

The mass migration of Irish women in the post-famine period was reasoned by numerous factors. Originally, these were the wishes of personal and economic education, which could not be achieved in the circumstances of traditional Irish society. It is claimed that women were migrating looking for a better life; however, their contribution to western societies is regarded to be immense.


To begin with, it is necessary to mention that the history of Ireland is featured with numerous disasters, such as famine, fighting and oppression. The young people chose to migrate instead of being patient to the disasters. Most of them left Ireland, some were deported. The families were split, as some moved to western States (Canada, USA and South America), while the others headed to Australia and New Zealand. European countries were trying to help by providing work places for thousands of Irish immigrants, who were suffering from famine and other hardship in their native country, imposed by British laws.

Records of the migrants show that almost half of the immigrants were young and single women. These were people in their teens, as lots of families aimed to send their children away in order to give them a chance to survive. The fact is that leaving the country always meant saying good-bye forever to the family, friends and home, as, in spite of the wish to return, there was no strong possibility to do so.

Women Migration

The famine, and suffering from this disaster, which caused immense migration, was the sudden calamity. This left a bitter memory in the minds of the survivors, however, they managed to survive, and have a happier life they were searching for. The destruction of old Ireland, which took place after the famine, caused serious suppression of women rights and opportunities; that is why the post-famine migration of women was even more serious and massive than the migration during famine.

It is considered that diasporal groups are generally the groups of people who were forced to migrate. Originally, this statement is correct, however, most Irish women were migrating in the post-famine period (1845-1852). Generally, this migration has been repeated in the post-famine period, and numerous families selected to part, searching for better life for their children.

Miller (1988) argues that diaspora not only reveals the dispersion of people from their native homeland, but can also call up for a more symbolic spatiality, “which combines the separate locations of origin, travel and settlement into a ‘third space

Women were leaving Ireland in search for the opportunities they could not find at home. These were mainly sexual liberation and career opportunities. They aimed to bear children, and have an opportunity to make an abortion in the case of necessity. They were trying to avoid numerous circumstances that Irish society was featured with. They became domestic servants, factory workers, nurses, nuns, feminist activists, farm-workers, business-ladies and professionals in numerous spheres in most corners of the world.

It is necessary to emphasize that Irish women had made a huge contribution to the societies they immigrated to. The fact is that in Sydney, Boston, Chicago, Toronto and lots of other huge cities about one third of all women were Irish. More than a thousand women came to Sydney to work in hospitals. The others were working in the social sphere. Originally, gender balance was the key feature of Irish migration to Australia, New Zealand and the USA throughout the nineteenth century. The women were searching for worthy and normally paid jobs, in order they could forget the starvation, and have their families.

There is a point of view that the migration of Irish women between 1885 and 1920 was an effort to restore the lost status of women in post-famine Ireland. This attempt was mainly linked with the possibility to get married and establishing families. (Nolan 1989). Their service in the USA is regarded as the opportunity to promote the transition from rural (traditional) to urban (progressive) way of life. The achieving of social and financial progress, and the overcoming of sex discrimination were the key aims of Irish women in diasporas. Originally, the diasporas were mainly symbolic, as starting from the second generation, the migrated Irish people started extensive assimilation, and were regarded as the Native Americans (Australians, New Zealanders etc.). Thus, family and home appear to be the key aims of the escape from Traditional Ireland, however, these women are regarded as the facilitators of civilization and modernization of the traditional society not only in Ireland, but mainly in the USA and Canada.

Janet Nolan (1989) emphasizes that the successful adaptation to the modernized community enabled these women to send money transfers (remittances), which helped the traditional community of Ireland to accept the modernized model of social relations. From this point of view, the mass migration of women is regarded as the reaction to the powerful resistance of traditional Irish society to get changed and modernized.

Arguing on the matters of modernization, it is necessary to point out the statement by David Fitzpatrick, who argued that the prominent political and public activists of the further periods grew in matricentered families, which were established by Irish migrant women. These women, and their descendants were forming the modernized society in the USA, as Western society was read for the essential changes, which Irish women could not find in their homeland.


The mass migration of Irish women in the post-famine period was reasoned by numerous factors. The key reason for this migration was the search for a happy life and the possibility to create a family. Originally, this aim was linked with the impossibility to establish a family as they needed in the traditional Irish society. Moreover, this society was not ready for transformation and modernization. Thus, the migration was mainly the compulsory measure, based on the necessity of personal and economic independence. The opportunities that Irish women got after their migration helped them to give the basis for further transformation of the western society, and, step by step assist the transformation and modernization of the Irish society.

The contribution, which Irish women made for the western society is regarded to be one of the greatest ever. They were the ruling force of social modernization, and the following generations of Irish immigrants are considered the most successful public and political activists, who originated the further modernization of the society, and gave the basis for civil rights movements in the twentieth century.


Fitzpatrick, David. Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia. Jossey-Bass, 1995

Miller, Kerby., A. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. Oxford University Press, 1988

Nolan, Janet. Ourselves Alone: Women’s Emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920. University Press of Kentucky. 1989


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