Compelling Reasons Why The Irish Emigrated

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The intolerable conditions in Ireland which forced Irish emigrants to leave Ireland were mostly caused by the following four reasons:

Political Culture of Persecution

  • Austere taxation and tithes policies
  • Continual doctrine of ‘Conquer and divide’ policies for centuries seized and evicted lands from native Irish Catholics
  • Cruel landlords (not all)
  • Sponsorship of land price increases ('rent-racking')--allowed to unbearable levels--tossed hoards of already poor families, ‘out onto the street’
  • Disallowance of land ownership for all Catholics


  • British government backed England’s grain exportations—but not Ireland’s; farmers left
  • New farming techniques increased output, decreasing the need for agricultural laborers
  • Manufacturing industries sprang up, causing less emphasis in farming


A culture of religious persecution by the local Protestant-led and British Crown government was manifest in—

  • distrust of Catholics’ loyalty to the Crown

Harsh Penal laws from 1695, stripped all Catholics of their rights to—

  • vote
  • practice law
  • enter a profession
  • hold public office
  • receive an education
  • practice their own religion outside of the Protestant faith
  • serve as officers in British armed forces
  • teach in, or enroll in colleges
  • defend themselves with weapons
  • be employed or an employer in a trade or in commerce
  • build a church or live within 5 miles of the civil parish church
  • own a horse of greater value than five pounds
  • purchase nor lease land
  • hold a life annuity
  • buy or receive a gift of land from a Protestant
  • inherit land or moveables from a Protestant
  • rent any land that was worth more than thirty shillings a year
  • reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent
  • be a guardian to a child
  • leave infant children under Catholic guardianship
  • accept a mortgage on land in security for a loan
  • attend Catholic worship
  • choose between attendance in a Catholic, or a Protestant place of worship
  • educate his child
  • be instructed by a local Catholic teacher nor be educated abroad

Crop Failures

  • Devastating crop failures—especially from 1846 to 1851 killed nearly a million people
  • British government’s lack of food aid to Ireland during The Great Famine forced nearly half the surviving population to leave Ireland
  • Famine brought abject poverty, severe malnutrition inducing poor health, and affected (even to some--death) to 3-4 million Irish
  • Grains out of Ireland, were exported to England, while Irish were dying from the famine

Further Reading

O hEithir, Breandan, A Pocket History of Ireland, The O'Brien Press, Dublin, Ireland, 1989

MacManus, Seamus, The Story of the Irish Race, The New York Irish Publishing Co., 1921