Wednesday, April 4, 2012

From the Stacks: Irish Emigrant's Guide for the United States

Guest post by Molly Malcolm, Clements Library volunteer

March was Irish American Heritage Month, which prompted us to showcase a wonderful book here at the Clements Library, The Irish Emigrant's Guide for the United States, by Rev. J. O'Hanlon.


The cultural ties between Ireland and the United States are as old as any other European connection with this land; it was Irish-born Patrick Maguire who was the first of Christopher Columbus’ crew to step off the ship and set foot on North American soil in 1492. During and after the Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s, waves of Irish nationals began to immigrate from the Emerald Isle to America. When Ellis Island opened in 1892, the very first immigrant to enter was a fifteen year old Irish girl named Annie Moore from the Irish county of Cork. Thousands of Irish people entered America through Ellis Island between the years of its operation from 1892 to 1954.

Irish American emigrant John O’Hanlon wrote The Irish Emigrant’s Guide for the United States in 1851. The book details the ways in which Irish immigrants could best assimilate to American life and offers helpful advice and guidance for Irish people on how to succeed in their new country. This text functions as a set of instructions on how best to make the sea voyage, what necessary preparation is required before the emigration process begins, what sorts of things an Irishman should bring with him to his new home country and the type of life that can be expected once he arrives on American soil.

The decision to publish this book in 1851 speaks to the large waves of Irish immigration in the 1800s and to the complicated transition process undergone by emigrants to an American way of life. It is an early account of Irish American life and the important role that Irish heritage has played in the historical makeup of our national identity. O’Hanlon says that he wrote this text to any Irish emigrant as a means of addressing “the necessity of a guide to direct him, at least on the outset of his career; and the presentation of those statements and facts of a reliable nature which may enable him to surmount the difficulties, hardships and dangers of a new life, and to advance himself to a station of comfort, honor and independence.” The book continues on to offer many helpful pieces of advice to emigrating people, including information on: currency exchange, securing international sea passage, traveling through American by steam ship or rail, deciding on a stopping place to settle down and create a home, how to find employment and housing once in America, and in short how to build for oneself a profitable and enjoyable new life as an Irish immigrant in America.

Emigrants' guides like these aided travelers as they prepared to make the long voyage to the United States, and helped them settle in upon their arrival. In the mid-19th century, emigrants' guides were also produced for westward pioneers seeking the gold fields of California or the new Mormon settlement in Utah. Search for the subject "emigrants' guides" in the Mirlyn library catalog to see a selection of the Clements Library's holdings on this topic.

Further Reading:

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