11. Jun, 2020

Out of the Frying Pan

Emigration from Oppression to Oppression


Emigration was always a route for Irishmen, women and children to escape the horrible discrimination and oppression that was inflicted on them by the British State, which included their efforts to starve the Irish Catholic peasantry into extinction during the terrible years 1845 - 1849. Is it any surprise that our forefathers fought for their liberty from the time the very first English foot stood on our shores. They would justify their actions through lies and propaganda that depicted the Irish as subhuman beasts, who were lazy, drunken, uneducated, and violent.

Ireland it was often said by the British Government were a burden to the working man by their laziness and lack of enterprise. But Penal Laws, Rack Rents, Greedy Landlords and sectarian acts of parliament did not give our forefathers much opportunity to better themselves. They were slaves in their own land, starved and exploited by British 'Masters' who wished the status quo to remain. In the mind of our British overlords, the calls for Freedom and liberty were seen to be an attempt by anarchists to destroy the good, civilising government that Britain was giving to the world; In Africa, India, the convict settlements of Australia and the slave plantations of the West Indies.

After America won its independence from the British Crown it became a magnet for many Irishmen seeking escape from British oppression. At the time of the 'Great Potato Famine', encouraged by Britain, the numbers of Irish men, women and children emigrating from these shores became a flood. Hundreds of ships filled with half-starved refugees from Ireland sailed to the United States, Canada, Australia and all points of the compass. Some, believing life would be better for them in England, Wales and Scotland were to find themselves imprisoned in the slum areas of Glasgow, Liverpool, and London, where life was no better and in some instances worse. They thought they would get employment but all they found was "Irish Need Not Apply."

On that famous symbol of freedom and liberty, the Statue of Liberty, it is written  - “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” (Emma Lazarus). That  Lamp was held high and became the guiding light for all those exploited peoples from Russia, Balkans, Ireland, and elsewhere. It was a promise of a new and better life if you were willing to work for it. When they arrived, however, they were to find things not much different than at home, unless you were a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant). 

Over the years in American cities like Boston and New York the Irish settled down in slums areas, where they unified with each other in self-help groups, some legal and some illegal, but it was a matter of survival. They soon found that the country was rife with corruption and the new emigrants were used by, what were called,'Ward Bosses' to hold political sway for corrupt politicians and the like. But, the Irish educated themselves and began to quickly rise from their peasant past, despite widespread efforts to keep them in their place. Even the idea of the 'Fair Irish Colleen' was corrupted by the racist segments in American society. (Published with apologies to the fair and wonderful ladies of the County Cork)

So, for the Irish fleeing the oppression of the British in their own homeland it had become a case of, "From the frying pan into the Fire." As had been the case at home, the old traditions and the language disappeared from use, and we must be grateful for those of our forefathers who remained true to their Irishness for ensuring these were passed down to our generation. We look now at our Irish-American 'cousins', who are so keen to establish their Irish identity because of their pride in what their forefathers suffered to ensure that they did get a reasonable standard of life.

The Irish rid themselves of the stigma of being lazy and irresponsible people. They toiled on the railways that stretched across that continent, the roads, the dams, the steel factories, the canals, the brickyards and in every industry that would make America the nation it became. They fought in its wars, both civil and foreign, and they policed the streets of the expanding continent in an effort to make sure law and order were properly maintained. Among the millions of workers in the industries of the continent, the Irish played a role as leaders for workers' rights. They had spent long years of suffering at the hands of landlords and others who had become rich off the sweat of the working class and gave their workers poor remuneration for their efforts. But, the organisation of labour was not seen favourably in the corridors of power and the Irish were seen once again as anarchists and troublemakers.
The cradle of democracy we have seen many times is not what it is supposed to be. Giving up your tired and your poor is no longer appreciated, and in many places, freedom depends on income, colour, race or creed. Big money has big power despite the best efforts of a liberal-minded majority who seek fair-play for all. But do not condemn America just for this because the same is now appearing in our free, independent Ireland (e.g. Bank Crisis; Tax Evasion Schemes, Corruption Scandals, etc.) Perhaps it is this unfair society that is driving our young, educated workforce away from our shores now.