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Four Centuries of Irish Emigration: a profile

Emigration 1700-1800


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Eighteenth-century Ireland witnessed a significant increase in the volume of emigration in both absolute and proportional terms. With a reduction in significant immigration after 1700 and weak demographic expansion during the first half of the century, the country’s population had only grown to around 2.4 million by the early 1750s. Thus with the emigration of an estimated 265,000 over the course of the century we can deduce an emigration rate of 11%. Historians hotly contend the volume of migration to North America, the dominant destination. Most recent estimates suggest something in the region of 110,000 emigrants crossed the Atlantic from Ireland in the decades before the American Revolution. If we allow for the migration of a further 40,000 emigrants between 1782 and 1800 that would provide a total of 150,000 emigrants to North America for the century as a whole. It is thought that about 60% of these emigrants were drawn from the northern province of Ulster and that at least two-thirds were Presbyterians of Scottish ancestry. Migration to Europe, particularly during the first half of the century and particularly by Irish Catholics from the south-east of the country, remained significant. Opportunities for military service, education and trade drew an estimated 60,000 to the continent. The flow east towards Britain is poorly recorded and difficult to estimate. One might suggest a total in the region of 50,000. Finally, the beginnings of convict transportation to Australia during the 1790s saw no more than 5000 Irish migrate to the Antipodes.

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