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Four Centuries of Irish Emigration: a profile

Emigration 1900-2000


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Although the relative scale of emigration declined from its mid-nineteenth century heights Irish emigration by contemporary European standards remained prolific throughout much of the twentieth century. The partition of the island from 1921 makes the compilation of statistics even more problematic. The peaks in emigration from the southern state during the 1930s, between 1945 and 1955 and again in the late 1980s, may not have been matched by movement out of Northern Ireland. The lack of exploration of the latter phenomenon, however, should not be taken as an indication of limited emigration. One profound shift which occurred during the later 1920s was the replacement of North America by Britain as the dominant migrant destination. Proposing an estimate for the total migration flow from all 32 counties of Ireland across the Irish Sea over the course of the century is a precarious enterprise, even the acknowledged expert in this field refuses to offer a number. It may be tentatively proposed that somewhere in the region of 1.2 million emigrants followed this course. Emigration to the whole of North America from Ireland north and south probably totalled about 1.1 million with more than two-thirds of these emigrants departing before 1930. Other overseas destinations probably accounted for a further 150,000 Irish emigrants with continental Europe re-emerging somewhat following the Republic of Irelandís entry of the EEC in 1973. Based on a population for the island of Ireland in 1951 of 4,331,514 the emigration rate for the twentieth century works out at 56.5%.

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