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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 03/98: stpatrick  
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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 17 March, 1998, 12:33 GMT
The Irish exodus: In search of a brighter future
Map
Millions of Irish have left their homeland in search of a better future
In the past 250 years more than six million Irish have left their homeland in search of a better life.

Emigration ranks as one of the major chapters in Irish history. Up to 44 million Americans claim some Irish blood and so do seven million Australians.

Although emigration from Ireland dates back to the 1720s, the momentum really picked up after the potato famine of 1845/6, in which more than a million people died.

In that decade alone almost a million made for the east coast of America and another million headed for mainland Britain. Substantial numbers also travelled to Canada and Australia.

It was called the Irish Diaspora and the trend carried on well into the 20th century. Between 1850 and 1930 Irish emigration to America alone totalled more than four million people.

The exodus to the US continued up until the late 1920s when the American government slashed the quotas for immigrants from Ireland.

Britain kept its doors open and while the flood had already thinned to a relative trickle it continued well into the 1980s. In that decade, two-thirds of Ireland's 200,000 emigrants went to the UK.

Many were not willing exiles, but with high unemployment at home, travel was their only hope of a good job.

By then the profile of the typical Irish migrant to Britain had changed. Whereas before it was the least skilled or the poorest who could only afford the short crossing, a new, educated class began to emerge.

This new elite keenly capitalised on the European Union's relaxed settlement laws which allowed free movement of labour within member countries. Large numbers of young, skilled Irish spread into mainland Europe to take up high-skilled and well-paid jobs.

The 1990s have signalled a change in the long-term trend. Ireland has blossomed into a go-ahead country with a dynamic economy and hi-tech industries. The Irish say they have a new-found confidence and the country's young no longer have to look abroad for work.

Links to more stpatrick stories are at the foot of the page.


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