Irish American or American Irish?


Sir, – In your newspaper’s coverage of St Patrick’s Day celebrations and the issue of giving the vote to members of the diaspora, we find frequent reference to those with Irish ancestry in America.

Unfortunately, there is often a tendency to refer to our all our American cousins as Irish Americans, as in an article on March 18th, where there was mention of 40 million Irish Americans (Analysis, “Voting for a vote for the Irish abroad”).

What the US census records is that there are some 35 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry and another some four million who claim Scots Irish ancestry.

Irish Americans are in fact a minority of all those who claim a link with Ireland.

The 2006 National Opinion Research Center (NORC) survey from the University of Chicago showed that of those who described themselves as Irish, 48 per cent were Protestant, 29 per cent Catholic and 23 per cent other or no religion. Many with other or no religion will have a Protestant background, so a clear majority of those with Irish roots in America are Protestant or are from a Protestant background.

The reasons why there is such a high proportion of Protestants among the Irish diaspora in America have been well explored by historians such as Prof Don Akenson. They point to matters such as the arrival of large numbers of Ulster Protestants in the 18th century, and a consequent multiplier factor, and the continued arrival of Protestant emigrants from the north and south of Ireland, such as Barack Obama’s Church of Ireland ancestor, Fulmouth Kearney.

These people are happy to acknowledge their Irish ancestry, or describe themselves as Irish, both in their census returns and in their celebrations of St Patrick’s Day. However, most do not usually describe themselves as Irish American, a term still largely associated in America with those from an Irish Catholic background.

American Irish is the best term to describe all with Irish origins, regardless of background.

At present, the Irish Americans are the most conspicuous and influential section, but they are a minority of the 35 million with Irish ancestry. – Yours, etc,