The Irish Ancestry Trail

Where do you live on the Irish Ancestry Trail? Are you a member of the Irish Diaspora? When the people of a nation are dispersed and settle elsewhere, their descendants often keep a memory of their ancestral homeland. In section we will discuss how the diaspora of Ireland went to the four corners of the globe, but never lost their Irish identity. Over the years, we have come to call the places where the Irish migrated to around the world "The Irish Ancestry Trail" - a collection of countries around the world that hold a significant proportion of people of Irish descent.

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The Irish Ancestry Trail

Don’t you just love that word – “Diaspora”? Apparently, it comes from the Greek word for “scattering”. The reason I bring this up today is because Ireland appointed it’s first “Minister for the Diaspora”.

I first remember the word being used in the context of an “Irish Diaspora” when President Mary Robinson used to light a candle of welcome each night in all the windows of the presidential residence. A symbol of guidance and welcome for people of Irish descent spread throughout the world.

Now there are about 80 million people around the world who claim significant Irish descent. Quite amazing for such a small country as ours!

Where You Will Find People of Irish Descent Today.

The following is a rough breakdown of where we find our Irish today:

  • USA – about 36 Million people identify themselves as primarily of Irish descent. One of the things that surprised me when I started Your Irish Heritage was just how many readers we have of Scotch-Irish descent (and that is a subject coming soon in a Letter from Ireland!) – about 20% of all our readers.
  • Canada – about 4.5 million of Irish descent. Most Irish headed to Canada from the 19th century famine all the way to the 1950s. Even today, Canadian companies turn up in Ireland each year in quantity to recruit whole families of skilled tradesmen to all sorts of infrastructure and mining projects across the country.
  • South American countries claim high Irish descent populations – 2.5% in Argentina and 3.6% in Uruguay. The majority of these are descendants of the families of soldiers who first left Ireland as “Wild Geese” to fight with the Spanish armies – and followed them onto the colonies. People like William Brown from County Mayo – the founder of the Argentinian Navy.
  • Australia – Just over 10% of the Australian population self-declare as being of Irish ancestry. I am always struck by the stories that come from our Australian readers. Many of their ancestors arrived in the colony as convicted criminals – and the story around their conviction was often captured in court proceedings back in Ireland. And harrowing stories they are too.
  • Great Britain – has about 10% of it’s population is of Irish descent. Our US readers often question how Irish people could go and live in Britain. The answer is simple – job prospects and that is often where their family and friends already reside. My own parents moved to Britain. I was born there. We all moved back to Ireland. I went back to work there for a short while. My own son now works there. That is the way it has been for many centuries.

So, if you were passing on advice to our new Minister for the Diaspora, what would you say? What questions would you have for him?