Immigration and Emigration

Ireland, land of opportunity?

Poitiers, Bibliothèques universiraires, Fonds ancien, FD 2237

A – A letter from a gentleman in Ireland to his brother in England.- London : L. Curtiss, 1677

Ireland was not just a land of emigration, but, in the course of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, it welcomed a great number of immigrants from different countries. At the end of the 17th century, whole families arrived from Holland, the West of England, and from France. These migrants were principally economically motivated (doc. A, p. 10-11). In the 18th century, a large number of Scots settled in Ireland to develop the textile trade. At the same time, Huguenots, escaping persecution in France, found refuge in Ireland.


The American dream…

During the 17th century, Ireland constituted a reserve workforce for the colonies when the English source dried up, mainly due to improvements in living conditions following improved harvests, higher wages and a certain degree of political stability. It was Ireland which then provided the colonies with indentured workers.


… or American nightmare ?

Poitiers, Bibliothèques universitaires, Fonds ancien, FD 1047

B  – An Humble address and earnest appeal to those respectable personages in Great-Britain and Ireland, who, by their great and permanent interest in landed property, their liberal education, elevated rank, and enlarged views, are the ablest to judge, and the fittest to decide, whether a connection with, or a separation from the continental colonies of America, be most for the national advantage, and the lasting benefit of these kingdoms. Second edition / Josiah Tucke.- Glocester : printed by R. Raikes : and sold by T. Cadell… ; London, 1775

However, during the 18th century, over 100 000 Scotch-Irish left Ireland for the continental North American colonies, emptying the Irish countryside of its inhabitants, who hoped to find better living conditions on the other side of the Atlantic.

The attraction of the British colonies in North America and the West Indies was emptying Ireland of its inhabitants. During the debates in the Old and New World on the advantages and disadvantages of granting independence to the Thirteen North-American Colonies, the question of emigration from England and Ireland to these colonies was central: if England let the colonies go, then the population would no longer undertake the journey. “What remedy do you propose for curing the people of that madness which has seized them for emigrations? I answer …A total separation from North America. For most certain it is, that as soon as such a separation shall take place, a residence in the colonies will be no longer a desirable situation.” (doc. B, p. 67)


Poitiers, Bibliothèques universitaires, Fonds ancien, FD 2164

C – A scheme for supplying industrious men with money to carry on their trades, and for better providing for the poor of Ireland / David Bindon.- Dublin : T. Hume, 1729

Poitiers, Bibliothèques universitaires, Fonds ancien, FD 2015

D – The Political, commercial, and civil, state of Ireland / James Stanier Clarke.- London, 1799

Poitiers, Bibliothèques universitaires, Fonds ancien, FD 549

E – Voyage en Irlande / Arthur Young.- Paris : Moutardier, Cerioux, an VIII

To which others replied that unless living conditions in Ireland were improved, emigration would continue untrammeled: “Why do such numbers of them quit the country ? (…) if they had a prospect of living comfortably at home, and had no dread of falling into the same Extremities of Want they see others laboring under, they would rather stay in their native Country, among their Relations, their Friends, and Acquaintances, than expose themselves to the Hazards of long and dangerous Voyages, to begin the World as it were a-new, in a different Climate: exposed in many Places, to Savages, and at all Adventures to very great Hardships. Men do not wantonly run these Risques, or subject themselves to these Inconveniencies. It is the prospect of Gain, or to escue greater Evils, that prompts them to these hazardous Tryals of Fortune. And unless the Conditon of the common People is better’d by affording them Means of providing for themselves and their Families, it is vain to hope that any Restraints will keep them in a Country they see on the Brink of Ruin” (doc. C, p. 10-11 ; doc. D, p. 42-43).

In a similar vein, Arthur Young, in his Tour in Ireland (1775-1777) considers the ‘Emigrations’ in detail (doc. E, p. 85-87), generally regretting that poverty drove many to leave the country.


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