March is Irish-American Heritage Month, a chance for us to tip back a Guinness and contemplate the Irish blood that flows through the heart of America; From John F. Kennedy to Brad Pitt, some of the most famous, prolific, and influential Americans are of Irish descent. March is our opportunity to reflect upon this heritage, learn more about it, and celebrate what is a unique and brilliant strand of history.
History of Irish-American Heritage Month
Irish-American Heritage Month was first celebrated by proclamation of the President in 1991. It seemed natural to choose March (Saint Patrick’s Day falls on March 17) for the month-long recognition of the contributions that Irish immigrants and their descendants have made to U.S. society. Virtually every realm of American endeavor, from steelworking to biotechnology to literature, has seen improvement through Irish-descended hands and minds.
The tradition of the Presidential proclamation continues on a yearly basis, with the top political figure from Ireland, the “Taoiseach,” visiting to conduct a shamrock-giving ceremony at the Oval Office, followed in the evening by a reception attended by the President and other key figures of both governments.
Most people know the basic facts of the influx of Irish families to the shores of the United States during the 19th century, with the image of the Irish immigrant being conscripted into the Army minutes after stepping off the boat perhaps the most ingrained in the minds of former grade-school history students.
What is less talked about is the anti-immigrant sentiment that was often faced by new Irish-Americans, largely a result of their Catholicism, which clashed with the predominantly Protestant backgrounds of the majority of families whose members had been among the original colonists. Irish-Americans faced bitter competition, even slanted legislation, in their search for good jobs and a place to call home.
This month we recognize not only the overcoming of those obstacles by Irish-Americans but also the incredible breadth and depth of their contributions to American society, from the Union’s edge over the Confederacy in the Civil War to the intellectual contributions that have kept our country on the top tiers of accomplishment.
Irish-American Heritage Month timeline
"From this day forward…”
The first Irish-American Heritage Month is declared by the U.S. Congress.
A new life on brighter shores
About a million people immigrate from Ireland to the U.S. during the Irish Potato Famine.
The United Kingdom repeals its Anti-Catholic Penal Laws — allowing Catholics to leave the country and come to America.
Signed and sealed
Nine of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence are of Irish origin.
Irish-American Heritage Month FAQs
Out of the entire U.S. population, how many are of Irish bloodlines?
As of 2011, there were 34.5 million Americans who claimed Irish ancestry, more than the population of Ireland at that time.
When did the Irish come to America?
A huge volume of Irish people came to America in the 19th century. As many as 4.5 million Irish arrived between 1820 and 1930.
When is Irish-American Heritage Month?
March each year.
HOW TO OBSERVE IRISH-AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH
Turn Irish for a month
Join in the expression of cheer and high spirits that the Irish are known for, subsist on Irish food and drink (it’s more than haggis and boiled cabbage), dye your hair, do whatever you can to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Emerald Isle, and enjoy!
Try some green beer
It’s a longstanding March tradition worthy of joining in. Did you know that it’s a blue food coloring that is added to the ale, and not green? The blue pigment mixes with the beer’s amber hue to make green.
Take part in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations
Food, music, and dance are only some of the fun cultural events that take place around St. Patrick’s Day, which itself marks the arrival of the Catholic faith in old Ireland.
FIVE CELEBRITIES YOU DIDN’T KNOW WERE OF IRISH DESCENT
Known as a cherished import from Australia, Kidman was actually born in Hawaii to parents who gave her Irish, English, and Scottish genes.
The son of a school counselor and a trucking company manager, Pitt is mainly of English ancestry, but also Irish and Welsh.
Everyone knows that this household name has Italian blood, but you may not be aware of his maternal grandmother’s Irish stock.
Clooney, born in Lexington, Kentucky, is of Irish, German, and English ancestry. (Did you know that he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds before discovering acting?)
The “Friends” star’s father is of Greek descent, but she also has her mother’s English, Irish, and Scottish forebears’ blood in her veins.
WHY IRISH-AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH IS IMPORTANT
It’s a window into the Irish culture
It’s always fun to learn new things, and there’s no limit to how deep you can dig into Ireland’s literature, scientific contributions, and rich history. The best part? Anybody can join in the celebration!
It reveals the textured stories of Irish immigrants
These colorful, important stories deserve to be told because they are an important part of American history.
Irish-Americans can connect with their roots
The original Irish immigrants brought with them their food, music, and a new style of political organizing — among many other traditions.
Irish-American Heritage Month dates