Four Centuries of Irish Emigration: A Profile

By Patrick Fitzgerald

No European country has been as profoundly influenced by the phenomenon of emigration as the island of Ireland. Over the course of the last four centuries somewhere in excess of 9.8 million emigrants have left Ireland’s shores. This equates to almost double the population of the island today. In 1990, the newly elected President of the Republic of Ireland, Mary Robinson, used her inaugural speech to propose a redefinition of Irishness and to signpost a new relationship between the state, its citizens and the “over seventy million people living on this globe who claim Irish descent”. Since then the term ‘Irish diaspora’ has been increasingly used as a description of the historical phenomenon of mass emigration, encompassing the multi-generational, global Irish ethnic community. The story of the origins and development of the Irish diaspora over the last four centuries is briefly outlined below.