Credit: Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Historical Insights The Irish in New York City

Though the Irish were concentrated in Manhattan, some settled in the outer boroughs to escape the urban slums, living on farms in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. About 1865, Manhattan, New York. Credit: Fotosearch/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Irish in New York City

More Irish lived in New York City than in Dublin by 1860, making it the largest Irish population in the world.

By 1860, New York was home to 200,000 Irish—making up almost 25 percent of the city’s total population. Fleeing the Emerald Isle in search of economic opportunity, men quickly filled the lowest jobs in New York’s booming factories, dockyards, and slaughterhouses, while women took on work as domestic servants to the city’s rising middle class. The Irish settled together across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx in neighborhoods that quickly gained notoriety for crime. Sprawling tenements, poor sanitation, and disease defined the daily grind. Brothels, pubs, and gambling houses were common. But these areas were also home to honest immigrants striving to make the best of their humble situations. In contrast to Protestant immigrants from Britain, the incoming Irish were Catholics who faced discrimination for their faith. However, as the decades progressed, generations of Irish rose steadily through the ranks of society, becoming civic workers and politicians—all the way up to the U.S. presidency a century later in 1961.