Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Irish Americans: More Than A Saint Patrick's Day Parade Part I (b)

By Miriam B. Medina

The gold rush in California began to draw immigrants from every part of the world. America was expanding it offered promise and opportunity and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Steamship companies, railroad companies, manufacturing firms and private enterprises turned to Europe for workers. Ruthless businessmen hired unscrupulous agents to work on commission. They were sent to Europe with an array of irresistible pamphlets, advertisements, drawings and pictures. These smooth operators promised wealth that would prove most often to be an illusion. They convinced the downtrodden that land was cheap, that jobs were plentiful and that some day they could return to their home country as wealthy land owners. If those lies didn't work, as a last resort, the smooth operator would play his final card.

"My employer is willing to loan you the money to pay for your passage and lodgings, and when you begin to work in America you can pay him back out of your wages."

When disease ruined their crops, the Irish had nothing else to keep them in Ireland, and America offered hope, promise, the American Dream. America beckoned.

For those that were destitute, and that was most of them, they had no choice but to borrow money from whomever was willing to pay for their transportation. The price of the passage would cost anywhere from $12.50 to $25.00 a head.

Without further delay, the Irish packed their meager belongings, their household goods and their families and set sea for the land of promise. The steamship agents had booked as many steerage passengers as they could possibly squeeze on deck or in the bottom of the ship, making conditions unbearable, in order to make the trip financially rewarding. The emigrants on deck were subjected to rainy cold weather conditions and the dampness of the sea. Water and food was limited. Starvation, dampness and dirty conditions provided a breeding ground for cholera and death. Diarrhea was prominent among the passengers. Those not strong enough to survive the trip succumbed to death, and their bodies were weighed down and dumped into the tempestuous sea. One ship alone registered more than 200 people who died from disease and famine caused by these horrible conditions during the long and perilous journey.

Between 1847 and 1860, more than 1,000,000 Irish immigrants passed through the port of New York. Those that arrived were fortunate to be alive, having survived the terrible conditions after struggling to accumulate the passage money, either by a relative who helped them or from the so-called "loan shark", also known as the smooth operator.

Many of the Irish that arrived on the shores of America were poor, having exhausted their savings on the journey; those few who had any money left soon fell prey to the waterfront sharper who were trained con men. The Irish, as well as most immigrants who came to New York City during the mid 1800's, ordinarily lived in the tenement district, amid crime, filth and disease. They were forced to live in damp smelly cellars or attics, up to 10 people, men, women and children alike, packed into crowded single rooms where "undisturbed filth for so many years would reign." These tenement buildings were dangerous fire-traps and breeding grounds for murderous rodents that would kill babies in their cribs. Some of the Irish who couldn't find employment to pay rent lived in dirty shanties that surrounded the dumping places. They would sift through the garbage trying to find scraps for food, whether it was decaying vegetables, bread or even bones. Nonetheless, they were here in America, and many would make the most of their opportunity. In part two of this series, we will examine the history of Irish Americans once they settled into America.

Miriam B. Medina is an Expert Author at Platinum Level at EzineArticles.com

See Part II next:

To contact: miriammedina@earthlink.net

No comments: