Irish Canadian

From Academic Kids

Irish Canadians are people of Irish descent living in Canada or born as native Canadians. Irish Canadians live across the country, in fact, a very sizeable portion of Canada's population (12.9%) identify themselves as of Irish descent.


The Irish in Canada

The Irish have a long and rich history in Canada dating back centuries. The first recorded Irish presence in the area of present day Canada dates from 1536, when Irish fisherman from Cork travled to Newfoundland. However, the majority of Irish people arrived in Canada shortly before, during, and shortly after the Irish potato famine in the mid 19th century. During this time, Canada was the destination of the poorest and the most destitute Irish people. This was because the fare to Canada was much lower than those to the United States of America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Many Irish immigrants destined for Upper Canada (now Ontario) arrived in Grosse-Île an island in present day Quebec (then called Lower Canada). Thousands of dying Irishmen and women were treated in the hospital (equipped for less than one hundred patients) in the summer of 1847; in fact, many boats that reached Grosse-Île had lost the bulk of their passengers and crew, and many more died in quarantine on and near the island.

Unlike the Irish in the United States or the United Kingdom, the Irish in Canada mainly settled in rural areas and not the cities, but there were many exceptions (especially in Quebec and Newfoundland, see below for more information). The Irish in Canada still faced a large amount of racism and persecution largely because of the Fenian Brotherhood's attacks on Canada (then known as British North America. The Irish-Canadian community largely condemned these attacks, and in 1868, a prominent anti-Fenian Irish-Canadian, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, was assassinated in Ottawa uniting all Canadians against the Fenian Army.

After Confederation, Irish Catholics faced more oppression because of their faith rather than their race. This was especially true in the mainly Protestant cities of Ontario, which were under the sway of the anti-Catholic Orange Order.

The Irish Benevolent Society

In 1877, a breakthrough in Irish Canadian Protestant-Catholic relations occurred in London, Ontario. This was the founding of the Irish Benevolent Society, a brotherhood of Irishmen and women of both Catholic and Protestant faiths. The society promoted Irish Canadian culture, but it was forbidden for members to speak of Irish politics when meeting. This companionship of Irish people of all faiths quickly tore down the walls of sectarianism in Ontario. Today, the Society is still operating.

Benevolent Irish Society

In 1806, The Benevolent Irish Society (BIS) was founded as a philanthropic organization in St. John's, Newfoundland. Membership was open to adult residents of Newfoundland who are of Irish birth or ancestry, regardless of religious persuasion. The BIS was founded as a charitable, fraternal, middle-class social organization, on the principles of "benevolence and philanthropy", and had as its original objective to provide the necessary skills which would enable the poor to better themselves. Today the society is still active in Newfoundland and is the oldest philanthropic organization in North America.

The Irish in Quebec

Main article: Irish Quebecers

After the disaster at Grosse-Île (see above), many Irish children were left as orphans in a new country. These children were adopted mainly by French speakers in Lower Canada. These children fought for the right to keep their Irish surnames, and were largely successful. Today, many Quebeckers have a name of Irish origin. In fact, the Irish are the second largest ethnic group in the province after the French Canadians and one estimate suggests that as many as 40 percent of the French-speaking Quebeckers have some Irish ancestry. The St. Patrick's Day Parade in Montreal is the oldest in North America and attracts crowds of over 600,000 people.

The Irish in Prince Edward Island

For years, Prince Edward Island has been divided between Irish Catholics and British Protestants. In the latter half of the 20th Century, this sectarianism diminished and was ultimately destroyed recently after two events occurred. Firstly, the Catholic and Protestant school boards were merged into one secular institution, and secondly, the practise of electing two MLAs for each provincial riding (one Catholic and one Protestant) was ended.

The Irish in Newfoundland

Main article: Irish Newfoundlanders

Unlike in Ontario, in Newfoundland Irish Catholics settled in the cities (mainly St. John's, while British Protestants settled in small fishing communities. Over time, the Irish Catholics became wealthier than their Protestant neighbours, which gave incentive for Protestant Newfoundlanders to join the Orange Order. After the Dominion of Newfoundland collapsed in 1934, the area reverted to colonial status. In 1948, a referendum was held in Newfoundland as to where the colony was headed; the Irish Catholics mainly supported independence for Newfoundland, while the Protestants mainly supported joining the Canadian Confederation. Newfoundland then joined Canada by a 52-48% margin, and with an influx of Protestants into St. John's after the closure of the east coast cod fishery in the 1990s, the main issues have become one of Rural vs. Urban interests rather than anything religious.

To Newfoundland the Irish gave the still-familiar family names of southeast Ireland: Walsh, Power, Murphy, Ryan, Whelan, Phelan, O'Brien, Kelly, Hanlon, Neville, Bambrick, Halley, Dillon, Byrne and FitzGerald. Irish place names are less common, many of the island's more prominent landmarks having already been named by early French and English explorers. Nevertheless, Newfoundland's Ballyhack, Cappahayden, Kilbride, St. Bride's, Port Kirwan and Skibereen all point to Irish antecedents.

Along with traditional names, the Irish brought their native tongue. Newfoundland is one of the few places outside Ireland where the Irish language was spoken by a majority of the population as their primary language. Newfoundland is the only place outside Europe with its own distinctive name in the Irish language, Talamh an Éisc.

See also

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