“There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were.” That Irish proverb is hundreds of years old, but it still rings true today, especially in America on St. Patrick’s Day. Seems everyone is Irish on March 17th, or at least claims to be. In reality, only a handful of places in the U.S. can claim to be true Irish cities.
May your home always be too small to hold all your friends
Ever wonder how many Americans truly have the luck of the Irish and how many are just full of blarney? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32.3 million Americans (about 10% of the population) claim Irish ancestry. What makes that number so incredible is the fact that the current population of Ireland and Northern Ireland combined is only 6.4 million. In other words, there are five times as many Irish descendants in the U.S. than in Ireland. Maybe they need to change the proverb to “May your country be too small to hold all your descendants.”
Highest Irish Population
It’s not surprising that Irish is the second most common ancestry (Behind German.) Nearly 4.5 million Irish immigrants arrived in the U.S.between 1820 and 1860. The mass immigration really picked up after a blight hit the Emerald Isle’s potato crop in 1845, starving the majority of the population. They came here searching for food and land, and fellow Irishmen. They found a lot of company in Boston.
Census numbers from 1855 show the earliest Irish settlers chose homes near the docks, where fishing and jobs were plentiful. Nearly four-thousand Irish-born immigrants (23 percent of the city’s population) lived in East Boston at the time. Bean Town remains the city with the most concentrated Irish population. Here are the other top nine cities where Irish eyes are smiling: (according to the 2016 numbers from the U.S. Census Survey.)
- Boston, Massachusetts 21.5%
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 14.2%
- Louisville, Kentucky 13.2%
- Buffalo, New York 11.23%
- Nashville, Tennessee 9.8%
- Kansas City, Missouri 9.66%
- Raleigh, North Carolina 9.5%
- Cleveland, Ohio 9.43%
- Saint Paul, Minnesota – 9.4%
- Baltimore, Maryland 9.14%
Those are just the numbers from the major metropolitan cities. Keep in mind, many of the Irish who immigrated here, chose the suburbs just outside the larger metro area of their choice.
Weymouth, Massachusetts – 45.5%
Quincy, Massachusetts 33.5%
Scituate, Massachusetts – 61.5%
Holly Bluff, Mississippi – 58.33%
Irish-Americans make up least 5% of the population in most counties across the U.S., and 10% or more in New England, New York state, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The Metro city with the smallest Irish population? Miami, with just 1%.
You may think tallying up the Irish population in America is like looking for a four-leaf clover in a patch of shamrocks. Why should we care? Two reasons: property and parades.
Remember, many of the Irish came to the U.S. searching for land. The Census Bureau’s 2016 community survey shows that nearly 69% of Irish-Americans are homeowners. Irish Americans said home ownership is very important to them. 68.9% of those surveyed owned the home in which they lived, the highest for any ethnic group. That information is especially important to realtors, developers, city planners and businesses looking to expand. A shipping, or lawn care company would do well looking to expand in Boston where the population has grown by nearly 6% in the past ten years. Many Irish-Americans say they’re looking to duplicate the green space they enjoyed in the old country. Lawn care companies and landscapers can benefit here. Developers can benefit by naming new subdivisions after Irish cities, like Dublin or Shannon.
Parades are also big revenue draws for Boston and New York City. While New York City hosts the largest (more than 2 million spectators) St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Boston boasts the longest and the oldest. The tradition began there in 1737 and now attracts one million spectators every year. (Many of them tourists.)
Let’s not forget about Chicago. While the Windy City isn’t in the top ten for its Irish population, it does have the second largest St. Paddy’s Day parade in the country. And everybody there must be dancing the jig when they dye the river kelly green for the day.
We began with an Irish proverb and with the last name of Stuart-Ryan, I can’t help ending with a couple more:
Broken Irish is better than clever English
If you are enough lucky to be Irish, you are lucky enough!
We’ll forgive you this St. Paddy’s Day for wearing the green if you’re not Irish. After all, St. Patrick wasn’t Irish either. He was an Englishman who migrated to Ireland to convert the country to Christianity.
Brenda Stuart Ryan is a journalist and the proud mother of two girls who spent years competing in Irish step-dancing competition. She spent years driving them back and forth to lessons and competitions.