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Irish Immigration

“…I am glad to here of yourself getting your health so well and of your father and mother being satisfied with their journey I think they went in a good time for the like of this kingdom at the present is not to be found I believe there is neither employment nor food the people is in a starving state and dying in the hundreds and the streets of Belfast crowded everyday with people gowing out to America half naked…” --Letter from William Dunne to his nephew John Curtis in America. April 25, 1846

The Irish immigrated in large waves during first half of the 19th century, particularly after the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-47. "Irish Immigration" is a cross-curricular lesson plan that explores the reasons the Irish immigrated to Pennsylvania and their experiences after they arrived. The lesson illuminates the push/pull factors that motivated Irish immigration, the effect immigration had on Irish families, the experiences of community-building in a new urban setting, and the discrimination that this predominantly Catholic group faced in a largely Protestant United States.


19th century

Ethnic history


Big Ideas

Cause and Effect

Perspective on Events


  • Historical literacy requires a focus on time and space, and an understanding of the historical context of events and actions.

  • Historical causation involves motives, reasons, and consequences that result in events and actions.Some consequences may be impacted by forces of the irrational or the accidental.

  • Historical comprehension involves evidence-based discussion and explanation, an analysis of sources including multiple points of view, and an ability to read critically to recognize fact from conjecture and evidence from assertion.


  • Articulate the context of a historical event or action.

  • Evaluate cause-and-result relationships bearing in mind multiple causation.

  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures and places.

  • Synthesize a rationale for the study of individuals in Pennsylvania history.

Background Material for Teacher

End of Unit Assessment

  1. Students can create an Irish Immigrant Newsletter in which they can included their own ballad, an information wanted section, as well as several articles they have written using the primary and secondary sources included in the lesson. Topics for the articles could include: The status of the Irish Famine or Ireland in general, Irish neighborhoods, Irish discrimination, or specific historical events involving Irish immigrants in Philadelphia during this time period. Students should also be encouraged and assisted in finding other interesting sources to include in their newsletter such as photographs and maps.

  2. Students can pretend that they are the mayor of Philadelphia during the height of Irish Immigration. They must write a speech which helps to win over Irish voters by making the following points clear: a. They have knowledge of the problems in Ireland b. They understand the treatment of the Irish in Philadelphia c. How voting for this candidate will improve the Irish Immigrants experience. Students should use information from the primary and secondary sources provided to ensure that their speeches accurate.


Plans in this Unit

Irish Immigrant Letters Home

Irish Immigrant Ballads

Grade Level

Middle School

High School

Standards/Eligible Content







PA Core Standards








This project was made possible with generous support from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.Thank you to the authors, organizations, and web authors who graciously granted us the right to reproduce or link to their material. "Broom, Loom, and Schoolroom: Work and Wages in the Lives of Irish Women." by Hasia R. Diner. In Erin's Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century. pp. 84-94. Baltimore, MD: Reproduced with permission of The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. Italian Settlement

About the Author

This lesson was created by Kathryn Wilson and Jennifer Coval. Updated for SAS by Clara McGrath, Education Intern, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


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