Emigration has been one of the greatest scourges on Irish history. What started off as a trickle during the 17th & 18th centuries gathered increasing momentum in the early 19th century as land conditions deteriorated. Then in 1845 the ‘Great Famine or Potato Famine’ occurred and from then emigration exploded. In fact conditions had generally become so appalling at the time that the four years after the famine had ended saw as many people leave Ireland as during the four years of the actual famine itself. The most popular destinations for most were English speaking nations and for the vast majority they never returned to Ireland. For many leaving for Canada and The US, Fastnet Rock off the Cork coast became known as Ireland’s tear drop as it was the last point the departed ever saw of Ireland again.
This forced movement of people has had far and wide ranging effects to the extent that over 80 million people worldwide consider themselves to have Irish heritage which is particularly impressive considering we have only a population of approximately 5 million people. In the US alone over 40 million people claim to have Irish ancestry.