The Irish Element strong in Halifax

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER I (4) start of chapter

And in no city of the American continent do the Irish occupy a better position, or exercise a more deserved influence than in Halifax, which has been well described by an enthusiastic Hibernian as the 'Wharf of the Atlantic.' Forming the majority of the population of that active and energetic city, they constitute an essential element of its stability and progress. This Irish element is everywhere discernible, in every description of business and in all branches of industry, in every class and in every condition of life, from the highest to the lowest. There are in other cities larger masses of Irish, some in which they are five times, and even ten times as numerous as the whole population of Halifax; but it may be doubted if there are many cities of the entire continent of America in which they afford themselves fuller play for the exercise of their higher qualities than in the capital of Nova Scotia, where their moral worth keeps pace with their material prosperity, which is remarkably great, especially when considering the circumstances under which the far greater proportion of them arrived in the new world.

Those who are well off at home do not quit it for a new country; contented with their present position, they never dream of changing it for one which is sure to be accompanied with more or less of risk or hardship. The impelling motive that has driven millions across the Atlantic, and that may drive millions more in the same direction, is the desire, so natural to the civilised man, of improving his condition, of obtaining the certain means of a decent livelihood—in a word, of making a home and a future for himself and his children. It matters little to what portion of America reference is had: the same impelling motive has added to its population, and been one of the principal causes of its progress and development. Instances there have been of people well-to-do in the old country, deliberately exchanging it for the new, chiefly with the view of turning their means to better account, and thus securing a larger inheritance for their children; but when compared with the vast tide of emigration to which America is mainly indebted for the position she this day holds among the nations, these exceptional cases constitute so infinitesimal a minority as to be scarcely appreciable. The mass came because they had no option but to come, because hunger and want were at their heels, and flight was their only chance of safety. Thus the majority landed from the emigrant ship with little beyond a box or bundle of clothes, and the means of procuring a week's or a month's provisions—very many with still less. Some had education, intelligence, and knowledge of business; but of this class few had money—they crossed the ocean to secure that. Therefore, when in Halifax, as in all other parts of America, Irishmen are to be found in the enjoyment of independence, and even considerable wealth, it must be evident that their success is attributable to their own exertions and their own merit.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America