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Ireland, Relations with


IRELAND, RELATIONS WITH. James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) wistfully refers to America as "our greater Ireland beyond the sea." These words capture the bond between the two nations, forged through immigration and negotiated in light of British colonialism. The Irish first landed in the colonies following the conquest of William III (William of Orange, son of William, Prince of Orange) in 1689–1691. The enactment of the first penal laws (1695), a series of codes that initially secured and enlarged Protestant landholdings and ultimately led to the severe restriction of Catholic liberties, coupled with economic uncertainty in the textile industry, led to another significant exodus of Irish to the colonies in the 1720s. But not all those leaving were oppressed or poor. Some were Anglo-Irish Protestants who, like their Anglo-American counterparts, opposed the taxations of British imperialism.

The nineteenth century saw significant changes in relations between Ireland and America. By the 1830s the laboring class of Ireland had grown into a formidable force giving rise to calls for Irish nationalism. Outspokenly backing Daniel O'Connell and his Repeal Association, a group calling for the repeal of the Act of Union (1801) and laws against Catholic practice, many Irish Americans sent money back home to support a nationalist agenda. The great Irish potato famine (1845–1847) led to a four-year period of mass exodus and institutionalized immigration as a permanent feature of Irish-American relations. Fleeing a dire situation yet near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in America, Irish demands for a resolution to the problems at home took a radical turn. Following the American Civil War, groups such as the Fenians and the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood plotted publicly to overthrow English rule. Despite diplomatic efforts by England to obtain American help in restraining these groups, such requests were largely ignored by the U.S. government.

America's emergence on the international political stage made relations between Ireland and America considerably more complex. Earlier animosities with Britain faded and the two nations became wartime allies. Under the leadership of Cardinal James Gibbons and others, Irish Americans continued to support nationalism. Bloody Sunday, on 21 November 1920, ushered in a series of battles between the Irish Republican Army and British auxiliaries. The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland condemned both parties. Calls for peace and independence continued across the Atlantic. On 6 December 1921 Irish representatives signed a treaty with Britain granting dominion status to Ireland as the Irish Free State.

Disputes over a united Ireland, terrorist activities in Ulster, and a fragmentation of political interests framed relations during the remainder of the century, with varying levels of engagement being pursued by different U.S. administrations. On 10 April 1998 the Good Friday Accord, which established Protestant and Catholic political representation in Northern Ireland, was negotiated under the direction of former U.S. senator George Mitchell and the administration of President Bill Clinton.


Dumbrell, John. A Special Relationship: Anglo-American Relations in the Cold War and After. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.

McCaffrey, Lawrence J. The Irish Diaspora in America. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1984.

O'Grady, Joseph P. How The Irish Became Americans. Boston: Twayne, 1973.

Kent A.McConnell

See alsoIrish Americans .

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