Poor Pat Must Emigrate

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"Poor Pat Must Emigrate"

Song lyrics

By: Anonymous

Date: 1847

Source: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania "Irish Immigrant Ballads." 〈http://www.hsp.org/default.aspx?id=580〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).

About the Author: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania was founded in 1924 and is one of the United States' oldest historical societies. It has a vast collection of printed, manuscript, and graphic items relating to Pennsylvania and the surrounding region, and is a center for the study of immigrants and ethnic groups in the United States. The song's composer is not known.


The words of this ballad, written by a mid-nineteenth century Irish immigrant to the United States, express the sentiments of those who were forced by poverty and famine to leave Ireland at this time. The words highlight the political factors that were thought to have exacerbated Ireland's problems.

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the population of Ireland had been expanding very rapidly but the country was still predominantly rural, lacking the large-scale industrial development that had supported population growth in England. The potato was the staple food crop for the Irish people, many of whom were poor farmers forced to pay high rents for their farms and properties to rich landowners. When they could not pay, they were often evicted from their homes and their possessions taken by the landlord.

Disaster struck when the whole potato crop was blighted by disease in 1845, and a potato famine spread throughout the country during the following year. To make matters worse, the harvest failed again in 1848. Tens of thousands of people died from starvation, or from the many diseases which spread among a population weakened by hunger, including a cholera epidemic in 1948. Skibbereen, mentioned in this ballad, was one of the areas worst hit, where there were so many victims that they were thrown into mass graves without proper burial.

Although the potato famine was a natural disaster, many Irish, especially the Catholics, blamed the British government for their plight. Ireland had effectively been a colony of Great Britain since it was invaded by the Normans in 1169, and it was formally made part of Great Britain under the Act of Union in 1801. This act was passed by Britain in response to the threat of Irish Republican movements inspired by the French Revolution, in particular the United Irishmen, who staged the Irish Rebellion of 1798, an uprising against the British Army which claimed around thirty thousand lives before it was suppressed by the British. The movement had attracted members of the Presbyterian community and the Catholic majority, both of which had been discriminated against by the Protestant Irish Parliament, who had banned, for example, their formal involvement in politics and ownership of land. The "Dan" referred to in this ballad was Daniel O'Connell, a leading Irish politician of the time, who led the Catholic community in a powerful political campaign for Catholic emancipation and for Irish independence. The lyrics also make reference to the fact that Irish troops fought alongside the British to put down the Indian Rebellion in 1857.

Many Irish felt that the British government did not do enough to help them during the famine. The ruling Whig Party at that time followed a laissez-faire ideology and believed that government should not interfere in trade and the free market. They thought it should be left to private merchants to import food for the Irish population while the government would establish work schemes to enable people to earn money to buy the food; however, pay rates under the schemes were inadequate to support a family.

Although the Irish had been immigrating to the United States since the early nineteenth century, the numbers peaked during the famine years, as people fled the severe poverty of Ireland. Many women and children as well as men emigrated, traveling in appallingly overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in so-called "coffin ships," in which many died from disease or hunger before reaching their destination. Many had their passage paid by relatives already in America, while others had to pay their own fares or received help from charities. Overall, it has been estimated that 1.5 million people emigrated from Ireland to the United States between 1845 and 1855, the majority settling in the cities of New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Tens of thousands more immigrated to other countries such as England, Australia, and Canada.

On arrival in America the emigrants found work in the cities, mainly working as unskilled laborers in construction and industry, or as domestic servants. Whole Irish communities developed, establishing their own schools, churches, hospitals, and Irish associations.

The Fenians, referred to at the end of the ballad, were a revolutionary movement created in 1848, the leaders of which went to America to try to encourage Irish emigrants to support a new uprising against the British. The movement attracted many supporters among the Irish community in America, but the movement was unsuccessful in their attempts to overthrow the British government in Ireland.


    Fare you well poor Erin's Isle, I now must leave you for awhile;
    The rents and taxes are so high I can no longer stay.
    From Dublin's quay I sailed away and landed here but yesterday; Me shoes,
    and breeches and shirts now are all that's in my kit
    I have dropped in to tell you now the sights I have seen before I go,
    Of the ups and downs in Ireland since the year of ninety-eight;
    But if that Nation had its own, her noble sons might stay at home,
    But since fortune has it otherwise, poor Pat must emigrate.
    The divil a word I would say at all, although our wages are but small,
    If they left us in our cabins, where our fathers drew their breath,
    When they call upon rent-day, and the divil a cent you have to pay.
    They will drive you from your house and home, to beg and starve to death
    What kind of treatment, boys, is that, to give an honest Irish Pat?
    To drive his family to the road to beg or starve for meat;
    But I stood up with heart and hand, and sold my little spot of land;
    That is the reason why I left and had to emigrate.
    Such sights as that I've often seen, but I saw worse in Skibbareen,
    In forty-eight (that time is no more when famine it was great),
    I saw fathers, boys, and girls with rosy cheeks and silken curls
    All a-missing and starving for a mouthful of food to eat.
    When they died in Skibbareen, no shroud or coffins were to be seen;
    But patiently reconciling themselves to their horrid fate,
    They were thrown in graves by wholesale which cause many an Irish heart to wail
    And caused many a boy and girl to be most glad to emigrate.
    Where is the nation or the land that reared such men as Paddy's land?
    Where is the man more noble than he they call poor Irish Pat?
    We have fought for England's Queen and beat her foes wherever seen;
    We have taken the town of Delhi—if you please come tell me that,
    We have pursued the Indian chief, and Nenah Sahib, that cursed thief,
    Who skivered babes and mothers, and left them in their gore.
    But why should we be so oppressed in the land of St. Patrick blessed.
    The land from which we have the best, poor Paddy must emigrate.
    There is not a son from Paddy's land but respects the memory of Dan,
    Who fought and struggled hard to part the poor and plundered country
    He advocated Ireland's rights, with all his strength and might,
    And was but poorly recompensed for all his toil and pains.
    He told us to be in no haste, and in him for to place our trust,
    And he would not desert us, or leave us to our fate,
    But death to him no favor showed, from the beggar to the throne;
    Since they took our liberator poor Pat must emigrate.
    With spirits bright and purses light, my boys we can no longer stay,
    For the shamrock is immediately bound for America,
    For there is bread and work, which I cannot get in Donegal,
    I told the truth, by great St. Ruth, believe me what I say,
    Good-night my boys, with hand and heart, all you who take Ireland's part,
    I can no longer stay at home, for fear of being too late,
    If ever again I see this land, I hope it will be with a Fenian band;
    So God be with old Ireland, poor Pat must emigrate.


The mass emigration from Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century left the country in a severe state of population decline, which it would not recover from until well into the twentieth century, and which affected its economic progress for many decades. However, the longer-term impact of the famine and mass emigration did bring about land reform in Ireland, as the remaining farmers were gradually able to add to and consolidate their holdings, while the landlords lost much of their power.

The mass migration from Ireland also had a lasting influence on the ethnic and national compositions of the major American cities where many of the emigrants settled, with the Irish accounting for up to twenty percent of the population of some American cities by the mid-1850s. In 1850 alone, an estimated 370,000 immigrants entered the United States from Ireland and other European countries, the highest rate of immigration in America's history. The surge in numbers gave rise to concern about the impact of immigration on the native-born population, and eventually resulted in the passing of laws in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century that banned certain categories of immigrants. Until the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924, however, these were very limited and high levels of immigration continued to boost America's population.



Dudley-Edwards, R. and Desmond T. Williams. The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845–52. New York: New York University Press, 1957.

Ferrie, Joseph P. Yankeys Now: Immigrants in the Antebellum United States, 1840–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gallman, Matthew J. Receiving Erin's Children: Philadelphia, Liverpool, and the Irish Famine Migration, 1845–1855. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Mulrooney, Margaret M. Fleeing the Famine: North America and Irish Refugees, 1845–1851. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Nowlan, Kevin B., and Maurice R. O'Connell. Daniel O'Connell, Portrait of a Radical. New York: Fordham University Press, 1985.

Potter, George W. To the Golden Door: The Story of the Irish in Ireland and America. Boston: Little Brown, 1960.

Web sites

Irish History Online. 〈http://www.irishhistoryonline.ie〉 (accessed June 29, 2006).

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