19th-century emigration from Ireland



Emigration from Ireland in the 19th century


For full menu of pages on this topic, see main Irish emigration page


At least 8 million men, women and children emigrated from Ireland between 1801 and 1921. That number is equal to the total population of the island in the fourth decade of the 19th century.

Emigrants departing Ireland 1850Emigration from Ireland, 1850

The high rate of Irish emigration was unequalled in any other country and reflects both the overseas demand for immigrant labour and the appalling lack of employment and prospects for the average Irish person.

19th-century emigration from Ireland is usually broken down into three distinct phases:

  • 1815-1845, when 1 million left;
  • 1846-1855, when 2.5 million left; and
  • 1856-1914 when 4 million departed.

These figures are considered underestimates because it is difficult to ascertain the numbers who settled permanently in mainland Britain. Ireland was still a part of Britain, so travel to or from Wales, Scotland and England was not subject to any scrutiny.

About 80% of Irish emigrants who left their homes in this period were aged between 18 and 30 years old.

As the figures above suggest, the levels of emigration from Ireland up to 1847 did not materially reduce the population of Ireland. But in that year, the first after the pototo harvest had failed so spectacularly, the exodus really began. According to figures collated 15 years later, some 215,444 persons emigrated to North America and other British Colonies in that one year alone. This doubled the previous year's figures for Irish emigration.

Between 1841 and March 1851, North America was the most popular destination while some 300,000 went to Australia. Emigration from Ireland to New Zealand did not get underway until later. An estimated average of 2,000 people emigrated there between 1871 and 1920.


Emigration from Ireland 1851 - 1860


counties Number of Emigrants who left Ireland from 1 May 1851 to 31 December 1860 See
Note A
below
Number of Emigrants Totals
1851-52* 1853 1854 1855 1856 1857 1858 1859 1860 Males Females Total
LEINSTER
CARL 4,078 1,743 1,593 743 642 629 435 376 400 5,308 5,331 10,639
15.63
DUB 7,210 2,486 2,332 1,963 2,043 1,436 2,052 2,708 2,966 12,844 12,352 25,196
6.22
KILD 4,495 2,206 1,625 797 563 734 517 651 589 6,430 5,747 12,177
12.72
KILK 11,412 6,394 4,438 2,756 2,037 2,098 1,315 1,514 1,784 17,037 16,711 33,748
21.26
KING 8,178 3,499 2,747 1,341 1,017 1,049 873 938 1,225 10,334 10,533 20,867
18.62
LONG 5,985 2,338 1,657 629 718 941 524 758 884 7,165 7,269 14,434
17.53
LOU 5,871 3,265 2,192 1,175 1,005 1,083 590 763 960 8,093 8,811 16,904
15.70
MEA 9,077 4,227 2,901 1,310 1,196 1,385 803 1,009 1,225 11,460 11,673 23,133
16.44
QUEE 8,165 3,492 2,661 1,016 1,003 836 509 947 1,101 9,926 9,804 19,730
17.67
WEST 7,156 3,062 2,198 1,039 1,195 970 688 923 1,155 9,491 8,895 18,386
16.50
WEX 10,004 5,282 3,987 1,808 1,442 1,726 1,086 750 879 13,819 13,145 26,964
14.97
WICK 3,928 2,599 1,268 873 419 595 769 504 198 5,808 5,345 11,153
11.27
Total 85,559 40,593 29,599 15,450 13,280 13,482 10,161 11,841 13,366 117,715 115,616 233,331
13.95
MUNSTER
CLA 18,291 8,280 7,410 3,387 2,621 3,034 2,254 1,921 2,485 23,065 26,618 49,683
23.39
CORK 36,089 21,576 18,944 13,943 15,756 14,359 7,263 7,586 10,906 72,432 73,990 146,422
22.55
KER 17,625 10,448 7,283 4,164 4,364 4,348 1,586 1,877 2,788 26,438 28,045 54,483
22.87
LIM 21,842 10,081 8,798 3,702 4,048 3,498 2,653 2,840 4,178 29,263 32,377 61,640
23.51
TIP 28,503 14,130 11,391 5,573 4,560 5,170 2,890 3,423 4,579 39,513 40,706 80,219
24.19
WAT 9,419 6,527 5,848 3,277 3,156 3,318 1,857 2,068 2,492 20,807 17,155 37,962
23.14
Total 131,769 71,042 59,674 34,046 34,505 33,727 18,503 19,715 27,428 211,518 218,891 430,409
23.17
ULSTER
ANT 8,120 5,316 4,425 6,178 7,967 9,514 9,757 15,375 8,877 41,272 34,257 75,529
21.44
ARM 5,405 3,194 2,914 3,385 3,156 3,093 2,695 2,987 2,228 15,856 13,201 29,057
14.82
CAV 11,500 5,782 4,149 2,462 2,507 3,110 1,574 2,332 2,724 17,756 18,384 36,140
20.76
DON 12,137 5,746 4,672 3,882 3,314 2,283 1,840 2,293 1,774 20,465 17,476 37,941
14.87
DOW 5,971 4,622 4,250 5,155 4,897 6,129 5,633 6,760 3,818 28,132 19,103 47,235
14.37
FER 4,991 2,212 2,056 1,619 1,449 1,615 844 951 1,420 8,889 8,268 17,157
14.78
DER 6,418 3,489 2,953 2,984 2,660 2,438 2,267 2,338 1,964 14,838 12,673 27,511
14.33
MON 7,759 3,980 2,892 2,020 2,238 2,192 1,586 1,979 1,871 13,786 12,731 26,517
18.70
TYR 9,146 5,543 3,902 3,922 3,634 3,799 2,983 3,135 3,114 20,724 18,454 39,178
15.32
Total 71,447 39,884 32,213 31,607 31,822 34,173 29,179 38,150 27,790 181,718 154,547 336,265
16.71
CONNACHT
GAL 18,006 8,867 7,578 3,158 2,516 3,241 2,163 2,468 2,356 24,615 25,738 50,353
15.65
LEIT 5,051 2,122 1,791 1,190 1,365 1,414 788 1,235 1,472 8,593 7,835 16,428
14.68
MAYO 11,627 4,208 3,229 2,140 1,444 1,695 1,222 1,559 1,756 14,275 14,605 28,880
10.52
ROSC 10,439 4,151 3,616 1,625 1,746 1,550 985 1,557 1,654 13,781 13,542 27,323
15.75
SLI 4,176 1,962 1,612 1,161 881 1,154 602 645 934 6,267 6,860 13,127
10.21
Total 49,299 21,310 17,826 9,274 7,952 9,054 5,760 7,464 8,172 67,531 68,580 136,111
13.48
Not stated 4,308 319 1,243 1,537 3,222 4,645 734 3,429 7,865 15,900 11,402 27,302
TOTAL 342,382 173,148 140,555 91,914 90,781 95,081 64,337 80,599 84,621 594,382 569,036 1.163m
17.75

* Figures for 1851-52 include the last nine months of the year 1851 and the entire year of 1852.
Note A: Figures show the percentage of the 1851 population who left Ireland.

Source: Thom's Almanac and Official Directory, 1862


The Age of the Steamer

The first steamer to cross the Atlantic was probably the Canadian ship SS Royal William which made the voyage from Quebec to London in twenty five days in 1833. At a time when a typical crossing in a traditional sailing ships took five to eight weeks, this was a huge development but it was to be more than two decades before steamers started to play any significant part in the story of emigration from Ireland.

1862 Advert for Atlantic crossing

One of the co-owners of the SS Royal William was Samuel Cunard who subsequently founded the eponyomous company in 1840 having won the contract to provide a fortnightly mail service between Liverpool and Halifax, Boston and Quebec.

The Britannia made its maiden voyage from Liverpool to Halifax and Boston on 4 July 1840, reportedly with a cow onboard to provide fresh milk to passengers.

This ship completed its voyage in just 14 days and such was its success that Cunard had a fleet of 12 ships within a decade.

The number of passengers carried across the ocean in steamers at this time was tiny, however. These early steamers were principally cargo or mail boats.

Cunard Line poster

It wasn't until the mid-1850s and 1860s that some comforts – electric lighting, more deck space etc – were added for passengers.

By 1863, some 45% if Irish immigrants arrived in North America on steamships. By 1866, this had increased to 81% and within another four years nearly all emigration from Ireland to Canada and the USA was made on steamers.

See also the Journey to Ellis Island page for details of the passenger experience.

See also the Journey to Ellis Island page for details of the passenger experience.