Irish Heritage in the American South
Boasting the second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade on the North American continent, Savannah, Georgia, is the most Irish city in the American South. Transnational migration is the human epic of our age. In 2015, the United Nations classified 244 million people as transnational migrants. As citizens of planet earth, we have a moral obligation to comprehend this major, often daunting phenomenon. A key tool for doing so is examining—objectively and thoroughly—past episodes of migration and its necessary complement: integration.
Due to a catastrophic potato famine (1845-49) and other factors, Ireland produced the largest global migration event of the nineteenth century. Within that exodus, a compelling, important story is the displacement of people from Wexford—Ireland’s most southeastern county—to Savannah, Georgia, during the 1850s.
Until recently, the Wexford-Savannah story was hidden in plain sight. However, new research is restoring to us the significance of how, by 1861, 14% of Savannah’s population (a quarter of its white population) was Irish-born—and, furthermore, was disproportionately of Wexford origin.
Although complex, this phenomenon pushes against certain received notions of Irish migration, such as "No Irish Need Apply." In its issue of Friday 6 December 1850, the Savannah Morning News printed a favorable editorial comment in response to the arrival in Savannah of 125 steerage passengers. They'd sailed directly from Wexford town on the barque Brothers, owned by R. M. & R. Allen of that port.
On March 29, 1851, the Wexford Independent newspaper published a letter from a young man named McLaughlin, who’d emigrated to Savannah from Wexford Town on the Allen company’s vessel Menapia. Highlighting his adopted domicile as welcoming and economically thriving, he declared, “This is the finest city I was ever in.”