Useful Notes / The Irish Diaspora

"Ladies and gentlemen, as you probably know, Irelandís biggest export is people."
Ronnie Drew

"Our Diaspora includes people as diverse as a third-generation Irish-American steelworker in Pittsburgh; a Dublin-born financial expert working in Hong Kong; an Irish-Australian family in Perth; a Galway-born pensioner in North London; a young Cork-born designer in Paris, and a fifth-generation Irish-Argentinian or Newfoundlander whose lilting Irish brogue is remarkably strong for someone who has never set foot on Irish soil and proof positive of the longevity of the Irish imprint."
President Mary McAleese

About 6 million people live on the island of Ireland, yet worldwide at least 10 times that number claim Irish ancestry (35 million in the United States alone), one of the few diasporas demonstrably much larger than the home population (the other big ones being the Jewish, Armenian, Lebanese, and Palestinian). Thanks to over a century of poverty and lack of opportunities at home, the Irish can be found just about anywhere.

People in Ireland have a mixed but mostly affectionate relationship with the diaspora, especially the American part of it, including claiming the forty fourth president, Barack Obama, as one of their own.

Although the larger part of the diaspora is composed of Catholic Irish descendants displaced during the 19th century, it is less well known there is also a substantial population of Northern Irish protestant descendants who maintain their connection to their original homeland in the North. This is especially marked in Canada, and has caused both sectarian strife as well as a mirror-image of the notorious support for republican terrorists expressed by Irish-Americans in the USA. Funding and support for protestant/loyalist terrorists also came from diaspora communities overseas during the years of The Troubles. As with the Catholic diaspora, this is viewed at home with attitudes ranging from embarrassment to acceptance.

A great deal of fiction has been created which deals with relations between the diaspora and Ireland. The most famous of these is probably the John Wayne film The Quiet Man. Not only is Wayne's character himself an American "returning" to Ireland, but it was made by Irish-American John Ford as something of a love letter towards his parents' home country.

On the other hand, there's the film version of The Field, in which an American returns to Ireland to buy the eponymous field. The man renting the field, which he has turned from a barren patch of dirt to a lush expanse of green, sees the American as a traitor who abandoned the country when times got tough, and has now returned to pave over everything the faithful Irish have worked to rebuild. This is the stereotype of the "plastic Paddy", common in both Ireland and Britain, of people whose connection to Ireland may be three or more generations in the past and who only claim to be Irish when it's convenient. The "plastic Paddy" stereotype has especially negative connotations in Britain and Northern Ireland, where it's often associated with groups like NORAID that supported the PIRA with arms and money during The Troubles.