History of immigration from Ireland

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Map of Ireland
Map date: 2013
The Irish migrated to Victoria in vast numbers. They were the largest immigrant group after the English from 1854 to World War I. By 1871, when the community numbered 100,468, more than one in four Victorians was born in Ireland.

The Irish famine of the 1840s caused large numbers of people to migrate due to poverty and difficult living conditions. They worked in Victoria as whalers, fishermen and farm hands and in townships as labourers and factory workers. A few became property owners and professionals.

Between 1850 and 1890 most Irish arrivals to Victoria came as assisted immigrants, many escaping cultural repression in Ireland. In contrast to many other groups, they came in equal numbers of men and women. Many sought their fortunes on the goldfields.

Ireland-born Victorians have long been prominent in Victorian public life. At the trial of bushranger Ned Kelly in 1880, both the accused and the judge who sentenced him to hang, Sir Redmond Barry, were from Irish families. Irish people have also been very important in political movements seeking justice for Victorian workers.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Victoria was strongly supported by the Irish community. Nuns and priests came here in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to develop Catholic churches, schools and orphanages, such as St Peter and Paul's Church, South Melbourne. Irish street children and orphans were sent here to be cared for by the nuns.

By the early twentieth century, mass immigration from Ireland had ended. Irish immigration fell rapidly and has remained low ever since, although the 2011 census revealed that over 14,026 Victorians were born in the Republic of Ireland.

Irish culture remains immensely popular in Melbourne today - with Irish and non-Irish alike! - and those of Irish descent make a continuing contribution to every aspect of Victorian life.

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