The Irish in Halifax, 1836-1871 : A Study in Ethnic Assimilation
Punch, Terrence Michael
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The mass emigration of rural peasants to the urban communities of America and Britain is a central episode in the history of nineteenth-century Ireland. The development of an Irish community in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is one incident in the process. The story of the Halifax Irish has many unique aspects, particularly regarding the speed and extent of their economic and social integration into the host environment. This thesis seeks to explain why the Halifax Irish enjoyed more success in this respect than did their fellows elsewhere. The situation of the Halifax Irish in the 1830's did not promise triumph; rather the contrary. Out of an overcrowded and impoverished Ireland came a flow of immigrants in search of economic and social improvement. These people lacked occupational skills and their monetary resources were a pittance. The social and political institutions of the host environment were oligarchic, enshrining the privileges of an anglophile Protestant ruling clique. The Irish arrival challenged and eventually altered the character of the Nova Scotian capital. What had been a small and innocuous Irish Catholic population grew enormously and became self-assertive. By the late 1860's, the situation of the Irish in Halifax had been transformed. Having acquired political equality, occupational opportunity, and a growing identification with the general interests of Halifax, the Irish could no longer be considered deprived and alienated. They formed a growing share of the homeowners of Halifax, and had transcended any semblance of ghetto confinement. They also enjoyed de facto advantages within the educational system in virtue of their Catholicism. Some immigrants had even managed to grow wealthy.