Irish Americans are forming up to more than ten percent of the total U.S. population and the largest concentrations are found in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Montana.
Irish Americans are holding strong Irish roots, and most of their ancestors migrated to America at the times of the potato famine in the mid-19th century.
There are actually two significant periods when the Irish came to the United States. The first period was when the English colonialists ferried Irish people across the Atlantic to work for them in their plantations while the Irish women were traded to work in American brothel.
The second period was during the great Irish potato famine when people on the island were suffering terribly from all sorts of food shortages. A good deal of the Irish population fled their home country to find a better life in America.
The Irish have greatly contributed to the U.S. revolution and have helped shape the new country in all its economic, social, political, and cultural aspects. Let’s take a look at some Irish Americans who currently are pretty influential and who have received (inter)national recognition for their achievements:
Vice President Joe Biden
Joseph Robinette Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 20, 1942. Joe (secret service name: ‘Celtic’) is just a heartbeat away from the most influential and powerful job found on earth. Joe Biden has been U.S. Vice President now for eight years, assisting the Obama administration since 2008. At age 29, Biden was one of the youngest persons ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
Shortly thereafter, tragedy struck as Joe Biden’s first wife Neilia as well as their daughter Naomi tragically died in a car accident. Biden remarried to Jill Jacobs in 1977 and has three children. Biden is very proud of his Irish ancestry and in 2013, he was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame in 2013.
Congressman Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan was born and raised in Janesville, Wisconsin, and he is a 5th-generation native of Wisconsin. In 2012, Paul ran as running mate on the Romney’s GOP presidential ticket. He is the current and 54th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and has served as Representative for the 1st congressional district of Wisconsin since 1999.
Ryan has also occupied the very powerful position of chair the House Budget Committee. His father was of Irish ancestry, and Paul often addressed his family’s Great Famine roots that trace him back to Kilkenny in Ireland. Paul Ryan earned a degree in political science and economics from Miami University (Ohio).
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
Anthony McLeod Kennedy was born in 1936 in Sacrament, California. He has been the senior Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1988. Anthony Kennedy is a Harvard University graduate who, in the 1970’s, was appointed to the U.S court of Appeals.
In 1988, Kennedy was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice by Ronald Reagan. Kennedy is known for having (sometimes extreme) conservative views, but he has also become the major swing vote, making him an unpredictable and surprising Justice of the Supreme Court.
He has displayed independence and when it comes to individual rights such as gay rights, and same-sex marriage, a civil-libertarian perspective. Anthony Kennedy’s engagement in educational projects (e.g. Dialogue on Freedom, where American traditions and values are explored) is remarkable.
President Bill Clinton
Former President of the United States William Jefferson ‘Bill’ Clinton was born in 1946 in Hope, Arkansas as William Jefferson Blythe III. Bill doesn’t need so much introduction as he is still actively involved in American politics as his wife Hillary is currently the presidential candidate for the Democratic Party.
Bill’s Irish roots trace back to Kerry and Cork. In 1992, Clinton was elected as 42nd President of the United States, and he served two terms. Bill Clinton now is running his ‘Clinton Global Initiative’ together with their daughter Chelsea and his wife Hillary, former Secretary of State under Obama and former senator for New York.
Clinton played a crucial role in the peace process in Ireland, gave a visa to Gerry Adams (1994), and was of great help to establish the IRA ceasefire. Clinton visited Northern Ireland during his December 1995 historic trip, and he also played a crucial role to cement the Irish peace process.
Television director Anne Sweeney
Anne Marie Sweeney is a business woman who was born on November 4, 1957 in Kingston, New York. Sweeney was named by Forbes magazine one of America’s most influential business women, definitely in the U.S. entertainment sector. She earlier co-chaired Disney Media, was Disney–ABC President, and from 1996 to 2014 functioned as President of Disney Channel.
In 2014, Anne Sweeney left the Walt Disney Company as she wanted to be a television director. She traces her Irish roots to the counties of Mayo, Meath, and Kerry in Ireland where she has become a frequent visitor. Sweeney has earned Master’s degree from Harvard University.
Television host Conan O’Brien
Conan Christopher O’Brien was born on April 18, 1963 in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic family. O’Brian is a famous American comedian, television host, producer, and writer. Since 2010, he has been hosting Conan, the late-night talk show of the television station TBS. After graduating from Harvard University, Conan moved to Los Angeles where he as writing for a number of comedy shows.
Later he moved to New York City and started to write for Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons. From 1993 to 2009, he hosted ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ and briefly also ‘The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien’, but that was short-lived. O’Brien relates often proudly to his ‘100 percent Irish Catholic’ roots as his ancestry is from Dungarvan, County Waterford.
Television host Jimmy Fallon
Jimmy Fallon was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 19, 1974. The Late-night host started to perform as a stand-up comedian already in high school, but later dropped out of college as ge wanted to pursue a professional comedy career. The comedian Jimmy Fallon rose to fame via ‘Saturday Night Live’ and currently hosts ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’.
Fallon got his dream job in 1998 when he was joined Saturday Night Live, but he left SNL in 2004. In 2009, he started his own pretty successful ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’, until in February 2014 Fallon succeeded Jay Leno to host ‘The Tonight Show’, and the show moved from Los Angeles to New York City. Jimmy Fallon is predominantly, but not totally, Irish, as he has also German and Norwegian ancestry.
Television host Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert was born in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 1964 in a large family of 11 children. In 1974, Stephen, just 10 years old, experienced a very tragic event when his father, together with two of his brothers, got killed in a plane crash. Stephen became introverted while he found solace in reading.
When Stephen joined the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago he got in touch with fellow comedians Paul Dinello and Amy Sedaris with whom he starred in Strangers with Candy and EXIT 57. In 2005, Stephen started ‘The Colbert Report’ on Comedy Central, in which he portrayed a blustery, starchy, blustery, right-winger, and made a joke of the pundits that were dominating the talk shows.
In 2007, he published the book ‘I Am America (And So Can You!) and was also an important contributor to ‘America (The Book) – A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy in Action’.
Colbert is a writer, producer, media critic, comedian, currently is host of ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’, a late-night talk show on CBS television. Stephen Colbert’s great-great grandfather came from Limerick in Ireland, and also Stephen is proud of his Irish roots.
Of course, there are so many more highly influential Irish American persons, but we’ll take a look at them at a later time…