Living Conditions for Irish Immigrants

Many Irish immigrants gave up almost everything to restart their lives in the United States. They left behind whatever valuable possessions they may have had in Ireland, bringing only the shirts on their backs with them. A majority reached America with very little money, thus giving them very few living options. Many began to call the slums of New York City their homes. The most famous being a neighborhood called Five Points.

Five Points quickly over the course of a few years began to strike an uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s biggest and most corrupt city; Dublin. Prostitution, the rise of mobs, and violence flooded this New York neighborhood, which negatively affected many of its residents. “All but forgotten today, the densely populated enclave was once renowned for jam-packed, filthy tenements, garbage covered streets, prostitution, gambling, violence, drunkenness and abject poverty” (Anbinder 1).  The journey began when the Irish dreamt of escaping poverty, sickness, urban overpopulation and famine, but ended up only reliving it all once they got to America. Their long journeys on coffin ships typically induced and spread illness quickly. Upon arrival, those who survived epidemics and Quarantine ended up inhabiting areas scarily similar to those they thought they left behind in cities such as Dublin, that were crawling with disease, poverty and discrimination.

Five Points, over time however, caught the interest of journalists and writers who were intrigued not only the squalid living conditions, but the other unique aspects that seemed to stick in people’s minds. Five Points birthed tap dancing, some of the most talked about bareknuckle prizefights, and was one of the most diverse neighborhoods of it’s time.

The neighborhood mainly consisted of Irish, Italian and German immigrants as well as a large population of Blacks and Jews. Many of Five Points’ residents were in competition for work, and should work be scare, unattainable, or not providing the means one needed, many would resort to violence and illegal activity to either support themselves, their families, or an attempt to work their way up to a higher position of authority or wealth. Five Points was notable location for the occurrence of the Draft Riots in 1863.

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