About 32 million Americans — 9.7% of the total population — identified as being Irish in the 2019 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census bureau. Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States. In the famine-ravaged 1840s, that figure rose to nearly half of all new settlers.
Those were the days when such separation meant forever. Faced by such a prospect, Irish émigrés did the next best thing to returning home. They gave the part of the new country in which they’d settled the same name as the place they’d left. As a result, there are eleven Dublins, fourteen Belfasts, eight Antrims, six Corks, four Sligos and Westports, five Wexfords and – reflecting Northern Irish sectarianism – four Derrys and four Londonderrys. As well as two Kilkennys and Armaghs, there is one of Athlone, Dundalk, Carlow, Donegal, Fermanagh, Galway, Killarney, Limerick, Longford, Newry and Roscommon, writes Tom McParland.
My father, despite his corncrake voice, plaintively sang the sentiments of what he believed was an Irish song, If We Only Had Old Ireland Over Here. But he was wrong about the song in both origin and name. It is American and was written for the short-lived 1913 musical, When Claudia Smiles. Its original title was If They’d Only Move Old Ireland Over Here. ‘Over Here’ meant America.
But over time our emigrants (and non-emigrants!) somehow adapted Ireland Over Here. Re-written in the first person, the revised lyric purports to express Irish-Australian émigrés comforting themselves by supplanting Australian locations with Irish artefacts or geographical features, thus:
If the Blarney stone stood out on Sydney harbour
And Dublin town to Melbourne came to stay
If the Shannon river joined the Brisbane Waters
And Killarney’s lakes flowed into Botany Bay
If the Shandon Bells rang out in old Freemantle
And County Cork at Adelaide did appear
Erin’s sons would never roam– all the boys would stay at home
If we only had old Ireland over here.
But only catch-all songwriters fantasise about such far-apart places as Dublin and Killarney. Real Irish emigrant sentiment dwells on humbler birthplaces and the people left behind. Particularly in the days when such separation meant forever.
Faced by such a prospect, Irish émigrés did the next best thing to returning home. They gave the part of the new country in which they’d settled the same name as the place they’d left.
Renaming was simply their comforting delusion that the new country – sometimes impervious to the sensibilities of the émigré – bore some resemblance to the auld country.
This well-known stratagem wasn’t only practised by the Irish in America but by other European émigrés. However, because English was the spoken language of the American colonies, it has more namesakes than any other country– 1,124 in 42 states including seventeen Londons. This is because America’s ‘auld’ country was England.
Despite the 1776 American Revolutionary War, the eight states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia – remained New England. British loyalists were forgotten in revolutionary fervour.
But accepting defeat in the war that had started as a Massachusetts’ colonist protest against taxation and ended in American victory in Chesapeake Bay, most Massachusettsans remained British loyalists.
Even the States of Washington and Washington D.C. being named after America’s first president had more to do with the fact that George Washington’s ancestral family had owned lands in the English County of Durham.
Given that the first permanent British colony was established in Jamestown Virginia in 1607, Britain had a 169-year head start, it is unsurprising that the established language became English.
Other Europeans too had already made their namesake changes to America. Paris is represented 19 times, Amsterdam 12, Madrid 7, Berlin 5, Milan 4, Warsaw 3, Moscow and Geneva 3. It took an even greater effort for the post-famine Irish to struggle up the economic ladder, having arrived in the most appalling destitution. Although they were the last of the European émigrés to make American namesakes, how very quickly they established themselves.
There are eleven Dublins, fourteen Belfasts, eight Antrims, six Corks, four Sligos and Westports, five Wexfords and – reflecting Northern Irish sectarianism – four Derrys and four Londonderrys. As well as two Kilkennys and Armaghs, there is one of Athlone, Dundalk, Carlow, Donegal, Fermanagh, Galway, Killarney, Limerick, Longford, Newry and Roscommon.
Some have large populations, like the derivatively-named Baltimore (Baile an Tí Mhóir – literally town of the big house), while others, like Tralee in West Virginia, are mere marks on the map.