Out of Ireland
New Brunswick Museum, 2003
In New Brunswick, the years of the Great Famine have been looked upon as "the time when the Irish came". The poignant events of those lean years have tended to eclipse the long and complex history of Irish immigration to the province.
The first Irish immigrants to New Brunswick came from a variety of backgrounds, and this, combined with the disparate nature of settlement in the province, delayed the emergence of a specifically "Irish" community. Language, religion and economic status ensured that these early Irish immigrants shared a common world view and cultural perspective with the mainly Protestant Loyalist settlers, and were easily assimilated into existing community structures. In other instances, immigrants who settled among the Catholic Acadians married, and were all but absorbed into their adopted societies. Changing conditions in Ireland eventually upset this balance so that, by 1825, Catholics constituted a significant majority among the growing number who embarked annually for New Brunswick.
The Famine remains the lens through which the history of the Irish in New Brunswick has been perceived. Between 1844 and 1848, more than 40 000 Irish immigrants arrived in the province. The cost of maintaining provincial quarantine and poorhouse facilities began to escalate in the 1840s, just as the bottom was falling out of the provincial economy. In addition, the Irish were in the awkward position of sharing the language of the Protestants but the religion of the Acadians. Tensions mounted between native New Brunswickers and Irish Catholic immigrants, as it was easy to blame all of the province's economic woes on the "hungry hordes" of the newly arrived and impoverished. Consequently, the 1840s were marked by unprecedented levels of social unrest that often expressed itself in acts of violence.