The number 3.5 million is useful for Connecticut residents to remember. It is roughly the current population of the state, and it's also the number of Americans of Scotch-Irish ancestry (Irish-Protestants from County Ulster) in the United States.
Americans with Irish-Catholic ancestry are much more numerous both in Connecticut and in the United States — roughly 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, approximately 10 percent of the country’s population of just over 350 million. Only Americans claiming German ancestry — about 17 percent — are greater in number.
The percentage of Connecticut’s residents who claim Irish ancestry exceeds the country’s percentage by 7 percent. Almost 18 percent of Connecticut residents claim Irish ancestry — nearly one out of every five people in the state. It is a number only exceeded by Connecticut residents who claim Italian ancestry — 19.3%. The Connecticut county with the largest percentage of people claiming Irish ancestry is Tolland County.
Here are some more interesting facts about Irish-Americans:
- Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, eight were of Irish descent; in fact, three of them — Matthew Taylor, James Smith and George Thornton — were all born on the “Emerald Isle.”
- Of our 44 presidents, exactly half of them — 22 — claim Irish ancestry. The most famous presidents of Irish descent were John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. Kennedy had Irish ancestry on both sides of his family, while Reagan’s father was of Irish ancestry, hailing from County Tipperary. Reagan’s mother also had Irish ancestors.
- Ulysses S. Grant, whose family was instrumental in the settling of Windsor, CT, traces his maternal great-grandfather to County Tyrone in Ireland. Grant visited Ireland in 1878. The town of Dergenagh in County Tyrone proudly displays its connection to the Civil War general with an exhibition on Grant’s life to this day.
- President Barack Obama has Irish ancestors on his maternal side who came from Moneygall in County Offaly. Vice-President Biden also has strong Irish ties.
- Irish immigrants supplied the bulk of the labor necessary to dig both the Farmington and Windsor Locks canals in the early decades of the 19th century. In fact, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Windsor Locks has very strong ties to the Irish immigrants who dug the canal there.
- 38 Civil War regiments had the word “Irish” in them, including the famous 9th Regiment from Connecticut, which was dubbed the “Irish Regiment.” Active from September 1861 to August 1865, the “Irish Regiment” consisted of 845 men, many of whom had been born in Ireland. The 9th saw most of its action in Louisiana and in Mississippi. The unit lost 250 men by war’s end — almost 30 percent — with many dying from disease.
- Sgt. James T. Mullen of New Haven, a member of the 9th, later both a policeman and fire commissioner in the Elm City, was one of the founders of the Knights of Columbus; in fact, Mullen was its first Supreme Knight, was responsible for choosing the word “knight” (instead of “son”), and also designed the organization’s emblem. The K of C is now the world’s largest Roman Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members. It began right here in Connecticut through the efforts of Irish Catholics such as James Mullen and Father Michael J. McGivney of New Haven.
- 3,401 men have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and 33 countries are listed as birthplaces of the recipients; by far the most common of these birthplaces is Ireland with 258. Connecticut has 56 CMOH winners, including many with common Irish surnames such as “Murphy” and “Flynn.” Two of the recipients from the Civil War were actually born in Ireland: Christopher W. Wilson of Meriden and Charles Wright of Woodstock.
St. Patrick lived from 387 A.D. to 461 A.D. He arrived to Christianize the Irish in 432 A.D., often using the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. As a result, the color green has evolved as the color most associated with Irish heritage and is on wide display every March 17th on St. Patrick’s Day — the most widely celebrated holiday for any patron saint in the world. New York City, which had more Irish living there than in Dublin by 1910, has an enormous St. Patrick’s Day parade involving as many as 2 million people. Connecticut, where nearly 1 in 5 residents claim Irish ancestors, also celebrates the occasion with big parades in both New Haven and Hartford. “Wearing the green” remains a proud tradition for many of Connecticut’s residents.
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