By Ray O’Hanlon
The number of Americans describing themselves as Irish American has shown a sharp decline, according to figures just released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Thirty million Americans listed “Irish” or “Celtic” as an ancestral identity in the 2000 census.
This was down from a figure of 39 million in the 1990 census.
So what of the fabled 44 million?
This was a figure for the total number of Irish Americans that was used widely over the last 10 years, especially in the context of politics and Irish-American expectations in with regard to the Northern Ireland peace process.
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That figure was an assessment derived from both the 1980 and ’90 tabulations.
It was reached by combining responses from Americans who considered their ancestry to be either “Irish” or “Scotch-Irish.”
The 2000 census, which was drawn from information supplied by respondents in answer to both short and long forms, did not ask the kind of detailed questions regarding ethnicity as the previous two.
However, one trend did emerge strongly from the 2000 calculations. More people are now inclined to simply call themselves “American.”
The effect of this is an apparent reduction in the number of people citing ties, not just to Ireland, but also to Germany, England and other countries.
So the 44 million are still out there. Indeed, that number has likely risen along with the general U.S. population increase.
But the U.S., the great melting pot, has woven its magic on yet another generation.
For millions of Americans, being Irish American is clearly now an identity that fits more neatly into the back pocket when once it was worn brightly on the sleeve.