In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Green Atlantic: the Irish in the Atlantic World

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources

Atlantic History Green Atlantic: the Irish in the Atlantic World
Elodie Peyrol-Kleiber
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0331


Does an Irish Atlantic exist? Indeed, forgetting Ireland when studying the Atlantic world was frequent as the island was easily integrated into English or British history. However, late studies have put forward not only the unavoidable presence of the Irish in the Atlantic world but also their agency, through commercial and ideological exchanges. Green being the color of the Irish, tinting the Atlantic Ocean green was self-evident, and it gave birth to the Green Atlantic. Among academic works, no one has defined this idiom. It is understood as the transatlantic circulation of Irish people, ideologies, and goods. We believe that the Green Atlantic stems from a comparison with the Black Atlantic. This idiom has become trendy these days, however, with publications and conferences using it. The least we can say is that the Green Atlantic was an unwanted Atlantic: whether it was the Irish indentured servants sent to the colonies or the Irish migrants flowing into America as a result of the Great Famine, the Irish were unwanted “others.” They were deemed unreliable and lazy, and they often were compared to the African slaves or the Native Americans as a savage people hard to civilize. Despite the discrimination they suffered as a result of both their religion and their origin, Irish people have left their mark on many aspects of Atlantic societies. Think of the Carrolls, the Kennedys, and most American families that can claim Irish ancestry with pride now.

General Overviews

David Gleeson has remarked that no general overview of the Green Atlantic exists. Rather, glimpses of different aspects of the Irish in the Atlantic are available. Even if Gleeson 2010 questions the notion of an Irish Atlantic, most works on the Irish diaspora essentially focus on America, since it was the destination of most Irish migrants, Nevertheless, conclusive studies of the Irish in other parts of the Atlantic, such as some chapters in Fanning 2000, study the Irish in other parts of the Atlantic world. Jackson 2014 provides an insight into both the history of Ireland itself and its links with the Atlantic world as part of the British Empire. Coogan 2000 treats within the Atlantic world such as Canada, Argentina, and Africa in examining why the Irish left and how they fared in far-flung places in the Green Atlantic. Both Canny 1988 and Ohlmeyer 1999 focus on Ireland not only as part of the British Empire as a mere extension of England, but also as England’s first colony, an important laboratory for imperial strategies as well as a reservoir for labor. Finally, Trew and Pierse 2018 studies the results of “The Gathering” operation. Even though it gives a modern insight on Irish immigration and settlement abroad (and not only in the Atlantic world), the editors ask questions that are problematic today but also relevant with regard to the past.

  • Canny, Nicholas. Kingdom and Colony: Ireland in the Atlantic World, 1560–1800. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

    Nicholas Canny argues that Ireland in the 17th century should be considered as England’s first colony within the Atlantic world, and that its role as a laboratory was essential to the expansion of the English and later British Empire.

  • Coogan, Tim Pat. Wherever Green Is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora. London: Hutchinson, 2000.

    This survey is organized according to geographical areas, which can lack coherence at times but helps to identify the different groups of Irish immigrants in parts of the world such as Asia or Australia and, what is of interest to us, the Caribbean, Argentina, Africa, and Canada, among others. His argument is that two main forces have driven the Irish abroad, namely “Mother England” and “Mother Church” (p. 9).

  • Fanning, Charles. New Perspectives on the Irish Diaspora. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

    This collective volume focuses on the Irish in America, putting forward the diversity of experiences leading to forging an Irish identity abroad. See especially Part 2, “New Perspectives on Pre-famine Immigration,” and Part 3, “New Sources for Diaspora Studies.”

  • Gleeson, David T., ed. The Irish in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010.

    In this edited volume, David Gleeson questions the relevance of an Irish Atlantic, along with other scholars who focus mainly on the 18th to 20th centuries. Themes include Irish copper mining, the “idea of America,” and the links between slavery and Irish nationalism.

  • Jackson, Alvin. The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199549344.001.0001

    Several chapters are interesting in providing a general overview. While Part 3 deals with the chronology of events, Part 1 focuses on central themes, including the impacts made by the Irish had on the Atlantic world.

  • Ohlmeyer, Jane. “Seventeenth-Century Ireland and the New British and Atlantic Histories.” The American Historical Review 104.2 (April 1999): 446–462.

    DOI: 10.2307/2650374

    For Jane Ohlmeyer, the “New British History” should definitely include Ireland in the history of the early modern Atlantic world.

  • Trew, Johanne Devlin, and Michael Pierse. Rethinking the Irish Diaspora: After the Gathering. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-40784-5

    This work questions the notions of identity, Irishness, diaspora, and exchanges, among others, in a contemporary context but with links made with the past.

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