The Irish Diaspora: A Primer


319 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88835-038-4
DDC 304.6'09415





Reviewed by John Kendle

John Kendle is a history professor at St. John’s College, University
of Manitoba.


For many years Donald Akenson has been assiduously tracking and
evaluating the Irish diaspora in the United States, Canada, Australia,
New Zealand, and South Africa. He has published the results of these
investigations in a number of closely reasoned monographs and articles.
This volume summarizes his findings and offers a coherent and integrated
perspective on the Irish diaspora of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Akenson challenges innumerable assumptions about Irish emigration and
immigration patterns. Upon observing that Ireland lost more population
proportionate to its size in the 19th and 20th centuries than any other
European nation, Akenson looks at “The Homeland and the Outflow” and
establishes an ideal-type of the Irish diaspora, a six-point yardstick
with which to evaluate each country’s Irish population. He then
devotes separate chapters to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa,
each of which poses particular problems for the historian. The reader is
reminded that the Irish were an integral component of the imperial
infrastructure, and thus of 19th- and 20th-century European imperialism.

In Part 2, entitled “Considerable Mysteries,” Akenson points out
that while women constituted at least half of the Irish diaspora, they
remain “the great unknown” owing to the paucity of records, or the
difficulty of working with available ones. Great Britain poses the most
difficult problem for the historian/demographer. As for North America,
Akenson reminds us that the American data is highly skewed, and that a
firm grasp of the Irish diaspora in North America can be obtained only
if Canada is included in the picture.

Clear-headed, extensively researched, and cogently argued, this will
prove an invaluable book not only for historians of the Irish diaspora,
but also for students of immigration.


Akenson, Donald H., “The Irish Diaspora: A Primer,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 24, 2024,