In the 1840s, close to 2 million immigrants from Ireland and made their way to America.
For many, the only work they could find was dangerous, low paying “service work” with fire and police departments. The Irish gladly took these positions, as it provided a means of income and acceptance into American society. Once they began having families, their children (and their children) would follow in their steps. In a lot of large cities like New York and Boston, you’ll still find these departments dominated by Irish members even until present day.
Irish traditions in service
Because of the rich Irish history in these service jobs, almost every police or fire department maintains aspects of Irish culture and tradition, including a bagpipe marching band. Bagpipes are an important part of Irish culture and an Irish funeral. Police and fire work in the 1800s was especially dangerous, and it wasn’t uncommon to lose several members of a force at one event. When these servicemen would have traditional Irish funerals, the sound of bagpipes quickly became associated in this country with a police or fire department member’s funeral. That’s why you’ll still find bagpipes at almost any fire, police or military funeral. In the early 1950s, the Fire Department of New York formed the first “Emerald Society” to help honor the Irish spirit and heritage of its members. Now, you’ll find an Emerald Society honoring American police officers or fire fighters of Irish heritage in almost every major city.
Badge of honor
Many historians say that Irish were at the forefront of organized fire and police departments, and that those services wouldn’t be in existence today if not for the Irish. The Irish have a proud tradition in the military, police and fire departments all across America. While they initially took these dangerous positions because they were the only work to be had, it quickly became a badge of honor to serve their new country. Since most departments do make an effort to honor this heritage, the bond between the Irish and police and fire departments is one Americans can always be proud of.