Believe it or not, Australia is perhaps the most “Irish” nation in the world — next to Ireland, of course.
Apart from the Scots, the Irish have been a major part of Australia’s demographic, ethnic, and cultural evolution since the arrival of the First Fleet. According to the 2021 census of cultural diversity in Australia, 9.5% of the people were of Irish ancestry — forming the third largest ethnic group in Australia behind the English and Australians.
It’s thus safe to say that the Irish are a crucial part of Australia’s culture and history. But how did the Irish come to Australia? And how has Irish immigration evolved since the First Fleet?
Let’s take a look.
History of the Irish in Australia
Irish immigrants or Irish Australians are inhabitants of Australia that are of Irish descent. They may be direct immigrants or descendants of Irish immigrants.
Initially, Irish citizens came to Australia as convicts around the time the First Fleet arrived in New South Wales in 1788. The first record of the Irish coming to Australia is from 1791, when 155 Irish convicts were shipped to Sydney.
Others came to escape the Irish famine and the struggles in the following years. Many also came to reunite with their family as convicts were transported without any means of support or family.
Australia experienced a surge in Irish immigrants between the late 18th century and the late 19th century, by the end, Irish immigrants constituted around ⅓ rd of Australia’s population.
Irish immigrants played a significant role in shaping Australia, given their large population over the years. Australia also has the highest number of Irish descendants after Ireland. Their immigration thus led to cultural, political, and economic changes in Australia.
According to the latest census of 2021, 80,927 Ireland-born individuals live in Australia. This is a significant rise from the 2016 census that recorded 74,888 Ireland-born individuals in Australia.
Australia also ranks third on the list of countries with the most Irish immigrants.
Of the people residing in Australia, 49.3% of Ireland-born and 41.4% of Australia-born were married. And 35.9% of Ireland-born and 42% of Australia-born never married.
Age and Sex
The median age of Ireland-born individuals is 43 years, higher than the 2016 recorded median age of 41 years. Further, the median age of overseas-born people is 45 years, and the total Australian population is 38 years.
According to age distribution, 4.8% belonged to the 0-14 years group, 4.5% to 15-24 years, 19.6% to 25-34 years, 23.9 to 35-44 years, 13.9% to 45-54 years, 11.9% to 55-64 years, and 21.5% to the 65 years-and-over groups.
Moreover, 66% of Ireland-born Irish individuals were citizens of Australia, and 33.3% were not Australian citizens. On the other hand, 98.5% of Australia-born Irish were citizens of Australia, and 0.9% did not have Australian citizenship.
Of the 80,927 Irish immigrants in Australia in 2021, the male population is slightly higher than the female population, with 42,709 males and 38,225 females. This is the opposite for the total Australian population, wherein the female population at 50.7% was slightly higher than the male population at 49.3%.
Australia’s top 5 ancestries as of the 2021 census are English (33.0 %), Australian (29.9%), Irish (9.5 %), Scottish (8.6 %), and Chinese (5.5 %). The number of Irish people in Australia is 2,410,833.
Of these, 77,689 were born in Ireland, while 2,052,730 were born in Australia.
It is important to note that the number of responses in a particular area may be higher than the number of residents. Every respondent had to fill in two ancestors in the Census form.
English is Australia’s most commonly spoken language, and 94.8% of Ireland-born Australians speak English proficiently.
Moreover, 4.7% of people speak English as well as other languages, and 0.1% speak other languages but are not very fluent in English.
Australia is a highly diverse country when it comes to religion. The top 5 religious affiliations of Australia are No religion (44.6 %), Catholic (21.5 %), Anglican (11.7 %), not stated (2.5 %), and Christianity (2.4 %).
Among the Irish people, on the other hand, the highest religious affiliation was Catholic (67.2%), followed by No religion (23.6%), Anglican (2.3%), not stated (1.9%), and Christianity (1%).
Interestingly, 42% of people born overseas arrived in Australia before 2000, and 36.6% arrived between 2001 and 2015. And 18% of people arrived in the last census between 2016 and 2021.
In comparison, only 28.11% of Ireland-born people in Australia arrived in Australia before 2000. And 42.2% arrived between 2001 and 2015, while 13.4% arrived between 2016 and 2021.
The median weekly income of the Australian population was calculated for those aged 15 and over.
In the 2021 census, the median weekly income of individuals was $1,335 for Ireland-born Australians, $784 for Australians born overseas, and $823 for Australians born in Australia.
As for families, the median weekly income was $2,940 for Ireland-born Australian families, $2,131 for Australians born overseas, and $2,128 for Australia-born families.
The country of birth is determined by any family member’s survey response to the country of birth.
The 2021 census reported that 17.1 % of Ireland-born were attending an educational institution and gaining pre-primary, secondary, or tertiary education. However, 87.6% of people stated that they were not attending any educational institution.
Further, 68.1% of Ireland-born aged 15 and above had received some sort of higher education compared to 51.9% of Australians.
In terms of the employment status of people aged 15 years and above, 71.7% of Ireland-born people were a part of the labour force, and 27.1% were unemployed.
The corresponding numbers for Australians aged 15 and above were 65.6% employed and 33.3% unemployed.
Of the people who reported being in the labour force, 67.5% of Ireland-born people worked full-time, 22.6% worked part-time, 7.4% were away from work, and 2.5% reported being unemployed.
The corresponding rates for Australian-born were 55.9% worked full-time, 31.4% worked part-time, 7.9% were away from work, and 4.8% were unemployed.
Of the employed people, 47.2% of Ireland-born worked for 39 hours or less per week, 24.9% worked between 40 and 44 hours, and 26.4% worked for 45 hours or more per week.
On the other hand, 59.1% of Australian-born worked 39 hours or less, 19.8% worked 40 and 44 hours, and 19.6% worked more than 44 hours.
Among the employed people, 65.6% of Ireland-born were employed in professional management and as technicians compared to 50.1% Australia-born in the same line of work.
Comparing the 2021 census with 2016 one, it is clear that the number of Irish immigrants is rising. The recent data also shows that the Irish have impacted Australia’s culture and contributed to its economic development in many different ways.