Models of Migration: The Historiography of the
Irish Pioneers in South Texas
THE STORY OF THE IRISH PIONEER SETTLERS WHO ARRIVED IN THE
Mexican province of Coahuila y Texas in the period 1829 to 1834
combines the extraordinary twin features of monumental tragedy and
unparalleled success. What was a dream for many would-be Irish
colonists, of acquiring land in an earthly paradise, turned into a night-
mare, involving war, disease and death. For those that survived cholera,
shipwreck, war and revolution, an opportunity existed through the pro-
vision of generous land grants to fulfill the promise of independent for-
tunes within their own lifetimes and for the generations that followed. A
more detailed narrative account is included after a discussion of models
of migration and the case of the Irish pioneers is set in the context of
the wider study of the Irish abroad.
To those brought up on the standard histories of Irish migrants to the
eastern United States, the story of the Irish pioneers in Texas may come
as a revelation, but it is merely a further example that the Irish in North
America were not a homogeneous group nor did they have a uniform
experience. Traditionally, we have learnt that Irish emigrants were dri-
ven from Ireland by poverty, religious persecution, famine and eviction.
They were largely unskilled, lacking in capital and mostly settled in ur-
ban American centers where they faced poor employment, the worst
housing, high levels of disease and death and the hostility of the host
community.' Only in the longer run did they manage to achieve the
* Graham Davis is course director of the M.A. program in Irish studies at Bath College of
Higher Education in the United Kingdom. He is the author of The Irish in Britain, 1815-x914
(1991) and of several articles and chapters in books on the Great Famine in Ireland and on the
Irish in Texas. The Nuffield Foundation has supported his research on the Irish pioneers in
' Oscar Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, 179o-i88o: A Study in Acculturation (Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1959); Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863 (New
York: King's Crown Press, 1949); Dennis Clark, The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban
Experience (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/. Accessed March 28, 2015.