Irish-Americans: Work and Song
Procedures for teachers is divided into four sections: Prep
-- Preparing for the lesson Steps
the lesson Extensions
-- Additional activities
-- Real world actions for
students after completion of the lesson
Before teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the
lesson and create a word-processing document with all of the Web sites
listed as hyperlinks, so that students can access the sites. (Note: It's
a good idea to preview these sites before presenting them to your class.)
Make sure that your computer has necessary media players, like RealPlayer,
to show streaming clips (if applicable). Cue the MAY THE ROAD RISE TO
MEET YOU videotape to the beginning of the first segment.
- Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
- Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0
or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB
- Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running
Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
- Software: Any presentation software such as Power Point or Hyperstudio
computers with the capacities
Students will need the following supplies:
notebook or journal
Teachers will need the following:
Board and/or chart paper
Ideally a screen on
which to project the video clips
Handouts of Web resources
if computers are not available in the classroom
- American Memory Series at the Library of Congress
This collection, housed on the Web site of the Library of Congress,
contains books, sheet music, photographs, and many more primary sources.
The collections are organized by subject and visitors can search the
collections by keyword.
- Drill, Ye Tarriers
This site contains the lyrics for the folk song "Drill, Ye Tarriers."
- Poor Paddy
This page contains the traditional lyrics for the song "Paddy
Works on the Railway," as well as more a more modern version of
- Railroad Construction Scene
This page, on the National Parks Service Web site, provides detailed
information about how workers built the transcontinental railroad.
|| Explain to your students that you will be viewing a
segment of video about immigrants to the United States. Instruct your
students to watch and listen to the clip and record the answers to
the questions below on their Student
Organizer. Begin the video "May the Road Rise to Meet You"
where you see an image of two black and white photographs (one with
two girls in it, the other with one girl in it) and you hear a woman
singing. Stop the video when you see an image of three children in
the snow in front of the house and hear that the song has stopped.
Discuss the clip and the questions with your students. Explain that
Irish immigration to the United States skyrocketed in the 1840’s
and 1850’s, coinciding with the Potato Famine in Ireland. Large-scale
immigration of people from Ireland continued throughout the rest of
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly to cities
like New York and Boston. Irish immigrants faced much discrimination
in this country because of their nationality and religion.
- Describe the people in the photos. How old are these photos?
Are they all from the same time period? How are the people dressed?
What do they look like?
- From which country did these people emigrate?
- Describe the song that is playing in the clip. What instruments
do you hear?
|| Despite their large numbers, Irish immigrants still
faced much discrimination. It was difficult for these immigrants to
find work, and it was not uncommon for job postings to state "No
Irish Need Apply." Some people also believed that these immigrants
were unclean and that they drank too much alcohol, prompting the nickname
"shanty Irish." Explain to students that they will be
looking at a songsheet from the Library of Congress from the American
Memory Series, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html
. This link leads you to the Search engine for the American Memory
Series. To find the songsheet for the song "No Irish Need Apply,"
type the title into the search engine and it will provide you with
the desired image.
As a group, read through the lyrics of the song and have students
record their observations and answers to the following questions on
their Student Organizers:
Discuss these questions with your students.
- What is the song about?
- What does the title of the song mean?
- What is the tone of the song? How do you know that?
- Why is the job advertisement included at the top of the sheet?
- Do you know of any other examples of job discrimination? Explain.
- How does language help or hurt an immigrant looking for work?
- What purpose do folk songs serve? How do they help groups to
rally together and seek justice?
- Can you think of other folk songs that refer to discrimination?
- What other groups have faced discrimination in the job market,
both in the past and in the present?
|| Next, explain to your students that you will be looking
at another video clip about Irish immigrants. In this clip, they will
be learning about some of the work that Irish immigrant men were able
to get. Instruct students to record their observations and the answer
to the questions on their Student Organizer.
Play the video from the image of the blacksmith with the short dark
hair and when the narrator says "A growing America had plenty
of work for us." Stop the video when the narrator says "It
was a cruel joke with too much truth to it," and you see the
black and white image of the men working on the skyscraper.
Discuss the clip and questions with your students.
- Describe the images of the men working. What jobs did the men
have? How were they dressed? Does it appear that there is a standard
of safety for workers? Would you want to do these jobs?
- According to the narrator, what did the Irish build?
- What does "You’ll never see a gray-haired Irishman"
mean? Why is it a cruel joke?
- These men agreed to take these dangerous jobs. Were they still
suffering from discrimination? Why or why not?
- Do Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans still face discrimination
today? Explain your answer.
- What other groups of immigrants come to this country now? Do
they face discrimination? Why or why not?
| Learning Activities:
||Explain to your students that you are going to focus
on understanding the experience of the Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans
who worked on the railroads. Irish immigrants were instrumental in
building the railroad system in the country. This was backbreaking,
dangerous work. A popular saying of the late nineteenth century was
"There’s an Irishman buried under every tie of that road."
To do this exploration, students are going to view primary sources
and they must analyze these sources to gather information. They will
also be looking at secondary-source information from Web sites. When
using both the primary and secondary sources, students must take complete
notes because they will need to use these notes for the culminating
activity. Distribute the Historical
Sources Organizer to help students take notes
Students will be looking at images from the American Memory Series
at the Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/mdbquery.html.
This link leads you to the Search engine for the Ameican Memory Series.
To find the images listed below, type the titles into the search engine
and it will provide you with the desired images.
Railroad workers eating lunch, Windsor Locks, Connecticut
Divide the students into small groups, with access to the Internet
or with prints of the images listed above. Instruct them to look at
each of the images and discuss them, focusing on the people, place,
and details in the image. After talking about the image, have the
students record their observations of each photo on their Student
Organizer. After they have viewed all of the
images, have each group share and discuss their observations.
Railroad workers, Conway, Pennsylvania
Railroad workers, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Railroad workers, Salida, Colorado
Railroad workers at camp
Houses for railroad workers, Greene County, Georgia.
|| Now that the students have a background about Irish
railroad workers, have them view the National Park Service’s
Web site "Railroad Construction Scene" http://www.nps.gov/gosp/research/construction.htm.
Instruct them to read the text, which focuses on the details of laying
railroad tracks for the Transcontinental Railroad. On their Student
Organizers, have students take detailed notes from the article
about the process of creating the railroad. Discuss the article with
your students, answering any questions that they may have.
|| Next, explain to students that you are going to continue
your exploration of the experience of Irish railroad workers by looking
at popular folk songs. The lyrics of these songs express the difficulty
of the railroad work:
Drill, Ye Tarriers:
Read these song lyrics with your students. Have them record their observations
on their Student Organizers.
Poor Paddy Works on the Railway:
- What is the song about?
- What is the tone of the song? How do you know that?
- What people are mentioned? Who are they?
- What does the song tell us about railroad work?
Note: For an extension of this step, purchase recordings of these
songs. With your students, examine how the music adds to the feeling
and tone of the song.
| Culminating Activity:
||Once students have demonstrated a deeper understanding of the experience of Irish immigrants who worked on building the railroads, explain
that they will be writing their own "folk songs" about
these experiences. Divide the students into groups of three. Using
their notes, have them re-write lyrics to old tunes (such as "I’ve
Been Working on the Railroad" and "This Old Man")
or current favorites to reflect what these Irish railroad workers
went through. They should use as many specific examples from their
notes as possible.
After each group has written a song, have them perform it for the
class. Discuss the songs with the students.
- What examples did the groups include in their songs?
- Overall, how would you describe the work that the Irish immigrants
did on the railroads?
- How does their experiences compare with the work experiences
of other immigrant groups today?
- Literature – investigate how the experiences of Irish
immigrant workers are reflected in poems, short stories, novels,
and plays. Examine both period and modern texts. Suggested literature
includes: Frank McCourt, "Angela's Ashes" and "’Tis";
William Kennedy, "Ironweed," "Billy Phelan’s
Greatest Game," and "The Flaming Corsage"; Alice
McDermott "Charming Billy" and "At Weddings
and Wakes"; Caledonia Kearns, "Cabbage and Bones:
An Anthology of Irish-American Women's Fiction."
- Women’s Studies – Irish women who immigrated to
this country often worked in domestic positions. Research the
experiences of these women.
- U.S. History – Building the Transcontinental Railroad
was a national debate. Examine the arguments of those who both
supported and opposed the building of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Research the railroad companies and the key players involved the
- Contact local groups that help immigrants who are new to the United States. Learn about the difficulties that these people face in this country and the services that these groups provide. Share what you learn with other classes in the school.
- When viewing the selections from the American Memory Series
from the Library of Congress, click on the thumbnail view of the
image to be directed to a larger view of the image.