Unintended Consequences: The Story of Irish Immigration to the U.S. and How America’s Door was Closed to the Irish


Ray O’Hanlon

April 2021

The first comprehensive history of Irish emigration to the United States and how radical changes to US immigration policy in the 1960s led to the ‘undocumented’ Irish community.

By award-winning Irish American journalist, author, broadcaster and Irish Echo editor, Ray O’Hanlon.


Buy the eBook > ISBN: 9781785373787 Categories: ,


Unintended Consequences reveals how America’s door closed on legal Irish immigration in the 1960s, and how America’s Irish mounted a counterattack when nation-changing political forces were sweeping the country during the era of civil rights, political assassinations, and the Vietnam War.

This book looks at the full historical background to Irish migration across the Atlantic, how it helped shape the young republic, and how the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 brought a near total halt to this westward flow. Nevertheless, the Irish would not be denied and continued to make the journey, no longer into the light of a full and legal American life, but rather into the shadows of an undocumented existence. Successive organisations championed the undocumented Irish, and the fight continues to this day, but this is a new America, where, in recent years, there has been growing hostility to immigrants of every nationality. Ray O’Hanlon has spent over three decades reporting on battles over comprehensive U.S. immigration reform, and Unintended Consequences is the story of the Irish past, its present, and most uncertain future in the ‘land of the free,’ now in the presidency of Joe Biden, a man who fully embraces his Irish immigrant family story. Through Biden, the great Irish of America story continues, and with renewed hope.



  1. Searching for a Savior
  2. Mustering for Battle
  3. 1965: The Year of the New Divide
  4. The Fading Drumbeat
  5. Teddy
  6. The Fighting Irish in Retreat
  7. The Irish Fight Back
  8. Revulsion, Rejection, Retreat
  9. Restless, Ever Restless
  10. Annie Moore and the Power of Sentiment
  11. Cold Prose Loudly Proclaimed
  12. A New Divide
  13. Read All About It!
  14. Saved Amid Depression
  15. Cometh the Hour
  16. The Hour Cometh
  17. Back to Boston
  18. On Wings and Prayers
  19. A Favorite Son Rises
  20. A Favorite Son Falls
  21. The Torch is Passed
  22. Paddy Goes Marching Away
  23. Aliens Ahoy!
  24. All Aboard!
  25. Finally!
  26. An Explanation of the Problem
  27. Attention Ladies and Gentlemen
  28. The Road to Washington
  29. To the Hill
  30. The Swinging Door
  31. A Stunned Loudness
  32. Peaks and Fallows
  33. A Measure of Success
  34. Troubles Behind, Troubles Ahead
  35. The Boys from Massachusetts
  36. To the Banner Born
  37. Numbers Up, Numbers Down
  38. Like Summer Leaves
  39. Christmas Postponed
  40. One Big Bust
  41. The Morrison Express
  42. The Train Arrives
  43. McCain on McLean
  44. No Going Back
  45. Legalize the Irish!
  46. McCain’s Embrace
  47. Yes We Can, Well Maybe
  48. A Last Full Measure
  49. An Anniversary Falls
  50. A State O’ Chassis
  51. ‘Afterwords


Praise for Unintended Consequences

‘I was proud to hand deliver to the President of the United States, Joe Biden, a copy of my friend Ray O’Hanlon’s wonderful and insightful new book, Unintended Consequences just before the meeting in the White House with the four legislative leaders and the Vice President. President Biden was clearly very pleased to receive the book. As a proud son of Ireland, and a fellow ardent backer of immigration reform, President Biden is keenly aware of both the massive contributions of the Irish to America and the need to improve our current policies to address the undocumented and to rectify certain unintended consequences of past reforms, so that – amongst other things – more people from Ireland can once again help build a better United States of America.’
Senator Charles Schumer

‘As Ray O’Hanlon’s impressively thorough history of Irish immigration to the United States shows, people here have been looking across the Atlantic Ocean with longing and fascination for centuries. In recent decades, however, this story has been dominated by political rows, legal logjams and emotional insecurity. Despite the dewy-eyed rhetoric of presidents from John F Kennedy to Joe Biden, roughly 15,000 Irish citizens across the 50 states still live in constant fear of a knock at the door and a one-way ticket home … Unintended Consequences feels like the definitive version of a story that should be much better known.’
Sunday Business Post

“O’Hanlon provides an important angle on Irish-American relations over the last two hundred years and also demonstrates the complex nature and political consequences of immigration”
Matthew Geden, Irish Examiner

‘Ray O’Hanlon takes an unflinching look at more than 100 years of American immigration policy broadly and how it affects the Irish specifically, particularly since the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. With clarity and context, he provides an essential chronology of the many battles waged to correct the ‘consequences’ of that legislation and its impact on Irish America. His assessment is as eye-opening as it is sobering, squarely assigning credit and blame for the results where they belong.’
Linda Dowling Almeida, author of Irish Immigrants in New York City: 1945–1995, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

‘Ray O’Hanlon remains the pre-eminent chronicler of the Irish American experience, in large part because for him it has never been purely an academic exercise, but a lived one, experienced first-hand as an Irish person who made his home and his life in America. His grasp of history informs a nuanced understanding of the modern, real-time Irish America.’
Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe 

‘Ray O’Hanlon plays the role of historian and fly-on-the-wall journalist in this well-researched narrative about immigration, politics and culture. It is an Irish story and an American story, told by one of Irish America’s foremost observers.’
Dr Terry Golway, journalist, author, historian, and editor of Being New York, Being Irish

Unintended Consequences provides an essential chronology on the history of U.S. immigration policy as it pertains to the Irish. Full of fascinating insights, O’Hanlon’s journalistic style makes it an engaging read about an era that has been rather understudied to date.’
Miriam Nyhan Grey PhD, Global Coordinator for Irish Studies, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

Unintended Consequences is meticulously researched and beautifully written. The legislation that systematically closed the door to Irish immigrants is skilfully juxtaposed against multiple delightful vignettes that remind us of the humanity and diversity of the emigration experience over the last seven decades.’
Professor Christine Kinealy, Director, Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute, Quinnipiac University, Connecticut

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ray O’Hanlon is the editor of the New York City-published Irish Echo newspaper. A native of Dublin, O’Hanlon has reported from four continents in a newspaper career spanning forty-one years. In addition to his work as a reporter and editor, O’Hanlon has been a frequent contributor to US, Irish and British media outlets reporting on Ireland, Irish American affairs, and Anglo-Irish relations. His book The New Irish Americans (1998) was the recipient of a Washington Irving Book Award, and The South Lawn Plot, his first fiction work, was published in 2011.

You may also like…