The Irish have been part of Florida for over 400 years. The Irish first arrived with the Spanish in La Florida in the 1500’s as missionary priests and mercenary soldiers. Five of Spanish St. Augustine’s mayors were Irish. Three of the military governors of Spanish Florida were actually Irish officers and Irish units of the Spanish Army were frequently stationed at St. Augustine’s Castillo de San Marco. The first public school in America was established by 1606, in St. Augustine, by an Irishman, the parish priest and ecclesiastical judge Father Richard Arthur (Padre Ricardo Artur). Another Irish priest, Father Miguel O’Reilly, supervised the construction of the Cathedral in St. Augustine. More Irish arrived after the conquest of Ireland by Cromwell in the mid-1600’s and found protection under the Catholic Spanish government of La Florida. When Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain after the Seven Year’s War (1763), the Irish and Spanish settlers allied with the French to counter the British. In the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, Great Britain ceded east Florida back to Spanish control with the Treaty of Versailles (1783). Later, during the mid-1800’s, as the Great Famine took its toll, the Irish arrived to work as fishermen, farmhands, dockworkers, and even cowboys to drive cattle across the prairies of central Florida. By the early 1900’s, many Irish were employed as railroad workers building Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad to the Florida keys, and many more made their mark in business, shipping, education, and government.
Today, 34.7 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry (U.S. Census, Profile America, 2010), and over one million in Florida claim Irish as their first ancestry (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2011).