By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but fewer and fewer Marylanders are Irish during the rest of the year, Census data show.
The percentage of state residents who said they were of Irish ancestry fell from 770,000 in 1990 to an estimated 680,000 in 2000, an 11.7 percent drop.
While the 2000 ancestry figures — which come from a Census household population survey — are not directly comparable to 1990 data, Census officials said actual numbers set to be released in a few weeks shouldn’t be far off.
Baltimore County, with 113,000 residents of Irish descent, continued to have the largest Irish American population in the state, but even it showed a decline from its 138,000 figure 10 years ago.
Mark Goldstein, an economist at the Maryland Department of Planning, said the decrease in Irish Americans in Maryland reflects a 1990s trend of whites who migrated from the state. Irish — as well as Germans, Italians, English and other groups of whites — left Maryland for better economic opportunities in other states in the last decade, he said.
Goldstein said more whites moved out of Maryland than those who moved in during the 1990s.
“In the first six, seven or eight years of the decade, Maryland’s economy was performing more poorly than the U.S. economy as a whole,” he said. “What we got was outward migration, people going where the jobs were.”
Other races, meanwhile, moved in, making Maryland a more diverse state.
Irish was the second-largest ancestry in Maryland in the 2000 survey, after German. But other primarily white-ancestry populations also declined. English, for instance, dipped from 670,000 in 1990 to 524,000 in 2000.
Maryland’s Scottish-Irish descendants also dropped in numbers, from 89,000 Scottish-Irish in 1990 to 84,000 in the 2000 Supplemental Survey data.
Baltimore City resident James O’Toole, a first generation Irish-American, said there is still a “tremendous” Irish presence in the city, even though many people of Irish ancestry have moved out.
Goldstein said that white’s share of the state population is projected to decline even further. And O’Toole sounded ready to join them.
“I’ll pack my bags and move out of here if I could,” he said. “There’s just no future here.”
Another Baltimore resident, Larry Smith, whose great grandmother came to the city from Kidare, Ireland, joked that, “maybe those who moved got rich and went down to Florida.”
Smith said he has not witnessed a grand exodus of Irish from the state. “It surprises me,” he said of the numbers.
U.S.-Ireland Alliance President Trina Vargo, said she preferred to wait for the final Census total population numbers because people of Irish ancestry may actually be “hidden in other categories.”
Wherever Irish-Americans are, Vargo said, they are helping to build America.
That pride was reflected in the heritage question on the Census survey. While most Maryland residents identified a foreign heritage, 273,000 said their roots were in the United States.
That’s not so surprising, said Goldstein, who said he struggled with the heritage question and ended up leaving it blank.
“Except for Native Americans, everyone had to come from somewhere else to get here,” he said.