Thousands are Sailing to Amerikay

Anonymous, 1870s

What is happening in this song? Where does it take place? Ireland. Who's point of view does this song tell? Parents of Irish emigrants.

Who is leaving and who is staying behind? Sons and daughters leaving; parents staying home. What were some of the feelings experienced by those leaving? What lines give you a clue? What are the feelings expressed by those staying behind?

What does it tell us about why people left Ireland? Why would younger people be more apt to move? Is this true today? Who do you know who has moved far away from home as a young adult? Where and why did they move?

How do you think new immigrants feel coming to the United States? What circumstances might affect how they feel? Their reasons for leaving and their plans once they arrived in the United States.

When immigrants are depicted in the media, how are they pictured? Excited, awed, afraid. Where are they pictured? Landing on the U.S. side. How do the emotions in this song compare to this stereotype of the immigrant experience?


"Thousands are Sailing to Amerikay" performed by Tim O'Brien on Song of America, Thirty One Tigers, © 2007. Available on iTunes [album only], Spotify, and YouTube.


Tim O'Brien (1954–) is a Grammy Award-winning country and bluegrass singer. The plain, repeating melody of this song made it easy to learn and pass along without written music. O'Brien sings it without accompaniment, just as singers would have in the late 1800s.

View the lyrics and music for "Thousands are Sailing to Amerikay."

This song has existed primarily in the oral tradition, and although well-known it was not published until the late 1960s. Like countless other "take leave" songs, it tells the tale of Irish immigrants sometime after the 1860s. Unlike many such songs, however, this song does not quantify the reasons why so many Irish left their homeland; rather it presents the sadness that surrounds the family during this difficult time.

Irish Immigrants arrive in NYC

Immigrants' landing, Ellis Island, 1892

Produce a skit of what the emigrants in this song will experience at the other side of their journey when they land in America.

Write a letter as if you were:

An immigrant writing home to parents after just landing in America;
An immigrant writing home a year later to convince parents to join them in the USA;
Parents writing back with their answer, explaining their decision;
Parents writing back to convince the immigrant to return home.

Compare this song to:

"I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" (this unit)

"No Irish Need Apply" (this unit)

"He Lies in the American Land" (Unit 6)

"America" (West Side Story) (Unit 8)