There is no hard and fast definition of the term "diaspora" or "Irish diaspora", but most commonly it is used as a blanket term to cover all those people worldwide who have (or think they have) Irish ancestry. Though the term "diaspora" is used by politicians (in many contexts), there is no legal definition an no official guideline.
So let us take a closer look at the term and its development.
The Origin of the Term "Diaspora"
It can be said that the term "diaspora" itself is of Biblical origin. Its first recorded instance is in the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament), specifically in the phrase "thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth". Diaspora in this Greek form simply refers to "dispersion" or a "scattering".
The original connotation was with the plight of the Jewish people which were exiled by first the Babylonians, then the Romans.
In the English language the first non-Biblical usage is recorded in the latter half of the 19th century - when it was still used in a religious context to refer to evangelization of British people abroad. Only in the 20th century did "diaspora" become synonymous with a general term like ex-patriates.
Is "Diaspora" a Neutral Term?
This is open to discussion - personally I think not. It almost always carries with it a concept of somewhat enforced displacement, an involuntary stay in a foreign country and a strong desire to return "home" one day. There also is a general sense of "us v. them" to be found in any classical diaspora, with the displaced persons refusing to integrate into the wider society.
This (I would say original) definition of a proper "diaspora" in contrast to a community of migrants has, however, been watered down by common usage.
The "Irish Diaspora" as a Specific Term
The first high-profile use of the term "Irish diaspora" can be traced back to a speech given by Mary Robinson on February 2nd, 1995 - in a spirit "the inextinguishable nature of our love and remembrance on this island for those who leave it behind". The Irish President called her speech "Cherishing the Irish Diaspora"."Irish Diaspora" - Not and Official Concept
Despite this endorsement by Uachtaran na hEireann, the term "Irish diaspora" did never become a legal or even legally defined term, and though used by officials (in many senses), it is not official.
The nearest reference to "Cherishing the Irish Diaspora" is to be found in the Irish Constitution, since 1998 it proclaims that "the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage".
Being part of this broadly defined "diaspora" does not carry rights similar to those defined by Israel's Law of Return (which is based on religion, not ethnicity). There is, however, the "Granny Rule" made famous by soccer players - if your grandparent was Irish (that is "registered officially as an Irish citizen"), you can become Irish too.
Taking the "Granny Rule" and actual registration as a yardstick of the size of the "Irish diaspora", around three million people worldwide belong to it.
The "Irish Diaspora" as an Undefined Concept
There still is, however, the more or less undefined concept of the "Irish diaspora" including anybody who has (or thinks he has) Irish ancestry, however distant. Including Barack Obama, Moneygall's most famous "son". Taking this more emotional view, one might face an "Irish diaspora" of more than sixty million people worldwide ... which makes the original concept of a diaspora having a wish to come back to the homeland a very, very scary one.
The Largest "Irish Diaspora" Contingents
Where now would these "diasporans" live? Here is a run-down of the most strong (and sometimes most vocal) groups, giving only total numbers (Irish-born, registered Irish, "of Irish descent" - and disregarding the cause of emigration, so that may reach from transportation to setting up a business):
- USA - around 41,000,000
- United Kingdom - around 7,000,000
- Canada - around 4,500,000
- Australia - around 2,000,000
- Argentina - around 700,000