From the early 17th century to the end of the 20th century, approximately seven million Irish men and women came to North America. These immigrants and their descendants made significant changes to the fabric of American life, and like any ethnic group, the experience of the Irish Americans was contingent, not preordained. Therefore the social, religious and socioeconomic character of Irish America continuously shifted throughout the course of American history. Perhaps no other topic in this interesting history better illustrates Irish America's changing face than the Erie Canal. In fact, the Erie Canal may be seen as a microcosm of Irish America-the ethnic groups experiences along its route closely paralleling those of the Irish across the nation. And just as it is impossible to think of American history without the Irish, it is just as hard to think of the Erie Canal without the Irish and the culture they created. From politicians to surveyors, engineers to contractors, laborers to boatmen, more than any other group the Irish embodied the complete story to the Erie Canal. The Irish and the Erie Canal is on loan courtesy of The Irish American Heritage Museum.