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About this book

This established study focuses on the most important phase of Irish migration, providing analysis of why and how the Irish settled in Britain in such numbers. Updated and expanded, the new edition now extends the coverage to 1939 and features new chapters on gender and the Irish diaspora in a global perspective.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Although the Irish have travelled to Britain since the times of St Aidan, large and permanent urban communities — the crux of modern Irish settlement — only properly appeared in Elizabethan London. During the eighteenth century, however, the rise of the great commercial and industrial cities prompted the appearance of much larger Irish settlements in a greater range of places. The flow of migrants from Ireland reached new heights after the French Wars (1793–1815), with thousands entering British ports each year. By the 1830s, parliamentary commissioners and local observers were expressing concern about this rising rate of Irish settlement. In the 1840s, the impact of the Famine and a pattern of long-lived cultural antagonisms conspired to make the Irish in Britain the ‘largest unassimilable section of society’; ‘a people set apart and everywhere rejected and despised’.1 Perhaps unsurprisingly, most historians have focused on this key phase, for the reaction against the Irish sometimes was dramatic. However, the influx continued beyond the early Victorian years. Until after the First World War, the major industrial centres and smaller towns across Scotland and the north continued to receive waves of immigrants from Ireland.2 For many years, the Irish in inter-war Britain occupied something of a black hole.
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 1. Economy, Poverty and Emigration

Abstract
Since the early eighteenth century around eight million people have emigrated from Ireland.1 Of this number, perhaps five million left in the first seven decades of the nineteenth century. Indeed, by the middle of that century, the tradition of leaving Ireland had expanded so significantly that young Irish men and women had a one in three chance of emigrating, and by 1890 around 40 per cent of all Irish-born people were living outside their country of birth.2 While in most countries the passage of people was dwarfed by enormous natural increases in population, in the case of Ireland massive rates of departure were exacerbated by the effects of increased celibacy, a higher mean age at marriage and other lifestyle factors, which combined to ensure that its population fell into steep decline. Between 1841 and 1901, the Irish population halved from more than eight million to approximately four million. Mass emigration was a feature of Irish life long before other European countries. Ireland emitted a higher proportion of her people than any other country and a greater absolute number of emigrants than even much larger countries like England. As a consequence, whatever the impact of emigration upon European society in general, the overall effects were many times greater in Ireland’s case. The uniqueness of Ireland’s migratory story is also strengthened by the sheer volume of female emigrants.
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 2. Concentration and Dispersal: Irish Labour Migration to Britain

Abstract
Historians have portrayed Irish settlement during the Industrial Revolution as heroic, hectic and tragic. While Irish settlers were well represented in the social reportage of the day as figures of pity and loathing in equal measure, many were also acknowledged to be at the frontier of industrial expansion: hewing canals, laying railway and blasting docks. They also dominated the building trades which made Britain’s redbrick towns and cities. Many migrants fell into the worst jobs in textiles, tanning and chemicals, while the Irishman’s often-cited feats of strength and endurance were seen to be vital in some of the heaviest work, for example, dock labour, quarrying and mining. The Irish also seemed to dominate the marginal street economies of the big towns and cities: ‘The Irish deal in old things of all descriptions, [such as] bones, old tools, old clothes’, said the Procurator Fiscal of Greenock, George Williamson, who added, in true Engels-style, that ‘they also rear pigs in considerable numbers, and sometimes keep them in their houses.’ Williamson also noted that ‘they turn their hand to every description of low trade which is the fruit of industry, and requires almost no capital.’1
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 3. Spiritual and Social Bonds: The Culture of Irish Catholicism

Abstract
In 1836, Fr. Ignatius Collingridge, the English priest of St Chad’s Catholic church in Birmingham, paid the Irish a loaded compliment. Although he argued that they were ‘much more charitable to one another in sickness, and in all distress, than the English’, he went on to say that this character trait was ‘the natural effect of the general obloquy and wretchedness in which they all find themselves equally involved’.1 While Collingridge’s view aligns with what was often written about migrants during the ‘Condition of England’ crisis, it is surprising that he did not emphasize the role played by his religion in forging such bonds within the Irish flock, for the intimate character of Irish Catholicism was clearly enforced by the shared experience of migration and settlement. Surely this would have been influential in the kindness which one migrant might show to another?
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 4. The Protestant Irish

Abstract
The historiography of the Irish Diaspora has concentrated disproportionately on the Catholic dimensions of emigration, especially the great waves of people who left during and after the Famine. Except for the Ulster Scots emigrants of the eighteenth century, the emigration of Ireland’s Protestants has been seriously underexamined.1 This is despite the fact that it has been argued they were at least as significant in numbers as their Catholic counterparts.2 What, then, has prompted the oversight? Historians of course are attracted to features of the past which are prominent. The historiography of Irish migration generally concentrated on the migration of poor Catholics at least partly because of the powerful, negative messages conveyed by their experiences: opprobrium, violence and negativity abound in the reportage of their lives. Images of Irish Catholics as a rejected and racialized out-group, excluded by prejudices such as the infamous ‘No Irish Need Apply’ notices, remain as durable elements of the popular consciousness of a group which does not associate itself with Protestantism, Irish or otherwise.3 By contrast, Irish Protestants in America stressed the similarities between Protestant migrants and the receiving country, their ease of transition into the host community and their foundational importance in manufacturing modern America’s self-image. As one historian remarked, the Scotch Irish were ‘full Americans almost from the moment they took up their farms in the back country’.4
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 5. Politics, Labour and Participation

Abstract
Between the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, a bewildering array of social and political movements drew support from the Irish in Britain.1 Indeed, the number and range of indigenous and Irish organizations that at various times reached out to the Irish suggests that the migrants’ often-cited marginality was determined as much by their political importance as by their alienation. Despite a record of wide participation, however, Irish migrants are often viewed as a people isolated by their culture and nationality. Labour historians in particular blame the iron grip of the Catholic Church, or the distraction of Home Rule politics, when arguing that ordinary Irish migrants were largely unmoved by the economic and social imperatives of class-based organizations. More recent research has, however, questioned the formulation of ‘ethnicity’ and ‘class’ as distinct phenomena. Fielding considered that Irish migrants in Britain were subject to influences of both ethnic and class types. ‘That this produced what, from the outside, appeared a confusing, incoherent cultural amalgam is’, he added perceptively, ‘due to the preconception of the observer and not the culture itself.’2
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 6. Gender and Ethnicity

Abstract
For Irish women, as for their men, migration was a life choice shaped by structural forces beyond their control and mediated through a developing cultural expectation that leaving Ireland was a rational response. Migration also had other motivations: it was deeply rooted in personal decision-making. What makes later nineteenth-century Irish emigration so striking is the balance of emigration types, searchingly described by Fitzpatrick and revealed in diverse primary sources. For one thing, ‘Irish emigration was essentially a family movement.’1 Whether entire families moved together, or individuals moved alone, they did so with reference to families and kin at home. Rates of female migrants virtually matched those of males during our period, making Ireland unique in a European context. Far from being primarily a movement of single males looking for work, migration was an engagement of women too. While whole families and communities disappeared abroad, this type of uprooting became less common after 1850, a factor Fitzpatrick attributes to greater stability in Ireland.2 Furthermore, once individuals had left they sent remittances home to bring families out to join them. Otherwise individuals left under their own steam, influenced in the direction of their migration by the prospect of finding fellow family members or friends in new communities across Britain.
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 7. A Culture of Anti-Irishness

Abstract
Wherever in the world they settled, Irish migrants were often the victims of antipathy and violence. In Liverpool and Glasgow, sectarian riots remained a feature of communal life until the Second World War; even smaller industrial towns in the north of England were prone to acute communal disorder, with savage fighting and occasional fatalities proving to be quite common. While the social problems attendant upon industrialism partly explain the violence, they are not enough to explain the extraordinary passions stirred up by the Irish. The extent and range of antipathy was too great to be explained by social dislocation alone. More telling is the fact that in both Britain and North America the dominant Protestant religion was vehemently anti-Catholic, for this acutely affected the reception of the much-despised ‘Paddy’, a Victorian image of deeply historical formulation, attributable to ‘an odd compound of religious, social and political elements, of the rational and irrational’.1 Although anti-Irish behaviour was a part of British life from the Middle Ages, though the mid-Victorian years — between the Famine and the emergence of the Home Rule movement — saw by far the most intense examples.2 Physical violence and psychological abuse were the result of living cheek-byjowl in often poor neighbourhoods with fellow working-class toilers; but they were also a measure of native workers’ inchoate and inarticulate enmity towards Ireland itself. Religion, perceived Irish criminality, workplace tension and organized sectarianism each contributed to the anti-Irish tenor of Victorian life, but so too did cultural and political differences between these nations. Discord imparted a sense of national identity.3
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 8. The Irish in Britain and the Atlantic Diaspora: Connections and Comparisons

Abstract
The Irish who settled in Britain during the long nineteenth century are best understood as part of a wider movement of people in the Atlantic world. The pace and direction of migration flows leaving Ireland were determined by a variety of factors, from individual ‘chain’ connections between friends and families and socio-economic circumstances in Ireland, to transportation costs and the state of each potential place of destination relative to other alternatives. During the eighteenth century, at the same time as noticeable Irish migrations began to spread to the northern towns and industrial regions of Britain, far greater numbers began moving to the American colonies. From the American Revolution to the Famine, Britain was major receiver of Irish migrants. Canada’s greatest phase of Irish immigration also occurred in these decades. But in the 1830s, and especially in the 1840s and 1850s, the United States stridently entered the market for Irish labour and was, from the period of hunger and famine until the 1930s, the pre-eminent recipient of the Irish.
Donald M. MacRaild

Chapter 9. Conclusion

Abstract
During the mid-1930s, as Britain began slowly to emerge from the Depression, The Times commented unfavourably on the continued influx of Irish immigrants. Although such immigrants would again be in demand during the Second World War, for now they met the sort of opposition which had habitually accompanied them when the merest suggest of wage competition emerged. The Times reckoned that the migrations which had occurred since the Great Famine of the 1840s, which had flowed so strongly into the north-west of England, had been manageable because these Irish had choices. ‘The more adventurous’ headed for the United States of the Dominions, but even those (by implication supposedly the less adventurous) who headed for Liverpool or Glasgow were accepted because there was labouring work for them. The Times contrasted this happy situation with the Depression years:
But now there are practically no alternatives before then, for since the War America and the Dominions have been almost closed to immigrants of the lower grade. So they flow into this country with undiminished hope of employment, though casual and unskilled labour is no longer in demand. In Liverpool and Bootle area are still 91,000 unemployed.1
Donald M. MacRaild
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