When Did You Come Over? The Irish Catholic Experience In Nineteenth Century Britain

2809 words - 11 pages

"I'll sing this song for Ireland,cause I'm a Glasgow Irishman,I'd love to see old Ireland free, I know it's gonna be,So I sing for Ireland."(Glasgow Irish, Charlie and the Bhoys)These words sung by Charlie and the Bhoys a Scottish band illustrate the important Celtic culture in Britain. Much is known about the cultural division between the Irish Catholics and their Anglo-Protestant rulers on the Emerald Isle. The mass migrations from Ireland in the nineteenth century transferred this cultural and economic divide across the Irish Sea to the industrial cities of Victorian Britain. This paper will examine the reasons for the existence of an important Irish Catholic Culture on the British mainland, looking specifically at the Irish immigrant experience in nineteenth century Britain. The economic and societal plight of nineteenth century Irish migrants in Britain, along with efforts of the Catholic Church allowed for maintenance of a distinct Celtic culture amongst the Irish communities in Britain.The Irish population was plagued with great demographic volatility in the nineteenth century. Between 1785 and 1841 the population of the small island nation doubled from 4 to 8 million. However, the growth was short lived and the census of 1851 shows that the population fell by approximately 20 per cent with one and a half million Irish emigrants flooding the ports of America, Canada, Australia, and Britain. The famine years started a wave of emigration that continued through to the end of the nineteenth century and beyond. By the census of 1901, the population of Ireland had fallen by approximately half leaving only 4.5 million residents on the Emerald Isle.The official estimate of emigrants leaving Ireland between the years of 1852 and 1910 is 4 million. These numbers do not match the number of Irish-born counted in the 1911 British census. Cormac O'Grada concludes that the figure of emigrants was 5 million rather than the traditional 4 million. Also he shows that the amount of Irish immigrants who settled in Britain has been significantly underestimated. It seems that movement across the Irish Sea was of far greater importance than many traditional estimates have implied. Emigration to Britain accounted not for the original estimate of one-eighth rather the share was between one-fifth and one-quarter.Thus, this group could amass to a number of over one-million migrants. They travelled the short distance across the Irish Sea and flooded into communities throughout Britain. They lived in family groups in the poor sectors of the British cities. In London, for example 85.1 per cent were living in households along with kin of which close to 70 per cent lived in households with at least 3 residents in 1851. As Karl Marx wrote, "Ireland has revenged herself upon England, socially by bestowing an Irish quarter in every industrial, maritime, and commercial town of any size." The Irish, a group that were ruled from afar since 1537 were, in the nineteenth century a...

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