Archive for 'Irish'

English: Plaque in Waterford, Ireland honoring .

Plaque in Waterford, Ireland honoring . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A large percentage of modern Newfoundland residents can trace their heritage to Irish ancestry. Throughout the island, you’ll find that surnames, culture, and even accents speak strongly to the largely Irish heritage. Some have even called Newfoundland “the other Ireland.”

Irish migration to Newfoundland began as early as the 17th century; however it only really reached its peak by the late 18th and early 19th century. Beginning in the 1670s, English ships began calling in ports along the southern coast of Ireland. The ships would stock up on salt pork, beef, cheese, butter, and other foodstuffs for the Newfoundland fisheries and the hundreds of fishermen travelling there.

As the English fisheries expanded in subsequent decades, they also began to recruit labourers as they stopped in ports along the Irish coast. Ireland was replete with young, poor men who jumped at the opportunity for employment abroad – even if only for a season. Most of the Irishmen had little experience in the fishing industry; however, they found work aplenty as agricultural workers and servants for fishing merchants.

Since the English vessels charted their route along the south eastern coast of Ireland, most of these migrants originated from the immediate region. The majority had roots in Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Cork, and Tipperary.

For many years there was much “to-ing and fro-ing”, as workers migrated each year to work at the fisheries. This kept a strong link between the two islands, and allowed the Newfoundland Irish to keep up with the political and cultural developments back home.

Approximate location of the 'Irish Shore' on t...

Approximate location of the ‘Irish Shore’ on the Avalon Peninsula. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These early migrants would leave Irish ports in the spring, and work on plantations or in the cod fisheries for a season. Some stayed longer, putting in two summers and a winter before returning home. While a few chose to settle in permanently, these were hugely outnumbered by the seasonal migrants.

By the early 1700s, the Irish workers had grown fairly experienced in the fishing industry, and were becoming an increasingly important part of the business. The fisheries had seen a decline in English labourers due to war, so the ship masters and merchants had naturally turned to the ready force of Irish workmen.

Each year, the number of seasonal migrants increased. Some workers tucked away money season after season until they were able to become planters themselves – and they in turn began recruiting additional Irish labourers. By the 1770s and 1780s, over 5000 men passed through Irish ports each year, headed for Newfoundland fisheries.

In time, the fishing industry expanded to become a year-round resident operation. As the old migratory fishing patterns collapsed in 1790, so did much of the seasonal migration. The temporary migration quickly evolved into permanent emigration as families settled and formed strong Irish communities.

Irish migration to Newfoundland peaked in the 19th century, as approximately 35,000 Irish migrants made the voyage. Unlike Ireland at the time, Newfoundland was experiencing an age of prosperity, offering an attractive alternative for many who remained in the Old Country. By the 1840s, nearly 50% of Newfoundland’s population was made up of Irish residents.

During the 19th century, Ireland saw a rapid increase in unemployment. Thousands suffered in poverty, and were often regarded as “permanent deadweight”, “feckless”, or a “redundant” population. Because so many were desperate for jobs, employers were able to reduce wages even further – far below the proper acceptable level – leaving even the employed in dire straits.

English: engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'

‘Emigrants leaving Ireland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This left much of the population looking abroad for relief. Most had family or friends in America, and these fortunate folks often had their fares paid. There was a sizeable group, however, that had neither the connections nor the finances to move.

These poorest of the poor turned to England and Scotland for jobs. Before long, however, the English government became alarmed at the prospect of thousands of migrant paupers pouring across the borders and negatively affecting the native labour conditions. The British job market was already overloaded with English workers, and there were simply not enough resources to provide for the Irish influx.

Thus, a plan was conceived to fund assisted emigration programs. The British government and poor law unions along with independent philanthropists and landlords conspired to pay the fares of 300,000 of the most destitute in Ireland. Those sent abroad were typically able-bodied workers who simply could not find employment at home. These primarily included workhouse paupers, single women, and landless agricultural labourers. This group was overwhelmingly Catholic, and made up nearly 10% of the total migration.

A number of schemes were implemented, and each saw varying degrees of success. Some colonies such as New Zealand and Australia were desperate to attract skilled immigrants, and offered money or land grants to any Irish who chose to emigrate. Most, however, were sent to North America.

Conditions varied greatly for the newly arrived emigrants. Many struggled enormously, finding conditions abroad little better than back in Ireland. Some programs, however, were very successful.

A program led by Peter Robinson, for example, stands out as a highly successful venture. A select group of Irish emigrants was chosen from a number of estates in County Cork, as well as a few from estates in the southeast of Ireland. Stringent rules required emigrants to be Roman Catholic peasants under the age of 45.

English: Emigrants memorial, Larne. This statu...

Emigrants memorial, Larne. This statue in the Curran Park, Curran Road, Larne was unveiled in 1992 to commemorate the departure of the first emigrants from Larne to America. They left onboard the ?Friends Goodwill? in 1717. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roughly 300 families were selected, and each emigrant was given 70 acres of land in Canada’s Ottowa Valley. Emigrants would be required to pay an annual quit rent to the Crown at a rate of 2 pence per acre; however, each emigrant was provided with needed supplies, including food, seed corn and potatoes, cattle, and tools for building and farming. Log cabins were even constructed and clearings made on each settler’s land grant.

By contrast, other programs were significantly less successful. Those implemented during the Great Famine created the greatest hardships, as many schemes were enforced by landlords on unwilling evicted tenants. These were poorly funded ventures which generated great difficulty for both the emigrants and the host nations.

Overall, however, a great many of these assisted emigrants went on to prosper in their new homes. Despite the difficulties they faced, many made the courageous choices necessary and established prosperous settlements for following generations.

There has long been much coming and going between Ireland and England. In fact, historians note that a scattering of Irish names existed in Liverpool as early as 1378. However, it was when Liverpool gained prominence as a port city that it became the primary access point for Irish immigrants as they made their way to England.

Liverpool waterfront

Liverpool waterfront (Photo credit: djmcaleese)

The Irish population in England grew gradually through the 19th century. Many poor labourers, drovers and artisans emigrated due to economic reasons. They weren’t the only ones, however. Middle class Irish moved in and made their mark on the history of Liverpool. Michael Whitty, for example, founded the Liverpool Fire Brigade and the Liverpool Daily Post. William Brown was another prominent figure, who financed the building of the public library.

But the situation took a drastic downturn during the tragic Potato Famine which stretched from1846 to 1852. A succession of the worst potato crop failures led to massive poverty and starvation in Ireland. The potato was a staple food of the poor, especially in winter, and the loss of the crops was devastating. Over one million people lost their lives over the course of the famine.

The Irish escaped in droves, with approximately 1.3 million immigrants passing through the port in Liverpool. Though a substantial Irish population already existed in England, the enormous influx deeply impacted the city of Liverpool.

English: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Miss...

English: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Missouri in c.1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many immigrants saw Liverpool as a stepping stone on their way to the United States; however, a large number ended up staying on, making their homes in Liverpool. By the end of the famine in 1851, there were some 90,000 Irish born and living in Liverpool. In fact, the Irish immigrants made up about 25 percent of the town’s population.

Those that stayed in Liverpool gravitated toward established Irish communities. The Irish community developed predominantly around St. Anthony’s Church in Liverpool. Further Catholic churches quickly sprung up throughout the 19th century, providing a ballast for the droves of Irish immigrants.

Unfortunately, the Irish who arrived in Liverpool were starving, weak and extremely vulnerable. Certain groups sprung up almost immediately and found an easy livelihood taking the little money the immigrants possessed upon arriving on the Mersey docks. Many of the Irish immigrants quickly moved on; however, those who stayed near the docks were at great risk and were often preyed upon by the unsavoury characters.

Conditions worsened as the enormous volume of immigrants quickly exceeded the available housing and employment. The sanitary system was taxed to its limit – as was the Poor Law system. Liverpool taxpayers quickly became disgruntled, feeling that the immigrants were overburdening the Poor Law system.

Many Irish workers were forced to take low-paid, labour-intense jobs at the docks, processing plants, in the chemical industries, and as warehouse and construction workers. Irish women found even fewer opportunities, and were relegated to low-level jobs like hawking box chips and crushed sandstone residue.

To compound matters, typhus, dysentery and cholera swept through the population with epidemics so severe that floating hospitals and fever sheds were built along the Mersey. The overcrowded living quarters were breeding grounds for disease, and despite numerous attempts to improve sanitary conditions, “Irish Fever” persisted. In fact, at that time, life expectancy in the dock areas of Liverpool fell to the lowest in the country.

Eventually, the Irish came to dominate the Liverpool docks, and in fact had quite an impact on how the port developed. As Liverpool became a prominent port city, efficiency on the docks was a priority, and Irish dock workers played a huge role in making that possible. Irish “lumpers” loaded and unloaded cargo on the ships. Irish “carters” carted tobacco between the port and various private warehouses. Around 1900 Irish porters were employed in warehouses on the Liverpool docks. The Irish were involved with dock construction on the Mersey, and many found work as stevedores, sailors and ship’s firemen.

All-in-all, Liverpool just might not be the place it is today without the influence of the great Irish migration. The impact of the Irish on the city as a whole can still be felt today. After all, a couple of the most famous fellows to come out of Liverpool – John Lennon and Paul McCartney – do carry Irish surnames.

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