A bibliography of the Irish in Britain: first thoughts

As a historiographical exercise, I recently put together a bibliography of the Irish in 19th century Britain – you can find it here: https://uptheossroad.wordpress.com/bibliography-local-studies-of-the-irish-in-19th-century-britain/

There’s also a map, below:

I don’t presume to make any sweeping statements about this, particularly because there’s bound to be odd articles I’ve missed – it would be just my luck to say, well you know what’s really missing is an article about the Irish in Winchester, or Stoke, or Llandudno, and I’ll have overlooked it. So my first request is: I’d love to make this as comprehensive as possible: if you can add to it, please let me know.

That said, there are some interesting things here. Studies of the Irish in Britain almost always conclude that more local studies are needed, and I’d agree. There was no uniform experience of the Irish person in Britain in the 1800s. This list looks at the geographical range of experience, but of course life varied by gender, class, job, period, politics, and so on. Few of these local studies intersect place with one of these other factors. Key exceptions are Donald MacRaild’s and others’ work on Protestant Irish and the Orange Order (though I can note that most references to Protestantism here look at it in the light of anti-Catholicism); work on gender and locality by Mary J Hickman, Karly S Kehoe, Martha Kanya-Forstner, and others; Neil Smith and Mervyn Busteed on middle-class Irishness.

There are some localities which dominate, and that’s to be expected: Liverpool, Manchester and London, and to a lesser extent Glasgow, are streets ahead of everything else. They had by far the most Irish immigrants of course, with longstanding migration routes and large amounts of unskilled work to do.

However, there are some towns which feel under-represented to me. Given the volume of Irish immigration into Lancashire, particularly following the famine of the 1840s, I was surprised not to see more studies in the smaller cotton towns: Bolton, Oldham, Wigan etc. On the Cheshire side of Manchester, Stockport feels light, and given the exuberance of the individuals who set up Confederate Clubs in places like Stalybridge, more study of these would be welcome.

Elsewhere, Birmingham has had few studies for its size and (and I would say this) the smaller towns of the Black Country are crying out for some research. A similar question could be raised about Sheffield, Leeds, and industrial Yorkshire. There are many counties which have nothing at all, and that’s understandable given the distribution of the Irish, but I think there’s a rich vein in seeking out small and disparate Irish communities – John Herson’s studies of Stafford demonstrate the detail and value that can be got from these.

Scotland and Wales have been served by some excellent edited surveys: Thomas Devine’s Irish immigrants and Scottish society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Irish Migrants in Modern Wales, edited by Paul O’Leary, do a great job of capturing a diversity of experience. There are plenty more towns that could be covered, and I’m particularly intrigued by the paucity of specific local studies of Edinburgh: it’s a city with a great tradition of urban history at the university, and famous James Connolly grew up there – surely if anyone would benefit from an origins story, it’s him.

I’d incline towards thinking that another set of local studies across Britain (in the light of the important volumes edited by Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley) could be due. The pace of new studies seems slightly slower at the moment than in previous years, but there’s evidently new research continuing: recent articles continue to push the boundaries of the historiography, like Jack Hepworth on Preston, Richard Kirkland on London, Andrew Maguire on the West Riding, Thomas Prendergast on Coventry.

I don’t really have any conclusions here, but a) I’d love to be corrected or updated on this list, and b) I’d be interested to hear what anyone else makes of it. I hope it’s useful!

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