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The Irish

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In this article, Sheridan Gilley looks at the rich history surrounding Irish immigration abroad.

The crowds which packed the exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite painting in the Tate Gallery last year saw Walter Howell Deverell's picture of 1853-4, 'The Irish Vagrants ', showing a pauper family beside an English road. One man is asleep, a second is sunk in dejection, a sleeping infant clasps a woman impressive and impassive in despair, while two half-naked children stand, one of them pleading for alms from an unheeding lady riding by. The painting is a Christian Socialist comment on a great natural calamity, the Irish pauper influx into Britain in 1845-51 in the wake of the Irish Famine. Yet that fight from starvation only hastened an existing trend: Irish immigration was a trickle in 1790s, a stream in the 1820s, a river in the 1840s, and a flood from the late 1840s as the Irish-born population of England and Wales rose from 291,000 in 1841 to 520,000 in 1851, reached its peak of 602,000 in 1861, at about 3 per cent of the total population, and fell to 427,000 at the end of the century.

These figures do not, however, include the children of immigrants born in Britain, while as a proportion of the total population, the statistics for the Irish-born in Scotland are still more striking: 128,000 in 184J and 207,000 in 1851, or 7 per cent of the Scottish population, remaining roughly at this level for fifty years: the figure in l901 was 2C5,000. Most of these immigrants settled in the industrial towns of Lancashire and Western Scotland, especially in Liverpool and Glasgow, and in London, with smaller concentrations in the midlands, the north and Yorkshire. In London, the largest Irish settlement in absolute numbers, the Irish were about 5 per cent of the population in 1861, though this rose to nearly a quarter in Liverpool, and 18 per cent in 13undee. Through this concentration in towns and cities, they stood out from the host population by their poverty, nationality, race and religion.


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