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Culture and Festivals
The contribution of the Irish to the enrichment of British life and culture is both incalculable and difficult to consider separately. As Eamonn Hughes observed, writing in 1998 on the fiction of 'Irish-Britain': 'Irish society and culture have contributed for so long to the British socio-cultural entity as to be a constitutive part of it'. Read more about sport and the pub.
The exchange of cultural influences has been always been a two-way process but it has never been the subject of direct official record. If it is not a 'problem', it has not been a concern and so relevant records are more difficult to identify.
Over the years there has also been a problem of selective reporting. Too often the media has run stories about poverty and crime, and has hinted at Irish antecedents in them, but has ignored or underplayed the Irish origins of those who have attained international renown in their own fields. Too often it has been forgotten that playwrights, from Sheridan to Shaw; writers like CS Lewis and Elizabeth Bowen; poets like Cecil Day-Lewis and Louis MacNeice; composers, like Michael Balfe; social reformers, such as Dr Barnado; and even Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail, were all born in Ireland, both north and south and come from a variety of traditions.
Is the 'invisibility' of Irish roots the product of a complex process of assimilation or, if in some way it involves a dilution of 'Irishness', where does the essence of that Irishness lie? One means of publicly expressing a community's individuality and traditions has been through parades and festivals. For the protestant community the summer marching season is an important affirmation of their identity. And for Irish people all over the world St Patrick's day (17th March) has become an opportunity to celebrate Irish life and culture.
The Orange Order, also known as the Loyal Orange Institution, is the largest Protestant organisation in Northern Ireland today, with an estimated membership of 60,000. It is organised in lodges, not unlike those of the Masonic Order, which have spread through Irish communities throughout the world.
The order was founded in 1795 after a Protestant victory at Loughgall, County Armagh, known as the Battle of the Diamond. It is named after the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James in the Battle of the Boyne on 12 July, 1690. The first large scale processions on 12 July to celebrate King William's victory were in 1797.
The movement spread to England. This could be a result of English and Scots soldiers, who had served in Ireland during the repression of the 1798 rebellion, joining lodges in Ireland and then bringing the ethos back.
A number of regiments in the army established their own lodges and, by 1830, there were 30 such lodges, with around a thousand members, and 235 civilian lodges with 6,000 members. Civilian lodges were often established by Protestant textile workers. As early as 1803 a 12 July parade was held in Oldham.
The first Grand Lodge of the English Orange Institution was established in 1808 in Manchester where, the previous July, there had been rioting between rival groups at an Orange Lodge procession. It is interesting to note that the report on this riot in Cowdrey's Manchester Gazette stated that 'parading with sashes has very properly been suppressed in this town for a few years back and we regret that it was revived on this occasion'.
Nuttall's guide contains a listing of 75 English lodges and it also records Orange songs, such as Boyne Water, and loyal toasts. It shows 23 lodges in the Manchester area, all in textile towns. Many lodges met in local pubs - Manchester's Lodge No1 met at The Highlander and Lodge No3 at The Prince of Wales. It specifically denied that the Orange Order was anti-Catholic, stating 'an Orange-man has no animosity to a Papist as such; but, on the contrary, he respects every loyal man of that and of every other religious persuasion'.
A more concise guide was published in 1813 as The Orange Institution: A Slight Sketch.
However, Orange Parades became associated with ritualised confrontations in some northern towns. On 12 July 1819, a parade of about 90 Orangemen marching towards the largely Irish Catholic district of Vauxhall, with images of 'the lamb, the ark, the Bible, men dressed in ermine, pontifical robes etc', was attacked by a stone-throwing Irish crowd.
Ill feeling ran in both directions, in extreme cases, rioting could lead to killings, with anti-Catholic hostility in mid-Victorian England further stirred up by 'No-Popery' demagogues such as William Murphy. In the riots at Cleator Moor in 1884, one Irish Catholic was killed and the event was denounced in the Irish Liberatorof 19 July as 'Orange Ruffianism'.
In 1835 the Duke of Cumberland, Grand Master of the Orange order in England, was accused of involvement in the "Fairman Plot" to oust Princess Victoria from the succession to the throne. After a hostile Parliamentary enquiry, the Grand Lodge was disbanded.
After the Grand Lodge was dissolved in 1836, Liverpool became the centre of the Orange movement in England. The movement split into two groups - the Orange Institution and the Orange Association - that merged in 1874.
In Liverpool, 12 July became known as 'Carpenters' Day', acknowledging the Protestant Irish dominance of this trade. By 1900, there were 17,000 lodge members in Liverpool and Orange marches played an important part in the city's working-class culture.
Religious rioting is a favourite summer amusement among the submerged tenth in Liverpool. A so-called band, playing party tunes, will readily collect a Saturday or Sunday crowd of followers, who chant taunting airs, and regard stone-throwing and window-smashing as exhilarating pastimes. Of course, no self-respecting Irishman, catholic or protestant, associates with this ignorant rabble; but, as orange and green colours are used, Ireland gets the blame for this rowdyism.
Anon, The Irishman in Liverpool (1907)
Such Orange and Catholic clashes in Liverpool continued well into the 20th century. In Pat O'Mara's Authobiography of a Liverpool Slummy, he recalls seeing an Orange Parade in Netherfield Road:
A huge crowd of our worst enemies (the 'O's') with bands and banners carrying inscriptions that made our blood boil, surged around us. Orange everywhere and not a bit of green ! I had never known there were so many enthusiastic Protestants.
Pat O'Mara, Autobiography of a Liverpool Slummy (London,1934)
Ritual hostility has survived in football rivalry in other towns, for example between supporters of Glasgow Celtic, the 'Catholic' team, and 'Protestant' Rangers.
It would be a mistake, however, to think of the Orange Order only in terms of parades and clashes. It was also a social club that might provide a range of practical benefits to its members, and it could provide a means of local networking, not unlike the Freemasons.
For labouring men, lodge meetings in public houses were social occasions in which drinking and singing were significant attractions, but lodge membership had attractions other than social drinking. If lodge officials were foremen or employers in the locality, membership could bring an element of job security to other lodge members. In addition, the various offices within a lodge and the quasi-religious ceremonies carried on at lodge meetings, gave a sense of importance to many uneducated men denied them elsewhere.
The same could be said of organisations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which acted as a focal point for many people's social lives arranging meetings, lectures and social events such as dances.
The Orange Order still exists in England today although 12 July processions are now a rarity. In June 1982 Luton's Evening Post reported an Orange Parade in the town to mark the Battle of the Boyne that was attended by members of other English lodges, but these do not appear to have become an annual event.
Some local lodges now have their own web-sites. These include the Bedford Bible and Crown Defenders (LOL 71) originally formed in 1938 by James Hughes of Clones, Co Monaghan and revived again in 1997.
St Patrick's Day, which is celebrated on 17 March, has long ceased to be simply the celebration of a saint's day. It has become an international celebration of Irish culture, characterized by parades, music, dancing and events in communities with large Irish populations from New York to Luton.
In the 19th century, St Patrick's Day increasingly became associated with the nationalist movement. It was the Gaelic League who campaigned for St Patrick's Day to become an official public holiday in Ireland, which it did in 1903.
London celebrated on St Patrick's Night with an Irish concert at St James' Hall and shamrock was sold in the streets.
In 1901, the Church of the Most Holy Trinity at Dockhead began to celebrate St Patrick's Day with a High Mass in Irish. According to historian, David Fitzpatrick, 'by the turn of the century church manipulation of the Patrician ritual had rendered a once volatile occasion bland and even amusing, a folk festival conducted by beaming priests before an indulgent British audience...so long as Irishness signified nothing more sinister than saints and shamrocks, it could be treated with benevolence by British Catholics, Protestants and unbelievers alike'. Read more about The Catholic Church.
Local churches organised their own local processions on saint's days and festivals, and these often provided an occasion for wearing one's best clothes to demonstrate the community's status.
In 20th century England, the regularity of St Patrick's Day parades acted as something of a barometer of a local Irish community's confidence in itself.
For example, many ceased to be held in the mid-1970s in the aftermath of the IRA bombing campaigns in mainland Britain. At the time, many Irish people in this country felt that they had to keep as low a profile as possible. Conversely, moves towards a peace settlement in Northern Ireland 20 years later saw the revival of parades in many places.
Over the last century St Patrick's Day has become somewhat commercialised, with an ever-widening range of souvenir products available to buy. The 2002 St Patrick's Day parade was claimed to be the largest ever to be held in London.
Since the resurgence of Irish dancing in the 1990s, lead by the Irish-American, Michael Flatley, in the international Riverdance phenomenon, Irish dancing has never been so popular. It was a rather different story, however, a century ago.
Living London records that the Gaelic League 'holds meetings for practice every Monday evening, when jigs, three-part and four-part reels, "heel and toe", "cover the buckle", and other complicated steps are taught to novices or practiced by experts'. As this photograph reveals, traditional Irish dancing around 1900 did not necessarily involve the wearing of 'traditional' Irish costume. This evolved during the 20th century as a colourful and distinctive Irish dancing dress. It is said that a group of London-based Irish, visiting Macroom feis (festival) in August 1900 were the first to wear the kilt - an interesting example of how malleable Irish culture could be. Dance halls in towns and cities in England were an important social venue where Irish people could meet.
[Source: Croydon Museum Service]
There are now a number of schools of Irish dancing in areas where Irish people have settled, and groups from these schools compete in dancing events both nationally and internationally.
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann, established in 1951, is an international organisation that actively promotes the traditional music, language and dance of Ireland, including Set Dancing and Cheilidh dancing.
It organises an annual Fleadh Cheoil (Festival of Music) in Ireland and in Britain, a Fleadh na Breataine (All-Britain Fleadh Cheoil) and regional Fleadhanna, as well as local classes in instruments, old and new, that have become associated with Irish music. These include the accordian, concertina, whistle, fiddle, guitar, uileann pipes, banjo and bodhran. The Fleadh Cheoil aims to establish standards in Irish traditional music through competitions, but Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann also promotes concerts, céilithe, parades, pageants, and street sessions.
Charles McNamara recalls dances at The George Hotel, ceilidh dancing at the Connaught Rooms and dancing on St Patrick's Day in Luton in the 1950s and 1960s. Tom Bourke remembers dancing at The George on a three shilling ticket.
Many leading dramatists, actors and actresses of the 'English' stage have been Irish. In the 19th century, these included Dion Boucicault, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
Other notable literary figures of Irish birth or descent include Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Olivia Manning, Elizabeth Bowen, Iris Murdoch and the Bronte sisters, whose father Patrick had been born Patrick Prunty in Ireland.
Irish comedians have long been a feature of popular entertainment in Britain - recent examples include Dylan Moran, Sean Hughes, Dave Allen, Graham Norton and Frank Carson.
Ireland in London by FA Fahy and DJ O'Donoghue (1889) provides a tour of the city, noting sites associated with many famous Irish residents, past and present, and is included in full as a Moving Here source.
Notable Irish journalists who came to England in the 19th century include: William Howard Russell, who covered the Crimean War for the Times, TP O'Connor; Justin McCarthy; Frank Harris; Charles Williams, founder of the Press Club; Alfred Harmsworth, founder of the Daily Mail and owner of The Times, and Michael Whitty, who established the Liverpool Daily Post, Britain's first penny daily newspaper.
In recent times, Irish journalists, TV reporters and presenters who have become household names include Orla Guerin, Fergal Keane, Donal Macintyre and Dermot Murnaghan.
In the 19th century, many Irish artists and sculptors came to England to live and work, finding they were able to get more commissions, patrons and buyers than they could at home.
Born in Ennis in 1786, William Mulready's family moved to London when he was six. He entered the Royal Academy School in 1800 and became a member of the Royal Academy in 1816.
His early pictures were mainly landscapes, but he later turned to subjects like Old Caspar and The Carpenter's Shop. His last work, The Toyseller, is in the National Gallery of Ireland, but some of his best pictures are in London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Daniel Maclise, born in Cork, also came to London to study at the Royal Academy School. He is probably best known for his sweeping narrative history pictures, some of which adorn the Houses of Parliament.
Other Irish artists who have lived in London include James Arthur O'Connor, John Lavery and William Orpen. Not all Irish artists in England were based in London, however. Francis Danby, the landscape painter, lived in Exmouth and William Davis, another landscape painter, in Liverpool. Jack Butler Yeats worked in England and Paul Henry was said to have discovered landscape painting while living in Surrey.
Leech was one of a number of Irish illustrators who worked for the satirical magazine Punch in the 19th century. Others included John Doyle and Harry Furniss.
The statue of Prince Albert and the 'Asia' carvings on the Albert Memorial were the work of Dublin-born, John Henry Foley, whose other works include the statue of John Hampden outside the Houses of Parliament. Other Irish sculptors who helped create the Albert Memorial included Samuel Lynn, Patrick MacDowell and John Lawlor.
Many other leading Irish sculptors of the 19th century, such as John Hogan and John Carew, worked in England as well. Notable architects working in England in the 19th century include Thomas Deane of Deane and Woodward, who used the O'Shea brothers from Ballyhooley in Cork to carve details on buildings such as Oxford's Natural History Museum.
Irish speakers lose some of their innate dignity when they turn to speaking English. And what would kill you altogether is that none of the descendants of these men will ever speak a word of Irish in their lives. .. if any of them get married over here (and few of them will be able to afford to go back and settle down there), it's in English their family will be reared, even if they themselves speak the old tongue as a lot of the Gaeltacht people here do. So all this Irish that could be handed on to another generation is going to waste. Seeing that this is so, it's a miserable Government that won't do their best to keep these people at home.
Donall MacAmhlaigh came to England from Kilkenny in 1951. His autobiography, originally published in Irish as Dialann Deorai, laments the loss of Irish speakers through emigration.
Referring to the Irish nurses at the Northampton hospital where he came to work, he felt, 'they weren't very Gaelic. ..I feel more of a foreigner with them than I do with the foreigners themselves. .. they have the most revolting English idioms at the tips of their tongues - such as "you've had it , mate" and "crikey". There's something demeaning about the Irish person that imitates the English or other people.'
MacAmhlaigh was not the first Irishman to write in Irish about living in England. One of the earliest novels in Irish was Deoraiocht (Exile) by Padraic O Conaire, published in 1910, about an Irishman living in London.
Conversely, speaking English was a problem for some 19th century emigrants to England. We know that some spoke only Irish, as courts sometimes had to use translators to hear their evidence. John Denvir, the Liverpool nationalist, recalled in his autobiography, The Life Story of an Old Rebel that, in his youth, 'nearly all in Crosbie Street were from the West of Ireland, and amongst them there was scarcely anything but Irish spoken'. However, this rarely survived to the next generation.
The Irish language had long been in decline in Ireland itself. By the time of the 1851 census of Ireland, the first to include a question on spoken Irish, English had already become the language of most Irish people. There were only 1,24,286 Irish speakers, about 23% of the population, of whom 319, 602 spoke only Irish.
By 1891, the Irish speaking population had fallen to 14.5% (680,245) with only 38,121 speaking Irish alone. Douglas Hyde's plea that it was 'a national duty .. for all those who speak Irish to speak it to their children also, and to take care that the growing generation shall know it as well as themselves' went largely unheeded among the mass of the people.
The Gaelic League was established in 1893 with the aim of reversing this trend and to promote the Irish language. It had nearly 600 branches in Ireland within 15 years, and opened a branch in London in 1893.
Language was only part of the Gaelic Revival which also extended to literature, music, dances and games, even the revival of Irish industries. By 1902, the League had about 1,000 members in London and was said to be running 15 Irish schools, as well evening classes at the Athenaeum Hall in Tottenham Court Road for those who wished to learn Gaelic.
Living London (1902) reported that 'amongst [the members] are some who, though born and bred in London and speaking English without a trace of accent, are well acquainted with the sweet native tongue of their forefathers'.
In Catholic schools language classes were promoted; a monthly journal Inis Fail was published and annual exhibitions of Irish goods were held.
By 1906, the London branch of the League had 3,000 members and London County Council had been persuaded to place Irish on the same footing as French and German in its language classes. There was also an annual musical festival at the Queen's Hall for traditional music and Gaelic songs. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, London became an important centre for the Gaelic revival. Living London (1902) describes London's Irish Literary Society as 'more and more the chief centre of social intercourse for the Irish in London', by which the author meant middle-class Irish professionals.
Founded in 1891, the Society had grown out of Southwark Literary Irish Club, set up in 1883 by Galway-born, Francis Fahy. This London civil servant was also a poet, author and lecturer, and President of London's Gaelic League. A similar role was played by the Irish Texts Society that sought to publish early Irish manuscripts.
Support for the Gaelic League came largely from Irish-born people working in London - postal officials, teachers and minor civil servants. It was often the case that those who strove to develop a self-consciously Irish community in London were those who looked to return to Ireland themselves, rather than plant permanent roots in England.
The revival of Irish was associated with the resurgence of Irish nationalism and the (questionable) view that looking back to Gaelic tradition was the only authentic way to be Irish.
One older organisation that became associated with the nationalist movement, although with features not dissimilar to freemasonry, was the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Members had to be good Catholics, Irish or of Irish descent, and of good and moral character.
Creators: Aidan Lawes
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