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|Work in the Docks and Irish Labourers on the Manchester Ship Canal|
The Manchester Ship Canal was built between 1887 and 1893, linking Manchester to Eastham on the estuary of the river Mersey. Sixteen thousand men were employed on its construction. Some of them were Irish labourers. Although no staff records or wages accounts have survived to tell us who these were, census records from 1891 can be used to identify some of them:
The household of Dennis McDermott of Galway, a farm labourer, shows ten Irish 'Ship Canal Labourers', aged 19-35, mainly from Mayo, lodging with him in 1891.
The life of the navy was a hard one and the pay 4 old pence an hour, which could mean three shillings and sixpence for a full day's work. Skilled workers on piece rates could earn up to seven shillings a day.
Many Irish-born people in port cities, such as Liverpool, Cardiff and London, became dockers. This was another tough, physically demanding job. A survey of the employment of 1,000 Irishmen in Liverpool as part of the 1891 census found nearly half working as dock labourers. The work could be relatively well-paid for those in regular employment. An article on the London Irish in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for 1901 estimated that an Irish stevedore earned on average about £2 a week, but casuals might only make 8-12 shillings. The article emphasised the importance of the waterfront as a source of employment and, therefore, as a magnet for close settlement:
The whole of Tower Hamlets is thickly populated by them. They are being ousted by the Jews from St George's in the East, despite such forcible arguments as broken Semitic windows. But Wapping has a solidly Irish quarter; so has Limehouse, between Commercial Road and the Thames... so has Poplar. If the riverside industries are taken together... they must account for quite a fourth of the employed. And full 70% of them are London-born.
In Booth's survey of London - Life and Labour - the future Beatrice Webb commented on the large numbers of Irish casual dockers in the East End of the 1880s:
Paddy enjoys more than his proportional share of dock work with its privileges and its miseries. He is to be found especially among the irregular hands, disliking as a rule the 'six to six' business for six days of the week. The cockney-born Irishman, as distinguished from the immigrant, is not favourably looked upon by the majority of employers.
Creators: Aidan Lawes
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