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Culture and Festivals
My daughter feels so Irish...She feels very strongly .. she says 'my mother is Irish, so I am Irish'
I don't want to sever those roots .. it's part of my identity, of me. My daughter particularly ... feels at home in Ireland. I find it hard to understand an emotional attachment I don't have, but if she wants it...but a sense of family is more important than the Irish thing.
Exile or opportunity. Irish nurses and midwives in Britain by Mary Daniel (1993) Mary Daniel's study is available on the web as a pdf document.
Few of the documentary sources within the Moving Here project describe what it was like to grow up as the child of Irish parents living in England. From mid-19th century Leicester, there are extracts from Tom Barclay's Memories and Medleys: the Autobiography of a Bottle-washer (Leicester, 1934); from early 20th century Liverpool, extracts from A Liverpool Irish Slummy by Pat O'Mara (London, 1934), and from Reading in the 1970s, extracts from Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh's Beginning (London, 1989). Robert Collis's autobiography The Silver Fleece (London, 1936) tells of his return to Rugby School after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and the reaction of his classmates.
School records do not always identify a child as having Irish parents. This can only be deduced from surnames of other evidence. They also tell us little of the experience of education from a child's point of view. For those attending Catholic schools, the main purpose was to produce good Catholics, not to reinforce their Irish heritage. Neither Irish language nor Irish history normally appeared on the curriculum and some historians have suggested that such schools had the effect of weakening Irish national identity.
Oral history provides interesting insights into the experience of growing up, as with Mrs Ashcroft's account of life in Trafford Park, Manchester and Cathy O' Mally's experiences of Luton. The presence or absence of an Irish accent in such recordings provides its own evidence of the extent to which assimilation has taken place, for this is one of the most obvious indicators of Irish nationality.
The actor Kenneth Branagh's family moved to Reading from Belfast in the early 1970s, 'not a good time to be Irish' as he recalls in his autobiography:
I longed just to blend in. After a year or so I'd managed to become English at school and remain Irish at home. It was a dreadfully uneasy compromise about which I suffered inordinate guilt . For as long as I could, I kept up the double life, but my voice gradually took on the twang of suburbia.
Kenneth Branagh, Beginning, (London, 1989)
For many Irish children, and for migrants who came from rural parts of Ireland, memories of childhood are strongly associated with life in the countryside. Even those who were born and lived in Dublin may have spent their long summer holidays with relatives on a farm. Liam Purcell spent his summers at the family farm near Johnstown, Kilkenny.
We went up the boreen and into the old farmhouse where a turf fire was always burning on the flagstone floor beneath the chimney. The magnificent Bawnmore hospitality was expressed; 'You are always welcome here', was repeated and repeated and indeed you did feel immediately at home. Every body joined in the welcome. Dogs would come out of their deep sleep beside the fire and go rushing about and cats would stop their grooming and observe. My cousins and neighbours would ask about all in Dublin and within a short time you were absorbed into the country farm regime. There were always jobs to be done at any time of the day. Water to be drawn from the freezing cold spring well with the corrugated lid in the lower field and turf to be brought down from the shed for the days heating and cooking. Cows to be herded in for milking, hens and calves to be fed, not to mention the major tasks of working in the fields and the bog itself.
Cutting peat in the traditional way was one powerful memory.
On other days we went to the bog to work on the turf. Each of the families around Bawnmore had their own bank of turf going back generations and from this their year's supply of turf was cut. A large slicing knife was used to cut off the heather and crumbly dry turf for the first few feet and then you got to brown turf, gradually changing to black turf that was the best for burning. Brother got cutting with his slean, an Irish word for this cutting instrument. There was water on one side from previous cuttings and he would work down spit by spit and whip up the turf sod by sod to me who placed them onto a wooden barrow to be wheeled out over the heather to dry. During all this work he was often chatting away and if he felt that you were not paying attention you could get a wet smelly, turf sod in your face. After the turf dried for a bit and formed a crust it was turned over and then put into small stacks, then larger clumps and eventually drawn home.
[Source : Liam Purcell (Community Gallery)]
In contrast with Liam Purcell's experience, Mrs Ashworth was born in Dublin in 1953 and her family moved to Trafford Park in 1957, where her father was working for Allied Engineering Industries, later to become the General Electric Company.
We lived on Eleven Street, my first memory of Trafford Park was arriving on the day with a big furniture van full of stuff and all the neighbours came out to see what was going on and at the time we weren't that popular because there were a lot of Irish immigrants coming over and there was quite a lot or racism about at the time, but my first memories were settling down and going to school there and getting to know other kids but I used to find it quite difficult because I had an Irish accent and the kids couldn't understand what I was saying and I used to have this accent that I had at school and this Irish accent that I had at home which took quite a lot of getting used to really.
She recalls how cramped inner city life seemed to her as a child:
Well I hated it really because we had come from Dublin and we lived in the countryside. We lived just outside the city and we had a lovely house and a big garden, and then to suddenly be thrown into this dirty, filthy, smoke-ridden place - it was quite difficult. And my mother used to comment on how awful it was, when we went out to play we used to come in absolutely filthy and she could never understand you know, cos' there was nowhere to play, there was the park and mainly the back entrance really, in the back yards.
[Source : NWSA]
Children can be cruel towards those who seem 'different', often learning intolerance from adults, as Tom Barclay recalled of his childhood in mid-19th century Leicester -
'Hurroo Mick !' 'Ye Awrish Paddywack.' 'Arrah, bad luck to the ship that brought ye over!'
Tom Barclay, Memories and Medleys: the Autobiography of a Bottle-washer (Leicester, 1934) [Source : BL]
One common defensive reaction to this was to reply in kind. In Tom's family, 'the Sassenach was regarded by us with a mixture of contempt and hatred'. This did not leave an enduring legacy of bitterness, however, and he was to reject race-hatred in favour of tolerance - 'The Irishman differs from the Scot, the Cambrian from the Tyneside man: let them emulate the other: let us copy the characteristics that are best in one another'.
Another way of reacting was to such situations was to try and assimilate by keeping a low profile or losing an accent. This could create tensions between life at home and life at school.
For my father, the move had been easy. He had been living in England part-time for three years and apart from a greater natural confidence he had already made the tiny adjustments in speech that allowed for instant understanding in a social context. For my mother it was not so easy. There were endless arguments between her and my brother about her accent and our non-English status ... He was in daily fights at his secondary school and chose to deal with the disorientation by changing his accent almost immediately and completely.
Kenneth Branagh, Beginning, (London, 1989)
Did education reinforce or undermine Irish cultural identity ? The historian Mary Hickman has argued that
'the strong cultural institutions created in the 19th century - police forces, schools, mass media - engaged in a process of nationalizing the national identity: Britishness.. educational reform sought to build the political subject and in so doing constructed the state'.
For many 19th century observers, religion was the most obvious cultural difference, in that most Irish migrants were Catholic in a country that had, at times, associated Catholicism with disloyalty to the State. At first, provision for Catholic migrants - the building of churches and the provision of schools for Catholics - was largely left to private enterprise and the Catholic Church.
Liverpool's Hibernian School was founded in 1807 by the Benevolent Society of St. Patrick to educate 'Poor Children descended from Poor Irish Parents'. It was funded by private charity and the names of benefactors are prominently recorded. In the 1830s, the Marchioness of Clanricarde was Lady Patron of the school.
Minute books and annual reports are held by Liverpool Record Office. By 1870, according to the Annual Report for that year, the Benevolent Society had ceased to exist, 'children of Welsh parentage are almost as numerous as those of Irish'. In 1873, the remaining pupils were transferred to Liverpool School Board and this was subsequently amalgamated with a local Welsh charity school and then with St. Columba's Church School in Pleasant St.
Unfortunately no registers for the school prior to 1880 survive. By that time it had lost its distinctively Irish association but the minute books, from which this report is taken, sometimes mention individual pupils. The minutes for August 3rd 1831 mention the departure of Peter McIvoy - 'gone to Ireland' and Matthew Scallion - 'in a shop on trial'. The Annual Report for 1831 stated that 6050 children had been educated at the school since 1807 and that it was open to all denominations. Rewards, such as clogs or shoes, were given to children who performed well.
State grant aid for Catholic schools was introduced in 1847 and the Catholic Church set up the Catholic Poor School Committee to receive it. Thereafter, the state became increasingly involved in education, through grants for school-building, teacher-training and then directly to schools that followed its curriculum and this has generated records, at least at policy level.
This issue of The Catholic School states that 'wherever there are Catholics belonging to the labouring class, there ought to be a Catholic school ... every mission should have its school; so education will becomingly proceed as the handmaid of religion'. By the 1870s, church school places were available to most Catholic children in some towns, such as Salford and Oldham, yet not in important centres of Irish settlement such as Liverpool and Manchester.
In some areas, Catholic pupils were associated with high truancy rates, such as at St. Peter's School, Seel St. in Liverpool. Pat O'Mara later attended this school, and described in his autobiography A Liverpool Irish Slummy. A report of 1868, in Liverpool Archives (942 DAN 1) notes that children admitted free to the school were 'almost without a single exception, unpunctual and irregular in their attendance; the parents (English-like though most were Irish) being perfectly careless as to whether or not their children accepted or refused that for which they themselves were not obliged to pay'.
By 1932, one-third of Liverpool's primary school age children were in Roman Catholic schools but of these nearly half were being taught in classes of over 50.
Mary Hickman has argued that strengthening Catholic identity was the main aim of these Catholic elementary schools and that they had the effect of weakening Irish national identity.
The success of the incorporatist strategy of the Church lay in its being the agency of a low public profile for the Irish in Britain. The production of this low public profile is frequently misrecognised as a process of assimilation
'The Irish invariably herd together' claimed the Morning Chronicle in 1849 and the 'Irish quarters' that developed in many 19th century English towns have been taken as visible proof of this. Go to Settling. This, however, has been exaggerated, both by contemporary observers and some later historians. Irish immigrants did cluster in particular streets but this was more a consequence of poverty, the 'chain migration' settlement of friends and relations, and the existence of rooms sub-let by Irish tenants.
David Fitzpatrick has pointed out that 'Irish householders in Liverpool were only slightly more "segregated" in 1871 than other migrants from England, Wales or Scotland, and their residential patterns were actually more like those of native Liverpudlians than was the case for either Scottish or Welsh settlers'. Census returns show how mixed these areas were, and also tracks the gradual spread of individuals away from city centres into the suburbs. And by the late 19th century, there was a new target for those who resented the immigrant and the refugee - Jews from central and eastern Europe.
Some witnesses who gave evidence to the 1836 report on the Irish poor in Britain saw the Irish as 'a distinct community in the midst of the English, and compared them in this respect with the Jews'. There were some Irish migrants who tried to re-create the conditions they had left behind at home, keeping pigs; sticking to a traditional diet of potatoes, milk and herrings rather than meat; speaking in Irish and holding wakes for their dead. This, however, was not the way forward for the development of a separate self-sustaining community. David Fitzpatrick concludes of the 19th century Irish immigrants to Britain that they 'generally retained their national identity without forming strong communal bonds away from home. Alienation from British customs and celebration of Irishness gradually became immaterial to the lives of those long settled in Britain'. As John O'Connor Power pointed out in an essay on the Irish in Britain in the Fortnightly Review in 1880: 'the great mass of the Irish who have settled in England are destined to remain in the land of their adoption. They have children born to them on English soil, all their worldly interests are centred in England, and their prospects in life are practically bounded by the English shore'.
By the early 20th century, there was, in some households, a fresh interest in Irish heritage as a result of the Gaelic revival but the significance of this should not be exaggerated. One pamphlet of 1907, The Liverpool Irishman, pointed out that: '90% of the Liverpool Irishmen are at present not connected with any Irish society in the city, There is no social bond of brotherhood uniting the people'.
To some extent, this pattern has been repeated in the 20th century. Irish migrants of the 1950s and 1960s have often focused their social lives around the local catholic church and Irish community but their children and grandchildren are less likely to do so. Read more about Segregation and Assimilation in Trafford Park, Manchester.
Irish men with London accents. An embarrassment ... Our children will be English. And if our children feel uncomfortable, their children won't. The truth is they're jealous of the black. A black's kids will still be black, and their kids and their kids. It's only the accents that keep us Irish, and the history. That goes. It all goes. With maybe a rump of Irish dancing lessons. Or a name. Englishmen called Liam. English women called Siobheann. Too many vowels.
Martin Meenan, Hard Love (1993)
Bronwen Walter has studied the long-term effects of assimilation in Bolton where, in 1861, nearly 8% of the population was Irish-born. By 1971, only 1.7% were Irish-born and the Irish in Bolton were 'identifiable only fragmentedly by name and religion'. She noted how the Irish immigrants of the 19th century might be compared to West Indians in the 20th -
the apparent loss of separate identity, or assimilation of earlier immigrants has encouraged the forecast of an "Irish future" for West Indians in contrast to the "Jewish future" of continued cultural pluralism for Asians
although the epithet "toasted Irish" for the West Indian community carries with it the implication of rapid assimilation, this may be neither universal nor inevitable.
Creators: Aidan Lawes
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