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One key issue dominated the political agenda for many Irish people living in England in the 19th century - Repeal of the Act of Union and Home Rule for Ireland. But for most people then as now, getting on with making a living was of paramount importance.
Within Parliament, a powerful Irish Nationalist political party emerged in the 1880s. Some members were Irishmen whose families had settled in England, such as Michael Davitt who became an MP.
The Home Rule issue split Gladstone's Liberal Party in the late 19th century and helped shape the Conservative and Unionist Party. When the Liberal Party reintroduced a Home Rule Bill in 1912, a campaign began to exclude the north-east of Ireland, an area with a strong Unionist and protestant majority. When war broke out in the summer of 1914 Home Rule was shelved for the duration and an agreement had been reached over partitioning Ireland. But the General Election of 1918 saw the near extinction of the Home Rule MPs, and the return of Sinn Fein MPs who were demanding complete independence from Britain and were determined to fight for this. In an effort to resolve the crisis Westminster passed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act establishing two separate Home Rule parliaments - one in Belfast, one in Dublin, but this was not enough for Sinn Fein. The eventual treaty signed in 1921 gave the Dublin government dominion status within the British Empire. Although this compromise was accepted by the majority of elected politicians and most of the voters, civil war broke out in the summer of 1922.
Civil war in Ireland between republicans and Free Staters ended with a truce in 1923 and a formal boundary between the Free State and Northern Ireland was established in December 1925.
Irish Freedom was a London-based nationalist newspaper published between 1939 and 1940. It provides an interesting perspective on the lives of Irish people in Britain at the time of an IRA bombing campaign and the outbreak of war in Europe.
Nationalists remained as opposed to the partition of Ireland, that left part of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, as unionists were determined to maintain the link.
The partition remains to this day and continues to affect the lives of Irish people, from both north and south of Ireland, living in this country. Sometimes political activity has involved lobbying for legislative change, both inside and outside Parliament. At other times it has exploded into violence, literally, through bombing campaigns which have spread to mainland Britain. innocent lives have been lost and the lives of others have been blighted by shock-waves of hostility.
Irish-born people such as John Doherty or those of Irish descent, such as Ben Tillett, were significant trade union pioneers in the 19th century. Politicians of Irish descent have also played a significant role in British politics, both locally and nationally, most notably within the Labour Party.
Nationalist activity in mainland Britain has veered between peaceful lobbying for legislative change and violence. Some commentators argued that the Irish vote in English constituencies could be a significant force for change and nationalist newspapers, such as Liverpool's Irish Programme, sought to raise political awareness among the Irish community.
An article in the Dublin paper, The Nation, in July 1872, claimed that 'there is today an Irish power in England which, if marshalled and led with one desire and one aim, would make the possession of power by an political party inimical to Irish interests or Irish rights an utter impossibility'. This exaggerated the reality. Only a minority of Irish people living in England were ever active nationalists.
In the second quarter of the 19th century, the Repeal of the Union campaign was led by Daniel O'Connell. Known as 'the Liberator', he was an Irish lawyer elected MP for County Clare in 1828. As a Catholic, he was barred from taking up his seat until the passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act the following year. This allowed Catholics to sit as MPs at Westminster and to be appointed to most public positions. By 1832, nearly half of the 105 Irish MPs supported the Repeal Movement, but it made little progress in Parliament.
In 1842, O'Connell launched the Loyal National Repeal Association to promote popular protest outside Parliament. However, even before O'Connell's death in 1847, the newly established Irish Confederation movement was demanding independence through violence. 'Young Ireland's' armed uprising in Tipperary the following year failed.
In England, O'Connell had initially supported the Chartist Movement. This was a radical programme for political reform which called for votes for all males, secret ballots, annual parliaments, equal electoral districts, payment of MPs and the abolition of property qualifications for MPs. Later he discouraged Irishmen from joining and there were clashes between Repealers and Chartists in 1841.
Other Irishmen who played a prominent role in the Chartist movement included the MP Feargus O'Connor and James Bronterre O'Brien. Irish workers took part in the Chartist General Strike of 1842.
In 1848, the Chartists made a direct appeal to Irish people in London : 'Irishmen resident in London, on the part of the democrats in England we extend to you the warm hand of fraternisation; your principles are ours, and our principles shall be yours' But despite a huge demonstration at Kennington Common that year, Chartism fizzled out.
Less public organisations also promoted the cause of repeal. These included local 'Ribbon' lodges, an extension of an Irish secret society and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic brotherhood. The National Brotherhood of St Patrick was founded in 1861 to 'secure the national independence of Ireland whether by parliamentary legislation or other means', and many of its branches recruited members to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was formed in 1858 to establish an Irish republic by force.
Many Irish communities publicly disassociated themselves from Fenianism and after the Clerkenwell explosion, an address, signed by 22,000 Irish people living in London, was sent to Queen Victoria condemning its perpetrators and pledging their loyalty.
An Amnesty Movement was established in London in 1869 to lobby for the release of Fenian convicts, and evidence of their activities can be found in the records of the Home Office.
Nationalist issues were also reflected in many of the newspapers published in England and produced for and by the Irish community. A number of examples feature in the Moving Here source materials which include issues of The Irish Liberator, a London weekly; the Liverpool based Irish Programme; the London Irish News; The Irish Exile; Irish Freedom and, from more recent times, the Irish Echo. Many of these were short-lived. Their low circulation figures and frequent failures perhaps indicate the relative apathy of many Irish people in England towards nationalism.
The purpose of the London-based Liberator and its sister paper, the United Irishman, was said to be
no pecuniary objects, no personal motives - one object alone is theirs, to act as the exponents of true Nationality, show the unfortunate condition of our native land and preach the doctrine for which Irishmen for the last 700 years have died.
In 1873 the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain was established in Manchester. It was replaced in 1881 by the National Land League of Britain, subsequently the Irish National League of Great Britain, which agitated for land reform in Ireland.
By the mid-1880s, the substantial Irish populations in many parts of Britain had formed Irish National League Clubs. Membership peaked in 1890 at 41,000 members and 630 branches. By 1908, the United Irish League could only claim about 25,000 members in this country. Some associations survived into modern times, though they became primarily social clubs, as was the case with Batley's Irish Democratic League Club.
A Hundred Years 1870-1970. The History of St. Mary of the Angels, Batley by Denis Walsh (1970). In some areas, Orange Lodges were set up.
The political influence of the Irish Nationalists peaked in 1885 when 86 Nationalist MPs, including TP O'Connor for Liverpool, were elected to Parliament. They held the balance of power between 335 Liberals and 249 Tories. Liberal Prime Minister, Gladstone, introduced a Home Rule Bill to set up a Parliament in Dublin with control over Irish domestic affairs, but 93 Liberal Unionists opposed the bill and it was defeated.
The Nationalists split into factions after Parnell, their leader, was involved in the O'Shea divorce case (1890) and a second Home Rule Bill, passed by the Commons in 1893, was rejected by the Lords. Not until 1914 was a Home Rule Bill forced through Parliament and, even then, Ulster unionists vowed to fight rather than accept it, arguing that 'Home Rule' equated to 'Rome Rule'.
When Home Rule was finally established in 1922, after the savage war of Independence, it was an uneasy compromise based on partition and some Irish nationalists in England continued to press for full independence.
The Irish Self-Determination League of Great Britain was formed in London in 1919. Its membership, confined to those of 'Irish birth or descent resident in Great Britain' peaked in 1921-22 at about 20,000, mainly from London, Manchester and Tyneside, and a small proportion of the 1.5 million people its secretary estimated to be eligible.
Its London-based newspaper, The Irish Exile, sold about 10,000 copies at its peak, but it ceased publication after the League broke up in 1922. The issue featured below expresses disappointment with the 1921 Treaty agreement, which established the Irish Free State, for its failure to deliver 'complete independence'.
In March 1922, a number of nationalist sympathisers, both Irish-born and of Irish descent and living in England, were deported to Dublin. They included Art O'Brian, editor of The Irish Exile and the main republican propagandist in England. There was no proper legal basis for this deportation and the deportees subsequently sued the government for compensation.
The records generated from this case provide a fascinating insight into the lives of Irish nationalists living in England in 1922. They feature detailed statements by deportees such as: Kathleen Brooks, a London-born teacher of Irish parents and member of the Gaelic League; Margaret Leonard, born in Ireland, and President of Liverpool CumannamBan (republican women's movement) and Arthur Fitzgerald O'Hara, tailor's fitter and President of the Manchester District Committee of the Irish Self-Determination League.
One particularly interesting statement comes from Anthony Mullarkey, a coal miner of Bedlington, Northumberland. He was an Irishman who had lived in England for 17 years, had joined the Tyneside Irish (25th Northumberland Fusiliers) in World War I and had been imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, charged with being Commanding Officer of the IRA at Newcastle.
Other Irish nationalist pressure groups in Britain in the 20th century include the Connolly Association - founded in 1938 and publisher of the bi-monthly Irish Democrat, copies of which are held by the British Library - and the Irish in Britain Representation Group, set up in 1981 'to foster a positive identity for the Irish in Britain and to give effective representation to our community at a national and local level'.
As Roger Swift has recently pointed out 'It is notoriously difficult to chart Irish Unionist activity among the Irish in Britain, and the subject has been largely ignored by historians'. This is partly because Irish Protestants were more likely to integrate quickly and therefore leave less of a trail to follow.
Politically, Irish Unionists in England were more likely to belong to the Conservative Party or the Liberal Unionists who emerged after 1886. Conservative politicians, like Lord Randolph Churchill, exploited 'the Orange Card' to frustrate their Liberal opponents. In Ireland, the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Association had been established in 1885 to oppose the Irish Nationalists and the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union was formed in 1886. By 1892, there were 23 Unionist MPs in Parliament, 19 from Ulster.
These Unionist associations were linked to the Orange Order, and in 1912 the Grand Orange Lodge of England helped organise a British Covenant, opposed to the extension of Home Rule to Ulster, by force if necessary.
The Unionist leader, Sir Edward Carson, gave a speech at Liverpool in September 1912. In it he said: 'I bring a simple message from the democracy of Belfast to the democracy of Liverpool. They tell you that they were born fellow-citizens in the same community that you were, and all they ask in their own simple way is that they should stay with you.'
During the Home Rule crisis of 1913-14, one Tory MP, FE Smith, claimed that Liverpool could supply the Ulster Volunteer Force with 10,000 men. When an Irish Volunteer Force was established in 1913, it did in fact recruit members from Liverpool.
Irish people, or those of Irish descent, have played a major role in the Labour Party, both nationally and locally. In recent times, they have included James Callaghan (Prime Minister 1976-1979), Denis Healey (Chancellor of the Exchequer 1974-1979) and Claire Short, Minister for International Development.
Kevin O'Connor's The Irish in Britain estimated that, of 363 Labour MPs in the House of Commons between 1966 and 1970, about 35 were of Irish descent. However, for them and for most of their constituents of Irish descent, political events in Ireland did not have the same pressing urgency that had affected their 19th century predecessors.
O'Connor quotes from an Anti-Partition League report of 1957 which noted: 'a striking absence of national sentiment in great numbers of the Irish-born population and particularly in the more recent and younger immigrants' and pointed out that, for the vast bulk of the Irish-born population, 'their primary concern is to make a living and, if possible, put some money aside'. How important is the Irish voter? Or the voter with Irish roots to politicians? Unlike the United States of America, there is not a substantial 'Irish' vote to be exploited.
James Callaghan said little about his background in his autobiography Time and Chance. Denis Healey's The Time of my Life (London, 1989) explains how his grandfather, John William Healey, a tailor, moved to Todmorden from a village near Enniskillen in the 19th century. One son became Labour mayor of Todmorden before switching to the Conservative Party. The other, Denis Healey's father, was a nationalist who asked his son at an election meeting in 1945 what the Labour Party's policy was on Irish unity. Healey recalls - 'I was flabbergasted. It never struck me that Irish unity could be a matter for political debate in Britain'.
Nearly 25 years later, he attended the Cabinet meeting that resolved to send troops to restore law and order in Northern Ireland - 'I could see no alternative,' he says, 'nor can I see one now'. In local politics, the Irish were slow to develop a distinctive presence. Bernard McAnulty of Newcastle upon Tyne is said to have been the first nationalist councillor. The Catholic working classes tended to support first the Liberals and then the Labour Party.
In Liverpool, some feared that continuing Irish immigration would eventually give Labour control of the city. The local Workingmen's Conservative Association excluded Catholics until 1935.
The most serious effect is political. They may give control to the local Labour Party, which in turn may gain control of the local government. In this event Liverpool will be dominated by Roman Catholics.
Comments attributed to Dr David, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, in 1937.
[Source : NA - LAB 8/16]
In more recent times, there have been Irish local councillors, such as Jim Walker of Croydon, Labour Councillor, and Irish Labour mayors, such as James Cussen of Luton.
In London, the Labour-dominated Greater London Council of the 1980s actively promoted Irish cultural events and community groups.
In 1939, the IRA launched a now largely forgotten bombing campaign in mainland Britain and bombs exploded in Manchester, Birmingham and Coventry. Five civilians were killed in Coventry on 25 August, and feelings against the Irish in Britain ran high.
Among those arrested for IRA activity in Britain in 1939 was the future author and playwright Brendan Behan.
The 1939 campaign was neither the first nor the last.
The IRA's predecessor was the Irish Republican Brotherhood, formed in 1858 to establish an Irish republic. It was supported, mainly financially, by the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States. Fenian activities ranged from armed raids on Canada to an attempt to seize the arsenal in Chester Castle.
In 1867, a number of Irish-American Fenian leaders were arrested in Manchester and in London. In Manchester two were rescued in a daring raid on a prison van in which a policeman, Sergeant Brett, was killed when the lock was shot off.
The three men later executed for his murder - Allen, Larkin and O'Brian - became known in nationalist circles as the 'Manchester Martyrs'. Mock funerals were held throughout Ireland for the 'Martyrs', and monuments to their memory can still be seen in many towns.
In London in December 1867, there was an attempt to rescue two Fenian prisoners from Clerkenwell Prison by blowing up the prison wall. It failed but 12 people were killed, including a seven year old girl, and over 120 injured. Michael Barrett was subsequently executed for the crime.
Further bombing campaigns in Britain, mainly involving Irish Americans and the Clan na Gael, which targeted army barracks, public buildings, bridges and London Underground stations, took place between 1881 and 1887.
In more recent times, there has been a spate of bombing campaigns on mainland Britain. There were attacks in the 1970s; the bombing of the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in 1984; at Warrington and in the City of London in 1993; and at Manchester's Arndale Centre and London's Canary Wharf in 1996.
By the 1980s the IRA increasingly believed that bombs on the mainland were more effective in advancing their cause than those in Northern Ireland. It could however be argued that these attacks actually strengthened the resolve of British politicians against making concessions to the terrorists, this was certainly the case with Margaret Thatcher. The impact on ordinary Irish people living in England was more obvious. The horrific Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings of 1974, in particular generated a ground swell of hostility against Irish people, described in Discrimination and the Irish Community in Britain by Mary Hickman and Bronwen Walter (Commission for Racial Equality, 1997).
The police were under great pressure to bring the killers to justice. Ten people were subsequently arrested for the pub bombings but, after long campaigns, the Court of Appeal eventually found that they had been wrongfully convicted. The 'Guildford Four' were released in 1989 and the 'Birmingham Six' in 1991.
This sort of hostile reaction was nothing new. One Irish doctor, looking to set up a practice in 1882 after the Phoenix Park murders in Dublin, encountered a 'wave of racial and religious prejudice sweeping over England' in their wake.
With the unreasoning force of virtuous indignation, good people were so carried off their heads that they judged everybody belonging to the country and creed of the murderers to be more or less responsible for the crime. But if their neighbours had judged them in the same way anent murders committed by their own criminal lunatics, they would have felt grievously wronged, and yet there would be as much reasoning the one judgement as the other.
James Mullin, The Story of a Toiler's Life, (Dublin,1921)
The English working-man has to struggle, with a competitor upon the lowest plane possible in a civilised country, who for this very reason requires less wages than any other. Nothing else is therefore possible than that, as Carlyle says, the wages of the English working-man should be forced down further and further in every branch in which the Irish compete with him.
The Condition of the Working Class in England Friedrich Engels, 1844 Some 19th-century commentators believed that Irish migrants posed a threat to the trade union movement by undercutting the wages of English workers. Similar accusations were made in the 1930s.
An inter-departmental committee investigated immigration from the Irish Free State and reported to Parliament in December 1937 that, far from depriving the English of work, it was difficult to find enough labour in this country for the 'heavy and arduous' labouring jobs they undertook. A similar conclusion was reached by the parliamentary report on the Irish poor in Britain that had been published over a century earlier.
It is true that employers did sometimes try to recruit Irish workers as strike-breakers, as was the case in the Preston Lock-out of 1854, but such moves were fiercely resisted, sometimes by existing employees who were Irish-born or of Irish descent.
However, as the historian David Fitzpatrick has pointed out,
The Irish of mid-century Britain were variously castigated as strike-breakers and as class conspirators, but seldom merited either insult. Unskilled, disorganised, too few to alter the prevailing wage level, the immigrants occupied a marginal and vulnerable position in a society which grossly overestimated their capacity for subversion.
Some pioneering trade unionists in England, such as John Doherty, were Irish-born. Others were involved in the Chartist movement and took part in the Chartist general strike of 1842.
Peter Hoey, originally from Drogheda, was a hand-loom weaver and trade unionist of Barnsley, and was imprisoned for two years for 'attending an unlawful assembly' in 1840.
Some Irish workers helped to form or joined friendly societies for mutual self-help.
Not until the 'New Unionism' of the late 19th century did unskilled workers begin to play a significant role in trade union activities. Many Irish immigrants worked as labourers and some important union organisers were Irish or of Irish descent.
In South Wales, the Irish trade unionist, Albert Kenny, established the National Amalgamated Labourers' Union. Other first and second generation Irish union leaders included Will Thorne (gasworkers); PJ King (alkali workers) and Jim Sexton. Perhaps the best known union leader of Irish descent was Bristol-born, Ben Tillett, whose mother was Irish. Tillett was one of the leaders of the great 1889 London Docks strike.
The important contribution of Irish-born people or those of Irish descent to the union movement has continued into modern times. John Deasy was chairman of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers Union in the 1920s and Katherine Daly was an important member of the Confederation of Health Service Employees in the 1960s.
Creators: Aidan Lawes
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