Irish communities

   The Irish community is the largest ethnic group in Britain. In the last population census, over 800,000 people described themselves as ‘Irish’. Irish people and Irish affairs have a long and not always positive place in Britain and British history. Crucial to understanding the status of the Irish in Britain is the historical and current relationship between the two islands, especially the fact that Ireland was a colony of Britain until the creation of an independent Irish state in 1922.
   Irish people have been coming to work and live in mainland Britain for over three hundred years, and their experience in many respects prefigured the experiences of other immigrants to Britain, in terms of discrimination, hostility and inferior treatment. A graphic illustration of this is the notices displayed in windows of some lodging houses in the 1950s which declared ‘No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs’. While there has always been an Irish community in Britain, with the Great Irish Famine of 1845–8, a steady wave of emigration from Ireland to Britain began and continues to this day. Up until recently, those who came from Ireland worked in and were associated with particular professions such as the construction industry (Irish ‘navvies’ helping to build the infrastructure of Britain in the last century), nursing, domestic service, mining and agriculture. Recently this has changed, with Irish immigrants increasingly being young, educated professionals who have tended to find employment in the financial services sector, banking, management positions in British and foreign corporations and the education sector. Historically, the Irish community has been concentrated in a number of cities such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. Victorian anti-Irish prejudice saw the Irish as feckless, untrustworthy, workshy drunkards and/ or as amusing, entertaining but ultimately ‘inferior’ people. The attitude persists in various caricatures and shapes perceptions of the Irish in Britain in conjunction with the continuing ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland. However, in recent years there has been a new confidence and vitality within the Irish community in Britain. ‘Irishness’ now has a new fashionable status, stemming from the current international appeal of everything Irish from traditional music and dance, such as the success of ‘Riverdance’, to the rock group U2 (one of the world’s foremost bands). In contrast to the majority of its history and experience in Britain, the Irish community now is proud of its identity, traditions and culture. Evidence of this newfound confidence is its demands for inclusion on the population census and its increasing political organization in calling attention to the continuing problems faced by many within the Irish community, such as disproportionately high levels of mental illness, homelessness and ill health.
   See also: Ireland
   Further reading
    Holohan, A. (1995) Working Lives: The Irish in Britain, Reading: Eastern Press.
    Kearney, R. (ed.) (1990) Migrations: The Irish at Home and Abroad, Dublin: Wolfhound Press.
   JOHN BARRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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