Eddie Mulligan reviews Irish Migrants in Britain, 1815 - 1914: a documentary history by Roger Swift, Cork University Press £45.09 hbk
THIS IS an interesting study covering a range of issues concerning the Irish who emigrated to Britain between 1815 and 1914.
Divided into sections, each with an introduction in the form of a short history contextualizing the salient documents, it examines the conditions in Ireland that contributed to the emigration and gives examples of letters from relatives and friends who had earlier travelled as far away as Australia, extolling the virtues of their new homes.
It also examines the social, economic and health problems of the migrants and the fear and suspicion with which they were greeted by the indigenous population.
It includes details of the distribution of the settlement of the migrants, including a breakdown of employment and housing, with information, where possible, on family connections.
Swift deals with the way the migrants became involved in the British political process in various forms and how some took leading roles in the class struggle. It also provides some critical insights with the use of contemporaneous accounts of the activities of the Chartists and the Fenians, the general struggle for home rule and its opposition by the various unionist groupings.
There is a particularly interesting item from Gladstone’s diary showing his thoughts on the home rule debate.
This well researched and referenced volume is a useful source of reference and makes a considerable contribution to the growing body of knowledge on Irish history. Unfortunately, at over £45 it will be well beyond the price range of the general reader.
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