Irish migration to Great Britain has occurred from the earliest recorded history to the present. There has been a continuous movement of people between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain due to their proximity. This tide has ebbed and flowed in response to politics, economics and social conditions of both places. Ireland was a feudal Lordship of the Kings of England between 1171 and 1541; a Kingdom in personal union with the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Great Britain between 1542 and 1801; and politically united with Great Britain as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1922. Today, Ireland is divided between the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Today, millions of residents of Great Britain are either from Ireland or have Irish ancestry. It is estimated that as many as six million people living in the UK have at least one Irish grandparent (around 10% of the UK population).
The Irish diaspora (Irish: Diaspóra na nGael) refers to Irish people and their descendants who live outside Ireland. This article refers to those who reside in Great Britain, the largest island and principal territory of the United Kingdom.
During the Dark Ages, significant Irish settlement of western Britain took place. The 'traditional' view is that Gaelic language and culture was brought to Scotland, probably in the 4th century, by settlers from Ireland, who founded the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata on Scotland's west coast. This is based mostly on medieval writings from the 9th and 10th centuries. However, recently some archeologists have argued against this view, saying that there is no archeological or placename evidence for a migration or a takeover by a small group of elites. Due to the growth of Dál Riata, in both size and influence, Scotland became almost wholly Gaelic-speaking until Northumbrian English began to replace Gaelic in the Lowlands. Scottish Gaelic remained the dominant languages of the Highlands into the 19th century, but has since declined.
Before and during the Gregorian mission of 596 AD, Irish Christians such as Columba (521–97), Buriana, Diuma, Ceollach, Saint Machar, Saint Cathan, Saint Blane, Jaruman, Wyllow, Kessog, St Govan, Donnán of Eigg, Foillan and Saint Fursey began the conversion of the British, Picts and early English peoples. Modwenna and others were significant in the following century.
Some English monarchs, such as Oswiu of Northumbria (c. 612 – 15 February 670), Aldfrith (died 704 or 705) and Harold Godwinson (died 1066) were either raised in or sought refuge in Ireland, as did Welsh rulers such as Gruffudd ap Cynan. Alfred the Great may have spent some of his childhood in Ireland.
In the year 902 Vikings who had been forced out of Ireland were given permission by the English to settle in Wirral, in the north west of England. An Irish historical record known as "The Three Fragments" refers to a distinct group of settlers living among these Vikings as "Irishmen". Further evidence of this Irish migration to Wirral comes from the name of the village of Irby in Wirral, which means "settlement of the Irish", and St Bridget's church, which is known to have been founded by "Vikings from Ireland".
Irish people who made Britain their home in the later medieval era included Aoife MacMurrough, Princess of Leinster (1145–88), the poet Muireadhach Albanach (fl. 1213), the lawyer William of Drogheada (died 1245), Máel Muire Ó Lachtáin (died 1249), Malachias Hibernicus (fl. 1279–1300), Gilbert Ó Tigernaig (died 1323), Diarmait MacCairbre (executed 1490) and Germyn Lynch (fl. 1441–1483), all of whom made successful lives in Britain.
Historically, Irish immigrants to the United Kingdom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were considered over-represented amongst those appearing in court. However, research suggests that policing strategy may have put immigrants at a disadvantage by targeting only the most public forms of crime, while locals were more likely able to engage in the types of crimes that could be conducted behind locked doors. An analysis of historical courtroom records suggests that despite higher rates of arrest, immigrants were not systematically disadvantaged by the British court system in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Some notable people born in Ireland who settled in Great Britain between the 16th and 19th centuries:
The most significant exodus followed the worst of a series of potato crop failures in the 1840s - the Irish Potato Famine. It is estimated that more than one million people died and almost the same again emigrated. A further wave of emigration to England also took place between the 1930s, and 1960s by Irish escaping poor economic conditions following the establishment of the Irish Free State. This was furthered by the severe labour shortage in Britain during the mid-20th century, which depended largely on Irish immigrants to work in the areas of construction and domestic labour. The extent of the Irish contribution to Britain's construction industry in the 20th century may be gauged from Sir William MacAlpine's 1998 assertion that the contribution of the Irish to the success of his industry had been 'immeasurable'.
Ireland's population fell from more than 8 million to just 6.5 million between 1841 and 1851. A century later it had dropped to 4.3 million. By the late 19th century, emigration was heaviest from Ireland's most rural southern and western counties. Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary and Limerick alone provided nearly half of Ireland's emigrants. Some of this movement was temporary, made up of seasonal harvest labourers working in Britain and returning home for winter and spring. By the mid-1930s, Great Britain was the choice of many who had to leave Ireland. Britain's wartime economy (1939–45) and post-war boom attracted many Irish people to expanding cities and towns such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Luton. Prior to the 2000s financial crisis, ongoing sectarian violence and its economic aftermath was another major factor for immigration.
According to the UK 2001 Census, white Irish-born residents make up 1.2% of those living in England and Wales. In 1997, the Irish Government in its White Paper on Foreign Policy claimed that there were around two million Irish citizens living in Britain, the majority of them British-born. The 2001 Census also showed that Irish people are more likely to be employed in managerial or professional occupations than those classed as "White British".
As a result of the Irish financial crisis, emigration from Ireland has risen significantly. Data published in June 2011 showed that Irish emigration to Britain had risen by 25 per cent to 13,920 in 2010.
The term 'London Irish' relates to people born in London of Irish descent. London has Great Britain's biggest Irish population and there was a particularly big community in the (affectionately known) 'County Kilburn' area of northwest London. With urban gentrification and higher housing costs, many of London's working-class Irish-Catholic community have moved further out from Kilburn to Cricklewood.
Another large Irish community was in the Archway area, where many Irish "navvies" came to work in building railways and roads from the 1830s onwards. The community grew larger throughout the Famine years and then again after the Second World War when the Whittington Hospital in Archway recruited nurses from Ireland. This area became associated with Irish political activism with the election of Michael O'Halloran as MP for Islington North in 1969. O'Halloran referred to his supporters as "the Irish mafia". In 2017, a new public space outside Archway underground station was named "Navigator Square" after the Irish "navvies".
In 2001, there were 674,786 people in England (1.4 per cent of the population) who had been born in Ireland. This is the greatest concentration of Irish-born—as distinct from persons of Irish ancestry—abroad anywhere in the world and was equivalent to 12.1% of the population of the island of Ireland (5.6 million) in 2001.
This section possibly contains original research. (July 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Sports teams with links to the Irish community exist in England, although this is not as marked as in Scotland.
In football, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Leeds United, Everton, Manchester United have a tradition of representing the Irish communities in their area although unlike many clubs in Scotland they were not formed on the basis of representing the Irish community. For example, Arsenal has featured ethnically Irish players such as Liam Brady, Terry Neill, Pat Rice, Niall Quinn, David O'Leary and Graham Barrett. Aston Villa has featured many Irish players such as Steve Staunton, Paul McGrath, Richard Dunne and former managers David O'Leary and Martin O'Neill. Aston Villa has a large Irish following in the West Midlands which has the highest proportion of Irish people in the UK. Both Everton and Liverpool have roots in a Methodist church but Everton F.C. was often described as Liverpool's Irish Catholic team, probably because Everton had a number of Irish internationals in the 1950s. Liverpool F.C. was formed by a prominent Orangeman but this fact did not deter Liverpool people from a Catholic background supporting the team. Everton has notably produced Wayne Rooney who is of Irish descent and have recently featured promising Irish international Séamus Coleman; as were prominent Liverpool players who were Everton fans in their youth such as Jamie Carragher and Steve McManaman. Recently Jonjo Shelvey has become the latest in a line of Liverpool players with Irish heritage, going back to the days of Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton. Neither Liverpool nor Everton have a sectarian affiliation and many families are split in support of the clubs. With the managership of Sir Matt Busby, Manchester United also emerged as a club with a considerable Irish following both in Great Britain and in Ireland itself as well as having notable Irish stars like George Best, Norman Whiteside, Mal Donaghy, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane, and recently John O'Shea.
In Rugby league, Dewsbury Celtic represented the large Irish community in Dewsbury, and St. Helens represent communities in Merseyside. The rugby union club London Irish represents the community in London. There is also a GAA Londain (London in Irish) team representing the GAA clubs in London, that plays in the Connacht province (in Gaelic football) and Ulster (in hurling); see London GAA.
During the Great Famine of the 19th Century, Barrow-in-Furness was seen as a desirable location that many Irish (along with Scottish and Cornish) fled to. This was in part due to ease of access to reach the town's port from Ireland (particularly from Ulster), and secondly because it was a booming town as a result of the Industrial Revolution with guaranteed work, particularly in the emerging steelworks and shipbuilding industries in the town. At its peak, it was estimated that somewhere between 7-11% of Barrow's population were Irish or Scottish. As a result of this, to this day a huge number of Barrow's population are of Irish descent.
Birmingham has a large Irish community, dating back to the Industrial Revolution, it is estimated that Birmingham has the largest Irish population per capita in the UK. Digbeth is the traditional Irish area in Birmingham. During the 1950s Sparkbrook and Sparkhill were the main Irish areas. Today many Irish people live in areas such as Hall Green and Solihull. Birmingham has the UK's largest St Patricks Day's Parade (and the world's third biggest) and Britain's only 'Irish Quarter', with many traditional Irish pubs and the Birmingham Irish centre. Irish people have always moved to Birmingham for work especially for the construction, factory and industrial work which the city had to offer. Many Irish people moved to Birmingham to build canals, roads and railways in the city's industrial past. It is estimated a significant percentage of people from Birmingham have Irish ancestry. St Chad's Cathedral is one of only two of the minor Basilicas in the UK. It is very important as the first Catholic church built in Britain after the English Reformation, and was designed by the architect Augustus Pugin.
A large number settled here in the 1950s as work was scarce at home, especially in the South. Many found work in the mills and factories and encouraged other family members to come over as there were jobs waiting for them.
Bradford largely expanded into the city it is today during the 19th Century, due to jobs in the newly built textile mills attracting many immigrants in dire need of work. The population increase, in fact, saw Bradford go from a small town of 6000 in 1801, to 103,000 by 1851 according to records taken. Many of these newly arriving people were Irish escaping the Great Famine, and could easily take advantage of all the work Bradford had on offer due to the ease to reach there from Ireland. J B Hammond once commented on this, saying of the distance from Ireland to Yorkshire, "It was easier to reach Yorkshire from Ireland than from Norfolk or Dorset… Labourers who were sent to Lancashire were taken to London, put on a boat of Pickfords…carried to Manchester in four or five days at a cost of fourteen shillings. But an Irishman could cross to Liverpool in fourteen hours for two shillings and sixpence". In 1851, records showed that Bradford had the highest proportion of Irish-born people in Yorkshire at the time. In Donald M. MacRaid's book "Irish Migration in Modern Britain", he comments on research showing that a large number of Bradford's Irish originally came from County Mayo, County Sligo, County Dublin, and County Laois, with records also suggesting that there was a common migration trail at the time from County Roscommon to Bradford. Many of the Irish from Mayo and Sligo originated from a rural background, and at first struggled to adapt to urban life in Bradford. To this day, many residents of Bradford and the surrounding area are of Irish descent.
There was an Irish Diaspora Research Unit at the University of Bradford in the early 21st Century under Dr. Patrick O'Sullivan, but the Unit did not continue after he moved to New York University.
In the 1950s many thousands of Irish migrated to Braintree in Essex to meet the demands of the labour shortage primarily in the Courtauld's textile mills, both in Braintree and nearby Halstead. They also helped meet the need for labour both in Critall's main Braintree factory, and it secondary factory in nearby Witham.
Coventry had a large influx of Irish from around the middle of the 20th Century, when the city's motor industry was booming. To this day, Coventry remains one of the cities in the UK with a higher Irish population, and retains strong Irish links. The city council put the town's Irish population at 2.3% in 2009, higher than the UK national average of 1%, and additionally the Coventry Irish Society estimated that around 10% of the city's population are of Irish descent.
During the 19th Century, many of the towns in County Durham (the county Gateshead historically belonged to), which before that point had mostly been a rural county, began to take advantage of emerging new technology and discovered resources in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. This not only changed the face of the county, urbanizing much of it, but also led to expansion on a massive scale. People from all over the United Kingdom, ranging from the south of England to Ireland, moved to the area to take advantage of the large amount of work that these industries brought in roles such as coal mining and shipbuilding. As in many other instances around this time, it was the potato famine which caused many from Ireland in particular to be drawn to jobs in the County Durham area, and make the move. A further advantage was that the county was quite straightforward to reach from Ireland, due to easy access by rail to there from the western port of Whitehaven, itself easily accessible by ferry from Ireland itself (in particular, Ulster). Gateshead in particular was one of the towns that changed most significantly due to the events of Industrial Revolution, but moreover took in one of the largest numbers of Irish of all the County Durham towns. In 1871, the town was recorded as having the densest number of Irish-born in County Durham, at 6.7%, and a year later it was recorded that 1 in 4 people in the town were Irish. The town also went through a huge population increase, rising by approximately 100,000 people over the course of the 19th Century which the Irish undeniably contributed to. To this day, many people in the town are of Irish descent.
Similarly to Bradford, Halifax was a desirable location for Irish escaping the Great Famine due to ease of access to reach, and the fact that its growth into an industrial boomtown over the 19th Century coincided with the time of the famine. Many of the jobs on offer in Halifax were in newly opened cotton spinning mills, opened as a result of taking adavantage of technological innovation in the then emerging textile industry. There were said to be as many as 24 mills in the town by 1850. The Irish contributed to its population growth from around 9000 in 1800, to 25000 by the middle of the century. In 1872, records showed that the Irish numbered "from a sixth to an eighth of the population" in Halifax, with it also being noted that "the political strength of the Irish people in Halifax is considerable". Irish heritage still lives on in Halifax through the likes of the town's football team, Halifax Irish F.C.
As Heywood developed into a mill town during the Industrial Revolution, this brought a large number of new residents to the town, including many Irish escaping the potato famine. Additionally, many Irish migrants took up jobs in the area working as 'navvies' on the local railway, a fact that still lives on in the town's legacy as some say that these navvies may have been the influence behind Heywood's nickname, 'Monkey Town'.
Also situated in County Durham, the story behind why many Irish moved to Jarrow is similar to that of Gateshead. Shipbuilding, in particular, drew many of them to Jarrow. The town to this day is still sometimes nicknamed 'Little Ireland', and has a large Catholic community, as a result of the sheer number of Irish who moved there.
During the Industrial Revolution, Keighley flourished in the textile and weaving industries, which encouraged many Irish fleeing the potato famine and looking for work to move there. This resulted in a significant Irish community, and to this day the town still has a large number of inhabitants of Irish descent. The Irish redefined aspects of Keighley as a town significantly. It was once commented that the (then fairly new) Irish community in Keighley "contributed more to the Home-Rule than [in] either of the populous towns of Glasgow or Liverpool". The influence of the Irish also led to there being a large Catholic community in Keighley, which has lived on in both Catholic churches and schools that exist in the town today.
There is an Irish community in Leeds, although it is generally smaller than in other large cities in Britain. The Leeds Irish Centre is on York Road on the east side of the city. The nearby area of East End Park is the area most associated with Leeds's Irish community. In the years after the Famine, 3.3% of Leeds's population was Irish-born. There was a particular concentration of migrants from the Irish county of Mayo. A book on the subject of migration from Ireland to Leeds in the 20th Century was published in 2010: Taking The Boat: The Irish in Leeds, 1931-81
Liverpool traditionally is known as having the strongest Irish heritage of any British city, with the possible exception of Glasgow. The large number of Irish here originates from the city's port being close to Ireland, which made it in easy reach for all those escaping the potato famine during the 1800s. The Irish have played a major role in Liverpool's population and social fabric for a good part of the city's eight-hundred year history. A lot of Liverpudlians have some Irish ancestry, their Irish ancestors are most likely to have come to Liverpool in the 19th century. The Irish influence is heard in the local Liverpool dialect, often called Scouse, and seen in the faces and names of the populace. At least three of Liverpool's most famous citizens, The Beatles, had some Irish ancestry. George Harrison was partly of maternal Irish-Catholic derivation. Bandmate Sir Paul McCartney had one Irish grandfather and an Irish great-grandfather. John Lennon's father's family were the descendants of Irish migrants who came to Liverpool in the 19th century. Liverpool's Irish heritage is further highlighted by it being the only English city to have a significant Orange Order membership. The Irish have also come to be as much of a staple of Merseyside in general, as of Liverpool itself. Many of the towns which surround the city in the county, such as Crosby, Widnes, Birkenhead, Newton-le-Willows, Wallasey, Bootle and Moreton, have many ethnic Irish people, and have also inherited the Scouse accent. Likewise, numerous overspill towns were built to house Liverpool's population in the years that followed, or took in a significant amount of Liverpool overspill, such as Huyton, Kirkby, Skelmersdale, Litherland, Winsford, Halewood, Runcorn and Warrington, and consequently these also have many people of Irish descent.
Manchester has strong and long established Irish connections. It has been estimated that around 35% of Manchester's population has some Irish ancestry. As in Liverpool, city residents of Irish heritage have been influential in the music industry. All four members of the Smiths had Irish roots, as do the Gallagher brothers of the band Oasis. Gary Mounfield (Mani), bass player of the Stone Roses had an Irish mother. Manchester holds an annual Irish Festival each March, including one of the UK's largest St Patrick's Day parades.
Middlesbrough during the latter half of the 19th century had the second highest percentage of Irish born migrants in England after Liverpool. In terms of the overall population, 9.2% of Middlesbrough's inhabitants were Irish born in the 1871 census. During the late 19th century, Middlesbrough became a world leader in the Steel and Iron industry and with the rapid growth of the town, the expanse of newly opened blast furnaces attracted many workers and their families to the Middlesbrough area. Unlike many other towns in England at the time, Middlesbrough showed no signs of sectarianism or segregation within the various communities that lived alongside each other, there were no "Irish quarters" and the many Irish that settled in Middlesbrough integrated into their adopted home. This was most likely as a result of the town's infancy, it was essentially a migrant town. Although the number of Irish born currently residing in Middlesbrough may not be as substantial as it once was, Middlesbrough retains a strong Irish connection and heritage through the ancestry of many residents.
Sunderland was another place in County Durham that many Irish escaping the famine saw as desirable. Once dubbed "the largest shipbuilding town in the world", the city largely expanded into what it is today as a result of the number of people this work, and the demand for manual labour in other local jobs such as coal mining and chemical works, encouraged to move there. The Irish were one of the most significant groups who took advantage of the demand for labour and moved there, and consequently many people in Sunderland today have Irish heritage. The city also celebrates St. Patrick's Day.
Due to its port and close proximity to Ireland, similarly to Liverpool, Whitehaven was an easy way of accessing England for the Irish, especially when escaping the potato famine of the 19th Century. Thousands passed through the town to move on to work for themselves elsewhere in England, such as the aforementioned County Durham, however many also stayed in the area and many people in the town still have Irish heritage today.
Widnes became a boom town during the Industrial Revolution, having a successful chemical industry brought on by a factory opened in the town in 1847, which led to many Irish workers (among others from Wales, Poland and Lithuania) moving there for work. Further making Widnes advantageous for the Irish to move to was its close proximity to Liverpool. Since then, a large number of overspill from the neighbouring city of Liverpool have brought many more people of Irish descent to Widnes too, particularly in areas at the west end of the town such as Ditton and Hough Green, where overspill are still moved.
Wolverhampton prospered during the Industrial Revolution, particularly having successful iron and locomotive industries, which attracted many Irish escaping the potato famine. As well as this, Wolverhampton had a longstanding Roman Catholic community from as early as the 18th Century, leading to the city sometimes being nicknamed 'Little Rome', which began to attract Irish to the city from an early stage.
There are long standing migration links between Scotland and the Province of Ulster, especially between County Donegal, County Antrim and County Down with the west coast of Scotland. Considering the Dal Riada kingdoms and the gaelicisation of Scotland in the early Middle Ages, it is difficult to determine how many Scots have genetic ancestry from Ireland historically or how many were Picts who adopted Irish lifestyles, although the general consensus is that both happened as Pictish culture vanished by the 11th century. In 2001, around 55,000 people in Scotland (1.1 per cent of the Scottish population) had been born in Ireland, while people of Irish (either Protestant or Catholic) ancestry make up 20% of the Scottish population. Scotland has a greater number of persons born in Northern Ireland and County Donegal (0.66 per cent) than in the rest of the Republic of Ireland (0.43%). Despite having lower than average numbers of Irish people resident the Lanarkshire town of Coatbridge is more than 50% Catholic. The town is populated by the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th generation children of Irish immigrants, especially immigrants from County Donegal. In 2006 more than 28% of adults in Coatbridge had surnames with Irish origins. Coatbridge holds the largest St. Patrick's Day Festival in Scotland.
Famous Scots of Irish-Catholic ancestry include actors Sir Sean Connery, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, James McAvoy and Robbie Coltrane; comedians Billy Connolly and Frankie Boyle; singers Susan Boyle, Fran Healy and David Byrne; historians Prof. Tom Devine and Prof. Michael Lynch; footballers like Jimmy McGrory and Ray Houghton; politicians like James Connolly (the trade unionist and Easter Rising leader), Jim Murphy (the current British Shadow Defence Secretary), and socialist political figure Tommy Sheridan; television presenter Lorraine Kelly; businessmen like Sir Thomas Lipton; and writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. A. J. Cronin, John Byrne and Andrew O'Hagan.
Support for particular football teams often reflects Catholic or Protestant heritage. Celtic are overwhelmingly supported by people from a Catholic background though not exclusively. Hibernian and Dundee United were formed as clubs representing Irish Catholics, however there is little vestige of these founding values today. Teams such as Dundee (though founded before Dundee United on entirely secular grounds), Heart of Midlothian and Lanarkshire teams such as Motherwell and Airdrie are contentiously perceived by some as Protestant clubs. Rangers are seen as having retained a Protestant identity, despite signing a number of high-profile Catholic players since the 1980s.
Today a very small minority of the Irish Catholic community in Scotland take part in Irish republican marches (mainly in Strathclyde) though these marches do not have exclusively Catholics in attendance with many Protestants and others of various faiths or none involved, and the Orange Order has a large membership in Scotland, predominantly in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. As well as Scotland's own parades, many Scottish bands parade in Northern Ireland on or around 12 July.
Starting in the 4th century AD, Irish raiders settled Wales extensively, their impact being so great that many Gaelic words were introduced into the Welsh language. Many Irish emigrants came to Wales as a result of the famine of 1845–52. They were often very poor, and seen as carrying "famine fever" (typhus), but over time they acquired a notable presence—in the thousands, particularly in the Welsh coal mining towns in and around Swansea and Newport. In 2001 there were 20,569 people in Wales (0.7% of the population) who had been born in Ireland.
The Irish language has a long history in Britain. Gaels came to Britain between the 4th to 5th centuries and established Irish speaking communities in the west coast of Scotland that remain to this day. The waves of immigrants from Ireland that settled in British communities in the 19th century included speakers of Irish but English became the norm. However, there are regular gatherings of Irish speakers in London, Glasgow and Manchester and lessons available in several British cities including Hammersmith, Camden, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and Cardiff.
The 2001 UK census was the first which allowed British citizens to express an Irish ethnicity. In all previous British censuses, figures for the Irish community were based on Irish birthplace. The percentage claiming White Irish descent in England and Wales was 1.2 per cent, with the highest concentration found in the London Borough of Brent, where they made up 6.9 per cent of the population, while the figure for Scotland was 0.98 per cent. The Irish have been the largest source of immigrants to Britain for over 200 years and as many as six million people in the UK are estimated to have at least one Irish grandparent.
This section needs additional citations for verification. (May 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Additionally, the 2011 census listed the following towns and cities as having the largest Irish populations (note that this list does not contain towns and cities with a population of less than 15,000):
Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated throughout Great Britain, owing to many British people's ancestral links with Ireland as well as the general popularity of the event. Birmingham and Manchester have particularly large parades.