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Merseyside History, Irish Immigration in Liverpool

IT seems difficult to define how long the Irish have been crossing the Irish Sea to settle in Liverpool. Muir (1907, p.304) notes that there were already Irish names among the Liverpudlian citizens as early as 1378. However large waves of immigration started only in the late 18th century. A writer in 1795 already noticed the great influx of Irish in the city.

Date Line

Historical Information

1800s The first important influx started after the rebellion of 1798. This marks the beginning of an unceasing immigration until it was relieved by the beginning of mass emigration to America. By the year 1800, the population was already approaching 80000; doubling in less than 20 years and poor and immigrants were crowded in the old part of the city. At this time Liverpool was also in full expansion benefiting of the industrial revolution with its seaport, and thus needed people. As Ireland belonged to the United Kingdom, its people could move to Britain and especially Liverpool very easily, in the same way that the Scottish or the Welsh. They rapidly hive together in specific area of city especially around Scotland Road and Vauxhall Road. This quick expansion contributed to the development of the unsanitary situation: building could not follow and in the absence of legislation, new housing did not respect the basic rules of hygiene, being built back to back, without water supply. From this time, with the growth of the Irish population, Irish people started playing an increasing role in the economic, political, social and religious life of the city.

In 1841, 20% of the Irish living in England and Wales were found in Merseyside.

1850s The second and bigger mass influx resulted from the Irish Potato Famine, which touched Ireland by the mid-1840s. Millions of desperate Irish people crossed the Irish Sea on dodgy vessels called 'coffin ships'. Very often these overloaded ships reached Liverpool after losing a third of their passengers to disease, hunger and other causes. Liverpool was for a lot of them only a stage before emigrating to North America. In 1846 280,000 people entered Liverpool from Ireland of whom 106,000 moved abroad. During the first main wave of famine emigration from January to June 1847, about 300,000 Irish refugees sailed in the city and 130,000 emigrated. These one who stayed crowded in cellars and houses still in Vauxhall and Scotland Road area in particular unsanitary situation, contributing to aggravate Liverpool's problem of poverty and misery. It was calculated that in 1847 there were 35 000 people, mainly Irish, living in cellars, while some 5341 inhabited cellars described as 'wells of stagnant water'. Typhus, dysentery, cholera and other fevers were back. Dr Duncan, the first public health officer was rapidly overwhelmed by these waves of immigration and estimated that in the town as whole, 60,000 caught the fever and 40,000 contracted dysentery. Liverpool authorities could not cope with this influx of mouths to feed, which crippled and impoverished the city. In June 1847, under the new Poor Law Removal Act, about 15,000 Irish were deported back to Ireland.

From the end of 1847, the effects of the Famine were les felt, the waves of immigration decreased in number and in size. Despite the end of the Famine around 1849-1850, most of the Irish remained in Liverpool and carried on integrating with the local life. They were ready to accept any job, especially in the newly expanding seaport, working as dockers and seamen. By the end of the century they were even not restricted to unskilled labour anymore, rising to the rank of artisans, shopkeepers, merchants and professional classes.

1900s In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, T.P. O'Connor belonged to these important Irish personalities who played a major role in the development of Anglo-Irish relation in Liverpool but also in Britain, as he was the chief spokesman for the Irish in Britain, he also was the first Irish Nationalist MP. And until the partition of Ireland in 1921, numerous Irish Nationalist councillors followed one another in Liverpool.

However the Irish presence in Liverpool remained an issue as show it an article of 1931 in the paper The Liverpool Review saying about Irish immigration:- "there is abundant evidence that a very grave injury is being done to the prosperity of Merseyside and to its population". In 1939, the Irish Immigration Investigation Bureau opened in February 6th in order to tackle the unrestricted entry of immigrants from Ireland into Liverpool and their abortion into insurable occupation shortly after their arrival. At this time, the need for legislation was strongly felt.

During the two world wars, many Irish paid with their lives their integration in the British society.

Still in the 70s, Channon noticed that still a lot of girls arrived from Ireland with little money and no experience of big city life. But associations and organisations existed then to protect them from the moral hazards of the waterfront. He also added that without the annual influx of girls from the other side of the Irish Sea, Liverpool hospital would have been critically short of nurses under training and domestic staff.

The Liverpool accent

THE 'Scouse' accent is well known to be very specific of Liverpool's city and different from the surrounding part of Lancashire and Cheshire.

Some language experts have been able to identify a hybrid of Lancashire and Irish. The dialect is a relict of the great influx of Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century and shows that the new settlers were so numerous that they changed the very accent of the local people.

(Aughton, 2003, p.272)

Related books

DALEY, Margaret (2003) The Irish in Liverpool: a select guide to printed sources in Liverpool Reco. Liverpool: the Author.

DENVIR, John (1892) The Irish in Britain from the Earliest Times to the Fall and Death of Parnell. London.

DONNOLLY, James S (2002) The great Irish Potato Famine. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing. 

FOSTER, RF (1995) Paddy and Ms Punch: connection in Irish and English History. London: Penguin.  
ISBN 0140171703

LAMBERT, Tim (2002) A brief history of Liverpool. Liverpool: the Author.  
ISBN M0006292LV

LAWTON, R. (s.n) Irish immigration to England and Wales in the mid-nineteenth century. - Liverpool : [s.n.]. 

ISBN M0006292LV

Liverpool, a brief history.

Liverpool. Liverpool City Libraries. 1984   ISBN w9320692

MILLER, Kerby A, (1985) Emigrants and exiles: Ireland and the Irish exodus to North America. New-York: Oxford University.  
ISBN 0195051874

SWIFT, Roger (ed) (2002) Irish Migrants in Britain, 1815-1914- A documentary history. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press.  
ISBN 1859182364


AUGHTON, Peter (2003) Liverpool, a people's history. Carnegie Publishing.
ISBN 1859361145

BRADY, LW (1983) T.P. O'Connor and the Liverpool Irish. London: Royal Historical Society.
ISBN: 090105092X

CHANNON, Howard (1976) Portrait of Liverpool. 3rd ed. Robert Hale & Cie.
ISBN 070915575

KELLY, Michael (2003) The Irish connection- the story of some notable Irish people who helped in its creation. Blundell: Print Origination Ince.
ISBN 0903348535

LAWTON, R (1959) Irish Immigration in Ireland and Wales in the mid-nineteenth century. Irish Geography, Vol.4, n.1, pp.45-54.

MUIR, Ramsay (1907) History of Liverpool. London: Williams & Norgate.

RAVEN, Canon Charles E. (1931) Irish Immigration into Merseyside. Liverpool Review, vol. VI, n.8, pp.268-271.

Related Organisations

Institute of Irish Studies, 1 Abercromby Square, Liverpool, L69 3BX:-  Study of Ireland in Britain

The Irish World Heritage Centre, 10 Queens Road, Manchester, M8 8UF.

Saint Michael's Irish Centre, 6 Boundary Lane, West Derby Road, Liverpool, L6 5JG:-  A community centre for the promotion of cultural and social activities for the Irish community in Merseyside.

Useful Links

Moving Here, 200 years of migration to England. 

National Library of Ireland. 

The History Place 

Ireland's story through three domains: History, Geography, Ireland today. 

Research conducted and written by Alexia Wodli.    Research conducted in 2004.

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.