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Irish were driven out of their land by poverty; Carl continues his look at the origins of the Irish community in Birmingham.

THE origins of the Irish community in Birmingham lie in the mid-1820s, when deteriorating economic conditions made so many Irish people look for work in England. A growing population forced many families to farm marginal land that could not support them.

Benefiting from a high demand, Irish landlords pushed up rents at a time when bad harvests led to famine conditions that blighted the already unhappy lives of the rural poor.

Added to this cauldron of hardship were the attempts of many landlords to bring in large farms that were worked by landless labourers. Agrarian warfare erupted in the west and south of Ireland, as working people banded together in secret societies to protect the oppressed.

When landlords sought to seize the goods of tenants in rent arrears, large numbers of neighbours assembled by night with carts and horses to carry off the whole produce of the farm; whilst people combined to force landlords to employ local men and to try and keep up wages.

As an Irish priest exclaimed to the French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville, if a starving man sought help from his landlord he would be met by "liveried lackeys, or dogs better nourished than he, who will roughly drive him away". But if he presented himself at the door of a cottage he would do so without fear and would be "sure to receive something to appease his present hunger". It was the poor who prevented the poor from starving to death in Ireland.

Little is known of those first Irish pioneers to the West Midlands and the route they took is uncertain. Some may have trudged towards Sligo town and caught a boat there; whilst others may have slogged across the Irish Midlands to Dublin. Here they would have taken the cattle boat to Liverpool, paying 3d (just over 1p) for a rough passage on deck. Those long and uncomfortable sailings must have been frightening when the winds blew fiercely and the waves of the Irish Sea surged powerfully.

Writing in 1892, John Denvir explained that ''the hardy Connaughtmen generally passed through Liverpool on their way to the English agricultural counties. It was a sight to remember - the vast armies of harvest men, clad in frieze coats and knee breeches, with their clean white shirts with high collars and tough blackthorns... marching literally in their thousands from the Clarence Dock, Liverpool, and up the London Road to reap John Bull's harvest'.'.

From Liverpool, these spalpeens, seasonal agricultural labourers, spread out across Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire in search of crops to bring in, farmers needing labour, and cash to earn. Sometimes these men and women stayed on the farms but often they rented a bed in dreary, dank and low lodging houses in the poorest areas of Stafford, Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Each day they would rise early and tramp out to their labour in the fields. At night these Connacht folk would traipse back to dark streets and dismal rooms shared with many others. No doubt they sang of their homeland and of the families that they had left behind and no doubt many of them slept fitfully, beset as they were with melancholic hearts.

But even though they must have missed the bogs and peaceful lakes of Roscommon and the mountains and waters of Mayo, and even though they must have thought longingly of their friends and kin, still some of these folk made up their minds not to return home after the bringing in the harvest in the English Midlands. Instead, they called for their families to join them in settling in a foreign land where nobody but they spoke Irish and where they were marked out further by their Catholicism and their ways.

English Midlands. Instead, they called for their families to join them in settling in a foreign land where nobody but they spoke Irish and where they were marked out further by their Catholicism and their ways.

'' It is likely that most of these Irishmen and women arrived in Birmingham via Manchester and the Potteries. Certainly research into Irish settlement in Longton and Hanley indicates the preponderance of Connacht folk in the local Irish community.

It is likely that most of these Irishmen and women arrived in Birmingham via Manchester and the Potteries. Certainly research into Irish settlement in Longton and Hanley indicates the preponderance of Connacht folk in the local Irish community.

each day would rise and tramp their labour fields. at these Connacht folk would back to dark streets and rooms shared many others Each day would rise and tramp their labour fields. At these Connacht folk would back to dark streets and rooms shared many others Michael MacCarthy, a bricklayer's labourer, apparently came that way. He lodged in Thomas Street, later to disappear for the cutting of Corporation Michael MacCarthy, a bricklayer's labourer, apparently came that way. He lodged in Thomas Street, later to disappear for the cutting of Corporation Street, with his wife from Stoke and their children, all of who were born in Birmingham.

Others like Patrick and Catherine Grogan passed near to Stoke, coming via Newcastle under Lyme. Living in Lower Tower Street, Birmingham in 1851 Patrick was a silk weaver whilst his son 16-year-old William was an oil-cloth japanner.

they early out to in the night they early out to in the night His younger sister, Eliza, was six and had been born in Newcastle. Once again emphasising the manner in which the west of Ireland people looked after their own, the family gave lodgings to Daniel Fletcher, a 16-year-old labourer from Galway.

traipse traipse dismal with dismal with Patrick Garvey, a bricklayer, and his wife, Mary, followed the same path. Finding a home in a yard in Cheapside, their oldest child, Patrick, aged five, was born in Ireland, but they had his younger sister, two-year old Maria, in Newcastle. Their baby, John, was newly-born in Birmingham. By contrast Mary Angle, a hardware hawker from Bartholomew Street, must have stayed a longer while in the Staffordshire town because her husband was from there as were all their children.

A snatch of evidence about some of these early migrants is provided by the 1851 census. It records a forty-year old blacksmith called John Noon living at 24 Smallbrook Street, Birmingham, with his wife, Jane, and two cousins. All were from Roscommon. Three other cousins lodged at the house: Mary Noon, aged 15; John, 28; and Thomas Noon, 27.

They were born in Birmingham, suggesting that members of the Noon family had moved from Roscommon sometime in the early 1820s and were among those who had provided the bridgehead for others to follow them.

By this date there were significant numbers of Irish in Birmingham as there were in parts of the Black Country, and many of them no longer worked on the farms. In 1842, Mr Hodgkins, the Poor Law medical officer of Bilston, stated that locally "the occupations of the poorer classes are chiefly colliers and labourers, great numbers of the latter being Irish". He pointed out that much of the town was undrained and mentioned especially that in the High Street "near to a court crowded with Irish, there is a pool of green stagnant or mud continually".

Driven out of their own land by poverty, the vast majority of the Irish of Birmingham and places like Bilston had to take on any job, no matter how hard, dirty or ill paid, and they were compelled to rent only the worst slum properties in the most squalid yards. Bad as their conditions were in the early 1840s, they deteriorated further in the later years of the decade with a mass influx of their fellows from the west because of the Famine - or the Great Hunger as it was called by the Irish.

Each day they would rise early and tramp out to their labour in the fields. At night these Connacht folk would traipse back to dark streets and dismal rooms shared with many others '' Each day they would rise early and tramp out to their labour in the fields. At night these Connacht folk would traipse back to dark streets and dismal rooms shared with many others

CAPTION(S):

| A yard in Tower Street (above) in about 1906; thanks to the Library of Birmingham. Patrick and |Catherine Grogan and their family lived in a yard like this in Tower Street in 1851 The corner of Thomas Street and Dale End, Birmingham, (right) about 1880; thanks to the Library of |Birmingham. This was where Michael MacCarthy and his wife lived in 1851 A yard in Cheapside (top right) in about 1908; thanks to the Library of Birmingham. Patrick and Mary |Garvey found a home in a yard like this in the street in 1851. They were newcomers to Birmingham as their oldest child aged five, was born in Ireland. A view from John Bright Street (bottom right) in the 1950s of the land cleared for the building of the |Smallbrook Queensway. John and Jane Noon, two of the pioneers of the Irish community in Birmingham, had lived in this locality in 1851.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:May 16, 2015
Words:1520
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