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Millennibrum: Celebrating city links; Malcolm Dick looks at Birmingham's rich Celtic heritage.

March sees the celebration of two Celtic Festivals, St David's Day on the 1st and St Patrick's Day on the 17th. The third, St Andrew's Day is not celebrated until November 30, but the proximity of the two earlier celebrations provides an opportunity to celebrate the links between Birmingham and Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The Welsh were probably the first ethnic minority of any significance to settle in Birmingham during the last Millennium.

Since the thirteenth century, Welsh drovers sent their cattle to fatten in fields outside the town prior to being sold.

In 1698, Sampson Lloyd, the Quaker iron master moved to Birmingham from his native Montgomeryshire. In later centuries, Welsh people moved to Birmingham to obtain employment as industrial workers, craftsmen and schoolteachers.

Between the two world wars migration was extensive. Escaping desperate unemployment in the coal mining districts of South Wales, Welsh workers obtained employment in the railways and the newly established plastics industry.

Scottish migrants have been fewer in number, but were significant in creating the Birmingham engineering industry. Matthew Boulton's pioneering engineering works at Soho attracted not only James Watt, but also a host of other skilled workers. The community was sufficiently large to witness the establishment of a Scottish Church in 1824.

Other Scots moved south in the nineteenth and twentieth century, seeking employment in Birmingham's expanding economy.

The Irish form the largest of Birmingham's Celtic minorities. The first definite evidence of Irish migration occurs in the sixteenth century, where the Northfield Churchwarden's Accounts record the presence of Irish individuals.

By 1800 a significant number of people of Irish descent were living in Birmingham. Swinney's Directory of Birmingham of 1800 identifies a large number of residents with Irish names in professions as diverse as a japanner and Daimler, dancing master and theatrical manager.

Other migrants were not so successful. Dr Darvall in his 'Observations on the Medical Topography of Birmingham' in 1828 noted that few Irish people were employed in factory work. Instead:

"They become mason's labourers, or follow whatever other casual occupation they can obtain. They are badly clothed, miserably fed, and miserably lodged, and in every respect exhibit a striking contrast to their more fortunate neighbours."

Many of these migrants were victims of prejudice. 'No Popery" agitation led to discrimination against Catholic churches, property and people.

One prominent Irishman, John Frederick Feeney, the founder of The Birmingham Post was a prominent advocate of toleration in his newspapers in the 1840s and 1850s.

In the twentieth century, Birmingham played a part in the revival of Gaelic culture. In Selly Oak a branch of the League of the Erse was formed and J M Synge's plays including "The Playboy of the Western World' were performed at the Midland Institute.

Irish Brummies fought in the two world wars. In 1945, Sergeant Pat Kennedy who was born in Ireland and brought up in Birmingham was awarded the VC for his bravery in North Africa.

Since World War II, the experience of the Irish has been varied. There is considerable evidence of prejudice and negative stereotyping in schools, social life and employment.

Many Irish people experienced hostility during the IRA bombing campaigns.

Despite these problems, people of Irish descent form the largest ethnic minority in Birmingham, and participate in all aspects of life. They support a vibrant community culture as the celebrations during St Patrick's Day reveal.

City set to celebrate St Patrick's Day

The biggest St Patrick's Day parade in Britain will be winding its way through Birmingham's city streets on Sunday March 12.

The theme for this, the fifth annual event, is famous Irish people past and present. From Molly Malone to George Best, from St Patrick to the latest heart-throb Boyzone's Ronan Keating, people will be invited to choose their favourite and become them for the day.

"In the year 2000, we want more young Irish people and second and third generation to take part and carry on the celebrations for the future," says Anthony Duffy, the parade organiser.

This year the route has changed and will be slightly shorter but no less spectacular, leaving from Camp Hill at 11.30am via Deritend and Digbeth before finishing at St Anne's Church off Bradford Street.

Digbeth is set to transform into the Emerald Village, which is a huge street party.

This year promises to be even bigger and better, with Irish entertainers, live music, dancers and an Irish market offering the best in traditional food and crafts.

And for the children, there will be donkey rides and a fun fair.

Last year, more than 50,000 people from all over the city attended the parade and joined in the fun.

Event details: Birmingham St Patrick's Day Parade. Sunday March 12 from Camp Hill at 11.30am.

Information line: 0121 622 4102 or
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Title Annotation:National
Author:Dick, Malcolm
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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