Culture, Conflict, and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria

Culture, Conflict, and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria

Culture, Conflict, and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria

Culture, Conflict, and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria

Synopsis

A major study of Catholic and Protestant Irish in an important but neglected center of historic Irish settlement where communal violence and Irish-related antipathy bore the hallmarks of the Liverpool and Glasgow experiences.

Excerpt

There has been a quite remarkable growth of interest in the Irish in Victorian Britain over the past twenty years; prior to that point, however, very little had been written about what was, until the advent of ‘New Commonwealth’ immigration, the largest influx of people into Britain. Beyond the early, pioneering works of Handley and Jackson, there was little to excite would-be readers; indeed, it might be presumed that historians, in their anxiety to uncover other aspects of the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution, had overlooked the important roles played by ‘Paddy’ and ‘Biddy’. in recent years (notably since the ‘Troubles’ erupted in Northern Ireland), however, most of the major centres of Irish settlement have been brought under the microscope. Thus, today we have a much keener understanding of the interplay between economic development, social change and Irish settlement in the emerging towns and cities of industrial Britain. Historians are now able to draw on a plethora of micro-studies of Irish settlement, focusing particularly on single towns or industries in the major northern centres from Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire to County Durham, Northumberland and central Scotland.

Despite recent important developments, however, there remain several key weaknesses in the current historiography. First, the bulk of studies seem to have been circumscribed by geographical limitations. Thus, general histories of the industrial period continue to be dominated by Carlyle’s ‘wild Milesians’, Engels’s Irish pig and by the ‘Condition of England’ imagery of half-starved peasants packed into the slums of Manchester and Liverpool. Much has been written about the Irish in those great, dystopian conurbations of industrial Britain which drew vivid social comments from contemporaries; but much less is known about Irish experiences in smaller, though perhaps more typical, towns. Second, Irish migrants are too often viewed by historians as part of a uniform, indeed homogeneous, religious group. in what might be seen as a faint echo of the prejudices of Victorian society itself, this scholarly obsession with the poor Catholic Irish has resulted in a perceived synonymity between the terms ‘Irish’ and ‘Catholic’. As a consequence, Pro-

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