Leisure: Irish Recreation
THIS CHAPTER LOCATES and assesses the cultural mission of the various clubs and associations of Irish Liverpool within the wider framework of commercial provision in a vibrant seaport city. Nationalist societies purportedly gained support in Ireland not so much through political conviction as by filling a social vacuum in recreational provision.1 For the Irish in Liverpool, the bustling second city of empire, the situation could hardly have been more different. Here, in the fiercely competitive environment of a boisterous 'sailortown' waterfront culture, Irish associations had to compete against a variety of tempting, attractive and lurid commercial offerings.2 As the study of welfare and collective mutuality has shown, the Irish pub and the Catholic parish offered ready bases for ethnosectarian 'resource mobilisation'. However, efforts to establish regular forms of Irish associational culture away from either a drinks-based environment or clerical influence and control seldom succeeded for any length of time. The chapter begins with an examination of various failed attempts to offer club and other facilities for the Liverpool-Irish on a joint stock basis, drawing upon previously unused files in the Board of Trade papers. Of itself, Irishness was not enough to underwrite and sustain institutional provision.
At a more informal level, however, ethnicity proved a valuable commercial asset, a form of unique selling-point not just for shopkeepers trading within the enclave but also for artistes and impresarios working the stage circuit around the Irish Sea. By no means a purely politico-cultural project, the re-packaging and re-badging of Irishness was full of commercial opportunities. Rescued from derision, the 'stage Irishman' was to be recast not only on the boards of licensed theatres but also in popular format across an ever-growing entertainment sector: 'authentic' images of Ireland and its people were offered in dioramas,
1 R.V. Comerford, 'Patriotism as pastime: The appeal of Fenianism in the mid 1860s',
Irish Historical Studies, 22, 1981, pp.239–50.
2 Stan Hugill, Sailortown, London, 1967.