Emigration from Ireland to the United States, Canada, and Australia has received a lot of attention from historians and genealogists. Much less attention has been given to the Irish who moved to mainland Britain–England, Scotland, or Wales. This is surprising considering that Britain was the second most popular destination for Irish emigrants in the nineteenth century and the most popular destination in the twentieth century. Overall, next to the United States, Britain has received the second highest number of Irish immigrants.
The lack of information on these emigrations has a direct bearing on genealogical research. It can be a challenge to find the origins of ancestors who crossed the Irish Sea.
Lack of Historical Data
There is less information about migration from Ireland to Britain because such moves were regarded as internal, within the same country. Before 1922, anyone going from Ireland to Britain was simply changing counties and no one saw any need to record the migrants. As a result, historians have found it difficult to come up with numbers.
Census returns are the best sources of data because from the first nominal census in 1841 everyone was required to provide information about their birthplace. For those born in Ireland, there was never a requirement to record anything more than â€œIrelandâ€ as the birthplace, although some enumerators added the county name in 1851 and later returns.
The statistics of the census returns reveal that highest numbers of Irish-born in Britain were recorded in 1861 in the post-famine period and larger numbers in 1951 and 1971. Scotland remained a popular choice up to the 1930s attracting nearly a third of the Irish who moved to mainland Britain, but Scotland was much less popular after the Second World War. In Glasgow the Irish-born population swelled from 10 percent in 1819 to 25 percent in 1845. This number became even higher as a result of the famine.
There is almost no information about the religious persuasion of Irish immigrants to England, Scotland, and Wales. The common assumption is that most were Catholic, but in his book, â€œThe Irish Diaspora,â€ Donald Akenson argues that as many as twenty to thirty percent were not; numbers varied with the time period.
A Short, Inexpensive Voyage
At the closest point, the distance across the Irish Sea is thirteen miles. The main ports of entry into Britain were Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow. By 1830, nine different vessels were making trips from Glasgow to several Irish ports up to four times every week (Belfast, Londonderry, Newry, Dublin, Cork). It cost ten pence for steerage and three pence for deck passage. By comparison, a voyage to North America cost five pounds. (There were 12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound.)
Many Irish were migrant laborers before they made their move to England, Scotland, or Wales permanent. They worked as agricultural laborers and in the construction of canals and railways. When they settled permanently many worked in the mills. They came because there was work, and although their wages in Britain were low, wages were many times what they could make in Ireland.
Chances of finding origins depend on when your ancestors moved and whether or not their surname was common. It may also depend on where they settled.
Those of you who have ancestors who went to Scotland and had one or more events recorded in civil registration there have the best chance of success. The records begin in 1855 and may reveal vital facts, including date and place of marriage in Ireland, names of parents, and place of origin. The civil registration records of England and Wales are not so informative. A marriage record provides the names of the fathers of the bride and groom but offers no information about marriage place. Birth and death records are not much help either, the most helpful detail being the maiden name of the mother on a childâ€™s birth certificate.
Census records should be examined and, if you are lucky, an enumerator will have recorded the county of birth in Ireland. Registers of the Catholic Church may offer facts about family members and origins but best of all are the Glasgow Poor Law records. Considerable detail was recorded for every individual who received relief. In addition, these records have been indexed.
It is important that you read about the records of the area of settlement in England or Scotland or Wales. Also, that you know about Irish records so you can make the move from facts and records in one country to facts and records in Ireland. Helpful books and websites are listed below:
Further Reading and Websites
Akenson, Donald A. The Irish Diaspora. Belfast: Queenâ€™s University, 1996.
Ouimette, Dave. Finding Your Irish Ancestors. Ancestry, 2005.
Irvine, Sherry. Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians. Ancestry, 2003
Irvine, Sherry. Your English Ancestry. Ancestry, 1998.
Sherry Irvine, CG, FSA Scot, is an author, teacher, and lecturer specializing in English, Scottish, and Irish family history. She is the author of “Your English Ancestry” (2d ed., 1998 http://www.ancestry.com/s23560/t11990/rd.ashx) and “Scottish Ancestry” (2003) (http://www.ancestry.com/s23560/t11989/rd.ashx), and she is a contributor to several publications. Since 1996, she has been a study tour leader, course coordinator, and instructor for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. Recently she served a two-year term as president of the Association of Professional Genealogists.
Sherry Irvine is among the instructors for a series of online family history courses at PharosTutors. For more information, visit their website: http://www.pharostutors.com