05 January 2008

The Irish in Glamorganshire

Many Irish became refugees from their homeland in the late 1840s. Although large numbers left for North America the closest destination for many was just across the Irish Sea, in Lancashire, where an expanding industrial economy meant the prospect of jobs. 164,915 people claimed Irish birth in the 1851 census for Lancashire, 9% of the population.

While Lancashire was an obvious destination from Dublin, for those further south in Ireland Wales was attractive, and especially Glamorganshire with its coal and iron industries. In 1851 4.2% of that county's population was Irish-born, half of all of Wales' native Irish population. An analysis of the Glamorgan census here showed Irish names Patrick, Dennis, and Cornelius to be quite frequent.

According this BBC article the Irish settled primarily in the four largest South Wales towns - Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Merthyr. The arrival of the Irish caused tensions; they were prepared to work for less than the Welsh. The strain became too much leading to Cardiff's first race riot in November 1848. Catholic churches and homes were assaulted as Welsh mobs rampaged through the streets looking for an Irishman, John Connors, believed to have murdered a Welshman, Thomas Lewis. Connors was convicted of manslaughter and transported to Australia.

By 1901 the Irish-born population of Lancashire had declined to a fraction above 3%, and to 1.3% in Glamorganshire, as the migrants died, moved on elsewhere or neglected to report their Irish origin. The evidence isn't clear, but one of those who failed to report their Irish origin in later censuses may have been my great-grandfather.

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