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The Irish in Liverpool, Lancashire England Before, During and After the Famine

The Irish began pouring into Liverpool in increased numbers in the 1830's. Competition among steamer lines and subsequent cheaper fairs encouraged more Irish to travel to England at this time. Over 1,500,000 Irish came to Liverpool between 1847 and 1853. Some moved on, but those that stayed congregated in the already established Irish enclaves "in the south end area of Park Road, Park Lane and St James Street and in the north end area of Vauxhall, Scotland, Everton and Exchange." (Swift, Gilley; Boyce, 1999, p. 278). These Irish communities were located near the docks

The Irish Community in Liverpool developed around St Anthony's Church. It was originally built in 1804 by French refugees, was torn down in 1833, a new church taking its place. (Swift, Gilley; Boyce, p. 278). There is a great website "St. Anthony's Church Database Project" that has searchable records online! This site even has pauper burials. It is well worth checking out if your Irish Ancestors spent time in Liverpool. Another good site to check out that has records from this church as well as others in Liverpool is Hibernia.

The number of Catholic Churches in Liverpool increased dramatically during the 19th century. St. Mary's and St. Peter's were the primary Churches serving the Liverpool Catholics in the early 1800's. The number of Catholic Parishes increased to 18 by 1870 and 24 by 1914. More than half of these parishes were in the following areas of Liverpool: Scotland, Vauxhall and Everton. (Belchem, 2006, p. 338).

The Irish arriving in Liverpool were vulnerable; they ran the gauntlet through a host of unsavory characters out to take their money upon their arrival at the port. Those that stayed in the Merseyside dock area and failed to move on in search of opportunity in industrial areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire or abroard were at greatest risk.

The sheer volume of Irish immigrants that arrived in Liverpool during the peak famine years exceeded the available housing, employment and taxed the sanitary system. The Poor Law Removal Act was implemented to counteract the large influx of Irish poor into England. "Between 1846 and 1853 there were 62,779 Irish removals from Liverpool alone..." (Swift, 2002, p. 74). Liverpool taxpayers felt that these Irish poor were going to over-burden the Poor Law system. Many of the Irish were relegated to the lower paid, heavy labor jobs that promised little advancement such as the docks, soap and sugar processing plants, heavy chemical industry, porters in the warehouses and in construction. Liverpool wasn't known as an industrial center like Manchester, the jobs were centered around the activities of the port for the most part. Irish women found employment even more difficult in Liverpool filling the lower echelon of jobs such as untwisting the fibers from old robe (oakum) which was then resold to caulk boats/plug leaks; selling the residual material obtained from crushing sandstone (used to clean steps) and the hawking of broken down boxes (chips). (Belchem, 2007, p. 27,32,37).

As the century progressed the Irish began to work there way out of the deleterious environment of the chemical processing and refinery workforce and began to dominate the work on the docks. There were inherent dangers to this work environment as well.

The Irish communities development around the Liverpool docks and the types of jobs they had at their disposal becomes clear with a closer look at how the port developed, the types of products imported and the warehousing system developed to handle it all. As the road and canal system developed, connecting Liverpool with other parts of England, transportation of products was facilitated. Pottery, coal and other products made and mined in Staffordshire, Woolen Cloth produced in West Riding, Yorkshire, Coal and Textiles among other items from Lancashire and manufactured goods from all over England were expeditiously transported to the docks of Liverpool for export.

London had the competitive edge over Liverpool in the 18th and early 19th centuries. They progressed to steam shipping before Liverpool and had the inside track on profitable Government contracts (like troop transport) giving them connections Liverpool didn't have. London was a dominant force in Far East trade as well, but Liverpool got a much- needed boost in traffic to its port with the U.S. shipping fleets absence during the Civil War (and their failure to rebound after its conclusion).

Liverpool's development focused on the use of big wooden ships as well as iron sailing ships. Iron ships had the benefit of being able to proceed forward without delays afforded by windless conditions like a steam ship. According to Graeme Milne's book "Trade and Traders in Mid-Victorian Liverpool" these ships gave Liverpool a leg up on transporting "long, distance bulk goods." (Milne, 2000, p. 41). The main drawback appeared to be their need for frequent repainting with lead based paint that put them out of commission.

The textile industry growth in Lancashire and Yorkshire also aided port expansion. Liverpool grew from 9 docks in 1821 with 46 acres of enclosed water to 72 acres enclosed by the 1850's. (Milne, 2000, p. 67).

Efficiency of the port became a priority. Even a week's delay at port during the off-season could mean encountering hazardous conditions and possible subsequent increases in insurance costs. Steam ships advertised their schedules and had to adhere to them as well. One of the biggest challenges was that many ships needed to anchor in three different areas: one to unload, one for maintenance and repairs and one to reload. (Graeme, 2000 p. 74, 86). Most of the cargo on ships was loaded/unloaded by "lumpers." There were 1700 Irish employed as lumpers in the Liverpool port in 1834. (Macraid, 1999, p. 52).

Liverpool handled a vast array of imports and exports including furs and cotton that were brought in on steamships and petrochemicals that arrived by sail. They catered to the timber trade (providing land storage unlike other ports that offloaded into the water and floated the timber into storage bays). The tobacco trade had their own complex of warehouses. This industry provided considerable work for another Irish held occupation- "Carters." The tobacco was "carted" back and forth between private warehouses and the port to be weighed.

Liverpool had a vast warehouse complex. Goods were allowed to be stored duty free until they were exported. There were 1900 Irish employed as porters in warehousing goods in the Liverpool docks in 1834. (Macraid, 1999, p. 52). Other imports of significance from the east included silk, cotton and tea, spices, seeds, cotton, wool, jute, sugar, rice and dyestuffs from India. Bat guano imports even made the less profitable ports on the Mersey lucrative. Liverpool also went aggressively after the "Contract Mail System Trade" Obtaining this contract gave them an inside track on making further contracts for other government funds. Finally they focused on developing the emigrant trade. After the cargo was loaded, passengers provided full ships that meant increased efficiency and profits. (Milne, 2000, p. 82, 91, 179, 189).

The Irish were heavily involved in dock construction on the Mersey, eventually becoming employed as stevedores employed on the vessel, as quay porters, sailors and ship's firemen. (Brady, 1983, p. 30). By the early 1870's, 2500 Irish held positions as Stevedores, Master Porters and Warehousemen and by the early 1890's 458 Irish were Dock Laborers, 27 were watchmen, porters and messengers, 12 were carmen or carters and 129 Irish were Sailors, Ship-Fireman or Stokers. (Belchem, 2007, p. 39). Many of the jobs held by the Irish on the Liverpool docks were labor intensive with a significant risk of injury.

Deaths in Liverpool due to famine fever (typhus, dysentery, cholera) were high with repeated epidemics in 1847, 1848 and 1854. "Life expectancy in the docklands area of Liverpool became the lowest in the country." (Swift, Gilley; Boyce, p. 280). The epidemic was so severe that floating hospitals were created on the Mersey and fever sheds were built. Overcrowded conditions in the cellars and lodging houses in the areas along the docks were a breeding ground for disease. A report provided by Dr. Duncan on the "Sanitary State of Liverpool in 1842" identified Lace, North and Oriel Streets as being the source of the largest number of fever cases. (Swift, 2002, p. 94).

The Irish and their "lifestyle" were held accountable for the outbreaks of dysentery and typhus that occurred. Typhus or "Irish Fever" as it was referred to inferred the Irish connection to the disease's presence. Liverpool implemented sanitary acts to try to combat the unsanitary living conditions. Despite numerous interventions to improve the sanitary conditions in Liverpool such as installation of sewers, drains, increased privies in dwellings, street-cleaning crews, and numbers thinned in the most over-crowded areas, the problem still persisted in the late 1800's in districts such as Scotland, Vauxhall, St Pauls and Exchange. (Swift, 2002, p. 76,77). Liverpool implemented a Sanitary Amendment Act in 1869 and other Housing Acts over the years whose primary objective was clearance of impoverished, unsanitary areas (especially by the docks). Railway companies also contributed to this demoliation as they developed their properties. (Belchem, 2006, p. 213). John Belchem gives detailed descriptions of the unsanitary living conditions that prevailed in the courts and cellars that were primarily inhabited by the Irish, in his book "Liverpool 800 Culture, Character and History." Kevin O'Connor in his book "The Irish in Britain" provided some longevity statistics for Liverpool in 1840 which I found eye-opening: "In Liverpool in 1840, the average age of death was: gentry and professional persons 35 years; tradesman and their families 22; labourers (sic), mechanics and servants 15 years." (O'Connor, 1972, p. 11).

Many Irish immigrants from Connacht and the more central and western counties of Ireland traveled to Dublin and on to Liverpool where a large percentage moved on to America and other destinations. Many stayed in Liverpool, (their numbers replenished by new immigrants from Ireland when they chose to move on into other areas of England as Industries developed elsewhere).

The main focus of my research is the following surnames: Brennan, Corcoran, Coffee and Gahagan (and all variations) who were born in County Mayo or County Roscommon Ireland. With that in mind, I intend to try to trace these surnames through the Liverpool Census Records, with particular emphasis on the St. Thomas, Dale Street, Howard Street, St Martin, St George and Mt. Pleasant Sub Registration Districts based on the findings I detail below.

I have noted Brennans born in County Mayo in the St Thomas and Dale Street Sub Registration Districts in the 1851 Liverpool Census, Surname Brannon born in Roscommon in the 1851 St Martin Sub Registration District and Corcorans born in Roscommon in the Howard Street Sub Registration District. In the 1861 Liverpool Census I found the surname Coffee and Gaughan born in Mayo in the 1861 St. Thomas Sub Registration District and Surname Brannan and Corcoran in The Howard Street Sub Registration District. In the 1871 Liverpool Census I found Corcorans born in Mayo in the St Thomas Sub Registration District, the Dale Street Sub Registration District and the Mount Pleasant Sub Registration District. Coffees who were born in County Mayo were present in the St. Thomas Sub Registration District. There were Corcorans born in Roscommon in the St Martin Sub Registration District and Geoghegans born in Roscommon in the Howard Street Sub Registration District. In the 1881 Liverpool Census I found Corcorans and Brennans born Mayo in the Dale Street Sub Registration District and a Brennan family that may have originated in County in the Islington Sub Registration District. There were Brennans and Corcorans that were born in Roscommon in St George Sub Registration District and Corcorans born in Roscommon in the St. Martin Sub Registration District.

Although my primary focus is the aformentioned surnames, I will be documenting general observations about the Irish families and their origins under each specific district with the compilations for each of my surnames.

This is a work in progress! I would love to hear from any genealogists who believe their Brennan, Corcoran, Coffee or Gahagan ancestors from Mayo or Roscommon may have been documented in the Liverpool census records so that we might possibly tie these families together and establish a migration trail from the same civil parishes and townlands.

I read some really great books that described what life was like for the Irish in Liverpool and how the port developed by authors like John Belchem, Donald M MacRaild, Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley, Graeme Milne, L.W. Brady and J. R. Harris. I have used these and other resources to compile the information presented above. If you had Irish immigrant ancestors who travelled through Liverpool or spent time working along the Mersey I think you would find the following author's books well worth a read for a insight in what life was like for them in the 19th century.

Belchem, John 2006. Liverpool 800 Culture, Character and History. Liverpool: Cambridge University Press.

Belchem, John "Irish Catholic and Scouse- The History of the Liverpool Irish, 1800-1939" Liverpool University Press, 2007.

Brady, L.W. 1983, "T.P. O'Connor and the Liverpool Irish" London: Swift Printers (Publishing) Ltd.

MacRaild, Donald 1999. "Irish Immigrants in Modern Britain, 1750-1922" New York: St. Martin's Press.

Milne, Graeme J. 2000. "Trade and Traders in Mid-Victorian Liverpool" Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

O'Connor, Kevin 1972. "The Irish in Britain" London: Sidgwick and Jackson

Swift, Roger, Editor 2002. "Irish Migrants in Britain 1815-1914 A Documentary History" Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press.

Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, Editors 1999. "The Irish in Victorian Britain - The Local Dimension" Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press (an assortment of authors are included in this book such as Carl Chinn, Frank Neal, Marie McClelland, Jacqueline Turton, John Herson, John Belchem, Gerard Moran and Frank Boyce).

Websites on Liverpool, Lancashire, England Brennan, Corcoran, Gahagan and Coffey Families in the Liverpool, Lancashire, England Census Records Irish Families Traced from County Mayo or County Roscommon Ireland to Liverpool, England and Beyond
St. Anthony's Church Database. A great website with searchable records of great value to Irish Researchers Brennan Families (and all variations of the Surname) Identified in the Liverpool, Lancashire, England Census Records, (in progress) The James Corcoran and Louisa McCabe Family of Liverpool, Lancashire, England: An Analysis of their Migration from Ballyfarnan, County Roscommon Ireland to Liverpool, England
Hibernia. a vast arrary of records from different churches in Liverpool. Corcoran Families (and all variations of the Surname) Identified in the Liverpool, Lancashire, England Census Records, (In Progress)  
  Gahagan Families (and all variations of the Surname) Identified in the Liverpool, Lancashire, England Census Records (In progress)  
  Coffee Families (and all variations of the Surname) Identified in the Liverpool, Lancashire, England Census Records (in progress)