Irish Migration to England Before, During and After the Great Famine with Emphasis on Immigration from County Mayo and County Roscommon, Ireland

Irish Migration to Great Britain began long before the famine of 1845-1847. Seasonal workers (Spalpeens) had been traveling to England to supplement their income by performing harvesting and other temporary work since the early 1800's. Many Spalpeens came from County Mayo Ireland and Western Ulster. Their numbers increased in the 1820's and 1830's as "Steamer packets" became available to transport workers over the Irish Sea. "The Irish Midlands railway ran a special fourth-class fare, known as a harvest ticket, to transport men from the outlying counties to Dublin and then on to Liverpool or other West Coast Ports." (MacRaild, Donald, 1999, p. 23). The number of seasonal workers traveling from Ireland to England was between 60,000 and 100,000 annually between the years of 1840-1860. (Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, 1985, p. 16). Seasonal work in England allowed families to supplement their income so they could keep their land back in Ireland. The need was great in the early 19th century for these temporary workers, but it began to decline in the 1870's with the Agricultural depression and introduction of machines to facilitate harvesting. By the 1880's the harvest migration no longer provided the supplemental income many needed to keep their holdings in Ireland and they were forced to emigrate (especially in Connacht and Western Munster). (MacRaild, Donald M, 1999, p. 37).

The Irish came to Britain in the first part of the 19th century for a variety of reasons. The widespread poverty motivated many to leave Ireland to improve their quality of life, poor relief available in England was far better than at home, returning spalpeens spoke of job availability in England and after 1820 competition amongst steam shipping lines and subsequent cheap passage inspired others. (Swift, Gilley, 1999, p. 82).

Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley described three primary emigration routes in their book The Irish in the Victorian City:

"1. The Northern Route, from Ulster and North Connacht to Scotland; 2. The midland route, from Connacht and most of Leinster via Dublin to the North of England and the midlands; and 3. The southern route, from South Leinster and the Munster Counties to London, often via Bristol." (Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, 1985, p. 15).

According to Donald MacRaild in his book "Irish Migrants in Modern Britain," "the poorest province, Connacht maintained disproportionately low emigration rates until after the famine." (MacRaild, Donald, 1999, p. 11). The Connacht area includes Counties Mayo, Roscommon, Galway, Sligo and Leitrim. The demise of the Cotton and Linen Industries in Ireland was one reason for emigration to England and beyond. The Connacht area that produced coarse yarns was particularly hard hit by England's advances in the industry. As Ireland evolved from an economy based on tillage to grazing, emigration levels increased further. MacRaild goes on to describe the counties of Kerry, Clare, Galway and Mayo (western seaboard Counties) as well as Roscommon (inland) as having the distinction of losing the highest numbers to emigration in this period. He sited Mayo and Galway as having the greatest population decline in the 1880's. (MacRaid, Donald, 1999, p. 28,29, 39).

My primary emphasis in this section will be on the Counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Staffordshire with small pages on some of the other primary sites of Irish migration such as London, Durham and Northumberland. Many Irish from the Connacht and Leinster Provinces of Ireland came to Yorkshire. "The Leeds Irish coming especially from Dublin, Mayo and Tipperary and those in Bradford from Queen's, Mayo, Sligo and Dublin. In York, between 1851 and 1871, Mayo was the dominant Irish county of origin, while fully three-quarters hailed generally from the west of Ireland." (MacRaid, Donald, 1999, p. 67). The Tukes, who were York Quakers, were heavily involved in relief work, especially in the west of Ireland. There is some evidence to support the fact that their intervention in Connacht may be directly responsible for the large percentage of immigrants that came to York. "In 1851 almost 40% of the total for who county of birth was listed were from Mayo, with a further 28% from Sligo, Roscommon and Galway." (Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, 1985, p. 80). I will be taking a closer look at the Civil Parishes of Huddersfield, Leeds, and Bradford in Yorkshire.

One third of the Irish born living in Britain in 1871 were in Glasgow (Scotland), Liverpool (Lancashire), Manchester (Lancashire) and London. (MacRaild, Donald, 1999, p. 66). I have noted a high percentage of Irish emigrants in the English Census documented as being born in County Mayo and County Roscommon who were living in the Civil Parishes of Liverpool, Manchester, Great Bolton, Oldham and Toxteth Park in the County of Lancashire. I will be creating separate pages on these Civil Parishes and their Irish communities.

The County of Staffordshire (Civil Parish of Wolverhampton in particular) also had a high percentage of Irish immigrants. Between 1851 and 1871, 40% of the Irish living in Stafford originated in the Castlerea area that covers the Ireland Counties of Roscommon, Sligo and Mayo. (MacRaild, Donald, 1999, p. 67). Wolverhampton Civil Parish in Staffordshire became the center of a developing Irish community in the late 18th and early 19th century. The Irish were drawn to this area because of the jobs available in canal construction, railway development and road construction. The people drawn to Wolverhampton came primarily from Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon. (Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan, 1985, p. 179).

The Irish in England held a vast array of different occupations depending on the region in which they settled. They ran the gamut from the tin miners down in the southern tip of Cornwall, to Lumpers who reload ships and send them off in Liverpool. They tended to hold the most labor-intensive jobs such as those in construction, ironworks, chemical manufacturing and sugar refining. They were dockworkers, hod carriers, porters, and laborers in a host of other trades. I have compiled a page covering descriptions of the jobs held by the Irish in England in the 19th Century England Census Records.

I have come across some outstanding websites and books that focus on the Irish in England. I will add to this compilation over time.

I have been identifying the Brennan, Corcoran, Coffee and Gahagan Surnames (and all variations) documented as being born in County Mayo or County Roscommon Ireland in the 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 England Census Records in the Irish Surnames section of my website under the perspective surname.

I have done some research on the following Brennan and Corcoran families in Lancashire, England that will eventually be included in the Lancashire section listed below once it is on-line:

  1. The William and Mary Brannan Family of Wardleworth, Lancashire, England: An Analysis of their Migration from County Mayo, Ireland to Wardleworth, Lancashire, England
  2. The Patrick Corcoran and Alice Gaunt Family of Newton in Makerfield, Lancashire, England: An Analysis of Patrick's origins in Cloonfad, Roscommon, Ireland, His Marriage to Wife Alice Gaunt in Wolstanton, Staffordshire, England and Their Family's Migration between Wolstanton, Ashton in Makerfield, Lancashire and Newton in Makerfield, Lancashire, England

I have done some research on the following Brennan family (and their daughters marriage to Michael Smith) from Wakefield Yorkshire that will eventually be included in the Wakefield section once I put in on-line.

  1. The John and Mary Brennan (Brannan) Family of Wakefield, Yorkshire England: An Analysis of their Journey from County Roscommon, Ireland to Wakefield, Yorkshire England
  2. The Michael Smith and Margaret Brannan Family of Chicago, Cook County, Illinois: An Analysis of Their Migration from Kings County, Ireland (Michael) and County Roscommon, Ireland (Margaret), to Wakefield, YorkshireEngland and on to Chicago, Cook County, Illinois

I have traced the following Corcoran Family from Bohola, County Mayo to Halifax, Yorkshire, England. It will eventually be placed in a Halifax setction once I put it online.

  1. The Michael Corcoran and Catherine Murray Family of Halifax, Yorkshire West Riding England: An Analysis of their Migration from Bohola, County Mayo, Ireland to Halifax, England

The following pages will provide specific details on the Counties in England that were the destinations of the majority of the Irish from the Connacht counties of Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Galway and Leitrim:

Yorkshire Huddersfield Leeds (new 3/17/12) Batley Bradford Wakefield Halifax
Lancashire Liverpool Manchester Great Bolton Oldham    
Staffordshire Wolverhampton Stafford