Irish migration to Great Britain

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Irish migration to Great Britain
Total population
  • 6,000,000 with at least 25% Irish ancestry[7]
    (10% of the British population)
  • 14,000,000 with less than 25% Irish ancestry[1]
    (25% of the British population)
Regions with significant populations
Throughout Great Britain, especially Glasgow, London, Liverpool, Swansea, Birkenhead, Luton, Coventry, Sunderland, Portsmouth, Salford, Wolverhampton, Bootle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Stockport, Hartlepool, Bolton, Bradford, Chester, Gateshead, Edinburgh, Dundee and Birmingham
English · Irish · Shelta · Scots
(Roman Catholic, Anglican)
and Irreligion
Related ethnic groups
Irish people · Overseas Irish

Irish migration to Great Britain has occurred from the earliest recorded history to the present. There has been a continuous movement of people between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain due to their proximity. This tide has ebbed and flowed in response to politics, economics and social conditions of both places. Ireland was a feudal Lordship of the Kings of England between 1171 and 1541; a Kingdom in personal union with the Kingdom of England and Kingdom of Great Britain between 1542 and 1801; and politically united with Great Britain as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland between 1801 and 1922. Today, Ireland is divided between the independent Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Today, millions of residents of Great Britain are either from Ireland or have Irish ancestry. It is estimated that as many as six million people living in the UK have at least one Irish grandparent (around 10% of the UK population).[2]

The Irish diaspora (Irish: Diaspóra na nGael) refers to Irish people and their descendants who live outside Ireland. This article refers to those who reside in Great Britain, the largest island and principal territory of the United Kingdom.

Medieval era[edit]

During the Dark Ages, significant Irish settlement of western Britain took place. The 'traditional' view is that Gaelic language and culture was brought to Scotland, probably in the 4th century, by settlers from Ireland, who founded the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata on Scotland's west coast.[3][4] This is based mostly on medieval writings from the 9th and 10th centuries. However, recently some archeologists have argued against this view, saying that there is no archeological or placename evidence for a migration or a takeover by a small group of elites.[5] Due to the growth of Dál Riata, in both size and influence, Scotland became almost wholly Gaelic-speaking until Northumbrian English began to replace Gaelic in the Lowlands. Gaelic remained the dominant languages of the Highlands into the 19th century, but has since declined.

Before and during the Gregorian mission of 596 AD, Irish Christians such as Columba (521–97), Buriana, Diuma, Ceollach, Saint Machar, Saint Cathan, Saint Blane, Jaruman, Wyllow, Kessog, St Govan, Donnán of Eigg, Foillan and Saint Fursey began the conversion of the British, Picts and early English peoples. Modwenna and others were significant in the following century.

Some English monarchs, such as Oswiu of Northumbria (c. 612 – 15 February 670), Aldfrith (died 704 or 705) and Harold Godwinson (died 1066) were either raised in or sought refuge in Ireland, as did Welsh rulers such as Gruffudd ap Cynan. Alfred the Great may have spent some of his childhood in Ireland.

In the year 902 Vikings who had been forced out of Ireland were given permission by the English to settle in Wirral, in the north west of England. An Irish historical record known as "The Three Fragments" refers to a distinct group of settlers living among these Vikings as "Irishmen". Further evidence of this Irish migration to Wirral comes from the name of the village of Irby in Wirral, which means "settlement of the Irish", and St Bridget's church, which is known to have been founded by "Vikings from Ireland".[6]

Irish people who made Britain their home in the later medieval era included Aoife MacMurrough, Princess of Leinster (1145–88), the poet Muireadhach Albanach (fl. 1213), the lawyer William of Drogheada (died 1245), Máel Muire Ó Lachtáin (died 1249), Malachias Hibernicus (fl. 1279–1300), Gilbert Ó Tigernaig (died 1323), Diarmait MacCairbre (executed 1490) and Germyn Lynch (fl. 1441–1483), all of whom made successful lives in Britain.

Early modern times[edit]

Some notable people born in Ireland who settled in Great Britain between the 16th and 19th centuries:

19th century onwards[edit]

The most significant exodus followed the worst of a series of potato crop failures in the 1840s - the Great Famine. It is estimated that more than one million people died, and almost the same again emigrated. A further wave of emigration to England also took place between the 1930s and 1960s by Irish escaping poor economic conditions following the establishment of the Irish Free State. This was furthered by the severe labour shortage in Britain during the mid-20th century, which depended largely on Irish immigrants to work in the areas of construction and domestic labour. The extent of the Irish contribution to Britain's construction industry in the 20th century may be gauged from Sir William MacAlpine's 1998 assertion that the contribution of the Irish to the success of his industry had been 'immeasurable'.

Ireland's population fell from more than 8 million to just 6.5 million between 1841 and 1851. A century later it had dropped to 4.3 million. By the late 19th century, emigration was heaviest from Ireland's most rural southern and western counties. Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary and Limerick alone provided nearly half of Ireland's emigrants. Some of this movement was temporary, made up of seasonal harvest labourers working in Britain and returning home for winter and spring. By the mid-1930s, Great Britain was the choice of many who had to leave Ireland. Britain's wartime economy (1939–45) and post-war boom attracted many Irish people to expanding cities and towns such as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Luton. Prior to the 2000s financial crisis, ongoing sectarian violence and its economic aftermath was another major factor for immigration.

According to the UK 2001 Census, white Irish-born residents make up 1.2% of those living in England and Wales.[7] In 1997, the Irish Government in its White Paper on Foreign Policy claimed that there were around two million Irish citizens living in Britain, the majority of them British-born.[citation needed] The 2001 Census also showed that Irish people are more likely to be employed in managerial or professional occupations than those classed as "White British".[8]

As a result of the Irish financial crisis, emigration from Ireland has risen significantly.[9] Data published in June 2011 showed that Irish emigration to Britain had risen by 25 per cent to 13,920 in 2010.[10]


The term 'London Irish' relates to people born in London of Irish descent. London has Great Britain's biggest Irish population and the Irish community in London has been traditionally based in the (affectionately known) 'County Kilburn' area of northwest London. With urban gentrification and higher housing costs, the vast majority of London's working-class Irish-Catholic community have moved further out from Kilburn to Cricklewood. The Camden Town area of London, as well as Shepherds Bush, were also known for their large Irish communities.

Irish in Britain[edit]

Irish in England[edit]

In 2001, there were 674,786 people in England (1.4 per cent of the population) who had been born in Ireland. This is the greatest concentration of Irish-born—as distinct from persons of Irish ancestry—abroad anywhere in the world and was equivalent to 12.1% of the population of the island of Ireland (5.6 million) in 2001.

Sports teams[edit]

Sports teams with links to the Irish community exist in England, although this is not as marked as in Scotland.

In football, Arsenal, Leeds United, Everton, Manchester United have a tradition of representing the Irish communities in their area although unlike many clubs in Scotland they were not formed on the basis of representing the Irish community. For example, Arsenal has featured ethnically Irish players such as Liam Brady, Terry Neill, Pat Rice, Niall Quinn, David O'Leary and Graham Barrett. Aston Villa has featured many Irish players such as Steve Staunton, Paul McGrath, Richard Dunne and former managers David O'Leary and Martin O'Neill. Aston Villa has a large Irish following in the West Midlands which has the highest proportion of Irish people in the UK. Both Everton and Liverpool have roots in a Methodist church but Everton F.C. was often described as Liverpool's Irish Catholic team, probably because Everton had a number of Irish internationals in the 1950s. Liverpool F.C. was formed by a prominent Orangeman but this fact did not deter Liverpool people from a Catholic background supporting the team. Everton has notably produced Wayne Rooney who is of Irish descent and have recently featured promising Irish international Séamus Coleman; as were prominent Liverpool players who were Everton fans in their youth such as Jamie Carragher and Steve McManaman. Recently Jonjo Shelvey has become the latest in a line of Liverpool players with Irish heritage, going back to the days of Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and Ray Houghton. Neither Liverpool nor Everton have a sectarian affiliation and many families are split in support of the clubs. With the managership of Sir Matt Busby, Manchester United also emerged as a club with a considerable Irish following both in Great Britain and in Ireland itself as well as having notable Irish stars like George Best, Norman Whiteside, Mal Donaghy, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane, and recently John O'Shea.

In Rugby league, Dewsbury Celtic represented the large Irish community in Dewsbury, and St Helens represent communities in Merseyside. The rugby union club London Irish represents the community in London. There is also a GAA Londain (London in Irish) team representing the GAA clubs in London, that plays in the Connacht province (in Gaelic football) and Ulster (in hurling); see London GAA.


Birmingham has a large Irish community, dating back to the Industrial Revolution, it is estimated that Birmingham has the largest Irish population per capita in the UK. Digbeth is the traditional Irish area in Birmingham. During the 1950s Sparkbrook and Sparkhill were the main Irish areas. Today many Irish people live in areas such as Hall Green and Solihull. Birmingham has the UK's largest St Patricks Day's Parade (and the world's third biggest) and Britain's only 'Irish Quarter', with many traditional Irish pubs and the Birmingham Irish centre. Irish people have always moved to Birmingham for work especially for the construction, factory and industrial work which the city had to offer. Many Irish people moved to Birmingham to build canals, roads and railways in the city's industrial past. It is estimated a significant percentage of people from Birmingham have Irish ancestry. St Chad's Cathedral is one of only two of the minor Basilicas in the UK. It is very important as the first Catholic church built in Britain after the English Reformation, and was designed by the architect Augustus Pugin.


A large number settled here in the 1950s as work was scarce at home, especially in the South. Many found work in the mills and factories and encouraged other family members to come over as there were jobs waiting for them.


Manchester has strong and long established Irish connections. It has been estimated that around 35% of Manchester's population has some Irish ancestry. As in Liverpool, city residents of Irish heritage have been influential in the music industry. All four members of the Smiths had Irish roots, as do the Gallagher brothers of the band Oasis. Gary Mounfield (Mani), bass player of the Stone Roses had an Irish mother.[11] Manchester holds an annual Irish Festival each March, including one of the UK's largest St Patrick's Day parades.


Middlesbrough during the latter half of the 19th century had the second highest percentage of Irish born migrants in England after Liverpool.[12][13] In terms of the overall population, 9.2% of Middlesbrough's inhabitants were Irish born in the 1871 census.[14][15] During the late 19th century, Middlesbrough became a world leader in the Steel and Iron industry and with the rapid growth of the town, the expanse of newly opened blast furnaces attracted many workers and their families to the Middlesbrough area. Unlike many other British towns at the time, Middlesbrough showed no signs of sectarianism or segregation within the various communities that lived alongside each other, there were no "Irish quarters"[16] and the many Irish that settled in Middlesbrough integrated into their adopted home. This was most likely as a result of the town's infancy, it was essentially a migrant town. Although the number of Irish born currently residing in Middlesbrough may not be as substantial as it once was, Middlesbrough retains a strong Irish connection and heritage through the ancestry of many residents.

Irish in Scotland[edit]

There are long standing migration links between Scotland and the Province of Ulster, especially between County Donegal, County Antrim and County Down with the west coast of Scotland. Considering the Dal Riada kingdoms and the gaelicisation of Scotland in the early Middle Ages, it is difficult to determine how many Scots have genetic ancestry from Ireland historically or how many were Picts who adopted Irish lifestyles, although the general consensus is that both happened as Pictish culture vanished by the 11th century. In 2001, around 55,000 people in Scotland (1.1 per cent of the Scottish population) had been born in Ireland, while people of Irish (either Protestant or Catholic) ancestry make up 20% of the Scottish population. Scotland has a greater number of persons born in Northern Ireland and County Donegal (0.66 per cent) than in the rest of the Republic of Ireland (0.43%). Despite having lower than average numbers of Irish people resident the Lanarkshire town of Coatbridge is more than 50% Catholic.[17] The town is populated by the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th generation children of Irish immigrants, especially immigrants from County Donegal. In 2006 more than 28% of adults in Coatbridge had surnames with Irish origins.[18] Coatbridge holds the largest St. Patrick's Day Festival in Scotland.

Famous Scots of Irish-Catholic ancestry include actors Sir Sean Connery, Brian Cox, Gerard Butler, James McAvoy and Robbie Coltrane; comedians Billy Connolly and Frankie Boyle; singers Susan Boyle, Fran Healy and David Byrne; historians Prof. Tom Devine and Prof. Michael Lynch; footballers like Jimmy McGrory and Ray Houghton; politicians like James Connolly (the trade unionist and Easter Rising leader), Jim Murphy (the current British Shadow Defence Secretary), and socialist political figure Tommy Sheridan; television presenter Lorraine Kelly; businessmen like Sir Thomas Lipton; and writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. A. J. Cronin, John Byrne and Andrew O'Hagan.

Support for particular football teams often reflects Catholic or Protestant heritage. Celtic are overwhelmingly supported by people from a Catholic background though not exclusively. Hibernian and Dundee United were formed as clubs representing Irish Catholics, however there is little vestige of these founding values today. Teams such as Dundee (though founded before Dundee United on entirely secular grounds), Heart of Midlothian and Lanarkshire teams such as Motherwell and Airdrie are contentiously perceived by some as Protestant clubs. Rangers are seen as having retained a Protestant identity, despite signing a number of high-profile Catholic players since the 1980s.

Today a very small minority of the Irish Catholic community in Scotland take part in Irish republican marches (mainly in Strathclyde) though these marches do not have exclusively Catholics in attendance with many Protestants and others of various faiths or none involved,[citation needed] and the Orange Order has a large membership in Scotland, predominantly in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. As well as Scotland's own parades, many Scottish bands parade in Northern Ireland on or around 12 July.

Irish in Wales[edit]

Starting in the 4th century AD, Irish raiders settled Wales extensively, their impact being so great that many Gaelic words were introduced into the Welsh language.[19] Many Irish emigrants came to Wales as a result of the famine of 1845–52. They were often very poor, and seen as carrying "famine fever" (typhus), but over time they acquired a notable presence—in the thousands, particularly in the Welsh coal mining towns in and around Swansea and Newport. In 2001 there were 20,569 people in Wales (0.7% of the population) who had been born in Ireland[citation needed].

Probably one of the most famous Welsh nationals of Irish-Catholic ancestry is screen actress Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Irish language in Britain[edit]

The Irish language has a long history in Britain. Gaels came to Britain between the 4th to 5th centuries and established Irish language speaking communities in the west coast of Scotland that remain to this day. The waves of Irish immigrants that settled in British communities in the 19th and 20th centuries were mostly English speaking, the Irish language having become extinct in most towns and villages in Ireland. Today there are several regular gatherings of Irish speakers in London,[20] Glasgow[21] and Manchester[22] and lessons available in several British cities including Hammersmith,[23] Camden,[24] Birmingham,[25] Liverpool,[26] Leeds,[27] Newcastle[28] and Cardiff.[29]

2001 Census[edit]

The 2001 UK census was the first which allowed British citizens to express an Irish ethnicity. In all previous British censuses, figures for the Irish community were based on Irish birthplace. The percentage claiming White Irish ethnicity in England and Wales was 1.2 per cent, with the highest concentration found in the London Borough of Brent, where they made up 6.9 per cent of the population,[30] while the figure for Scotland was 0.98 per cent.[31] The Irish have been the largest source of immigrants to Britain for over 200 years and as many as six million people in the UK are estimated to have at least one Irish grandparent.[2]

Places with significant Irish population[edit]

There are many people in Great Britain with Irish ancestry and they are found mainly in the following towns and cities:

Additionally, the 2011 census listed the following towns and cities as having the largest Irish populations (note that this list does not contain towns and cities with a population of less than 15, 000):[32][33]

Culture and influence[edit]

Saint Patrick's Day is widely celebrated throughout Great Britain, owing to many British people's ancestral links with Ireland as well as the general popularity of the event. Birmingham and Manchester have particularly large parades.

Britons of Irish ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The article "More Britons applying for Irish passports" states that 6 million Britons have either an Irish grandfather or grandmother and are thus able to apply for Irish citizenship. [8].


  1. ^ One in four Britons claim Irish roots
  2. ^ a b Six million Britons are entitled to Irish citizenship
  3. ^ Jones, Charles (1997). The Edinburgh history of the Scots language. Edinburgh University Press. p. 551. ISBN 978-0-7486-0754-9. 
  4. ^ Nora Kershaw Chadwick, Myles Dyllon (1972). The Celtic Realms. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-7607-4284-6. 
  5. ^ Campbell, Ewan. "Were the Scots Irish?" in Antiquity #75 (2001).
  6. ^ Irish Migration to Merseyside
  7. ^ UK Census 2001
  8. ^ "Employment Patterns". ONS. Retrieved 10 February 2011. 
  9. ^ O'Carroll, Lisa (20 January 2011). "Irish emigration worse than 1980s". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Smyth, Jamie (14 June 2011). "Emigration to Britain up 25% to almost 14,000, data reveals". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  11. ^ "Essential Travel - Travel Insurance, Airport Parking and Airport Hotels". 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2014-05-19. 
  12. ^ [1], Urban North-Eastern English: Tyneside to Teesside - Joan C. Beal, Lourdes Burbano-Elizondo & Carmen Llamas, 2012
  13. ^ [2], The Rise of a Victorian Ironopolis: Middlesbrough and Regional Industrialization - Minoru Yasumoto, 2011
  14. ^ [3], The Rise of a Victorian Ironopolis: Middlesbrough and Regional Industrialization - Minoru Yasumoto, 2011
  15. ^ [4], The Irish in Britain, 1815–1939 - Roger Swift & Sheridan Gilley, 1989
  16. ^ [5], Middlesbrough - A study into Irish immigration and influence on the Middlesbrough dialect - Barbara Fennell, Mark J. Jones & Carmen Llamas
  17. ^ Scottish 2001 census.[full citation needed]
  18. ^ [6] Archived January 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ Fischer, Steven Roger. A History of Language, Reaktion Books, 1999, pp. 117
  20. ^ "Ar an Drabhlás -The London Irish Language Meetup". Meetup. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  21. ^ "CNaG Glaschú - Fáilte". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  22. ^ "Manchester Irish Language Group". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "What's On at The London Irish Centre". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  25. ^ "Activities at the Centre - Irish Centre Birmingham". Retrieved 27 August 2016. 
  26. ^ "st-micks". st-micks. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  27. ^ "Irish Arts Foundation". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  28. ^ "Irish Language Lessons". Get Into Newcastle. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  29. ^ "Irish classes available in Cardiff - alt.cardiff". 2015-12-01. Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  30. ^ "Census 2001 – Ethnicity and religion in England and Wales". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  31. ^ "Analysis of ethnicity in the 2001 Census – Summary report". The Scottish Government. February 2004. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  32. ^ "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] UK Government Web Archive – The National Archives". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  33. ^ GROS. "Interactive Maps | Census Data Explorer | Scotland's Census". Retrieved 2016-08-27. 
  34. ^ George Harrison's family tree
  35. ^ Kesh, County Fermanagh
  36. ^ John Lennon's family tree
  37. ^ Paul McCartney's family tree


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External links[edit]