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Family histories of Irish emigrants in Britain, 1820–1920
Author: John Herson

This book is unique in adopting a family history approach to Irish migration in nineteenth century Britain. Historians of the Irish in Britain have almost totally ignored the family dimension, but this study shows that the family was central to Irish peoples’ lives and experiences. It was the major factor influencing the life choices and identity of the migrants and their descendants. The book documents for the first time a representative sample of Irish immigrant families and uses the techniques of family and digital history to explore their long-term fate. To do this it examines the Irish in Stafford in the West Midlands, a town that was a microcosm of the broader Irish experience in England.

Central to the book is a unique body of evidence about the lives of ordinary families. They were united by their Irish ethnicity and by living in the same town, but there the similarity ended. In the long term they diverged in different directions. Many families integrated into the local population, but others ultimately moved away whilst some simply died out. The case studies explore the reasons why the fate of these families proved to be so varied.

The book reveals a fascinating picture of family life and gender relations in nineteenth-century England. Its provocative conclusions will stimulate debate amongst scholars of Irish history, genealogists, historians of the family and social historians generally. The book also offers some valuable historical parallels to the lives of contemporary immigrant families in Britain.

Liverpool as a diasporic city, 1825–1913
John Herson

This chapter seeks to outline the scale and character of emigration through Liverpool and its significance for the city. It examines the impact of nineteenth-century in-migration and questions whether it is useful to view Liverpool as a diasporic city. The chapter suggests that Liverpool's ambiguous nineteenth-century identity reflected the tensions of its complex migrant connections. Liverpool was the most important emigrant port in the British Isles, and shows the extent of its dominance. Over twelve million passengers passed through the city between 1825 and 1913, nearly 56 per cent of all those leaving United Kingdom (UK) ports. The Famine emigration dominates perceptions of Liverpool's importance for Irish overseas emigration. The emigrant traffic was an element in the endemic controversy over Liverpool's dock facilities that reflected ambiguity in the role of the port.

in The empire in one city?
A new approach
John Herson

The book opens by arguing that a family history approach can throw new light on important issues relating to Irish migration to Victorian Britain, notably about Irish family lives, the long-term fate of immigrants and their descendants, as well as the significance of Irish ethnicity, gender, identity, locality and the Irish diaspora.

The chapter reviews conceptual approaches to studying the history of families. Three research questions are discussed – identifying how families functioned in terms of family strategy and relationships, the specific impact of migration on families and how the family related to its wider social and economic context.

Stafford’s value as a case study location is outlined and the methodology and sources are discussed. The work uses collective family biography or ‘prosopography’. The database at the heart of the project is described and the varied sources are reviewed. Interviews and evidence from descendants have been combined with digital history and documentary sources to construct the genealogies of settled families, narratives of their history and an assessment of the factors that determined their fates.

in Divergent paths
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Irish emigration and Stafford
John Herson

This chapter links migrants’ origins in Ireland and their settlement in Stafford. Many came from the area around Castlerea, Co. Roscommon and before the Famine came as seasonal workers to Staffordshire to bring in the harvest. During and after the Famine escape and subsequent chain migration led survivors to settle in Stafford. Other migrants came from elsewhere in Ireland and from a wide range of occupational backgrounds.

The Stafford context is then described and it is argued that the town provided varied and growing opportunities for the Irish. Although there were many slums and much poverty in the town, Stafford’s overall environment was relatively benign in comparison the areas of Irish settlement that are generally studied. There were good reasons to settle there and reasonable opportunities for those who stayed.

in Divergent paths
The overall picture
John Herson

An overall picture of the Irish families who came to Stafford in the nineteenth century is now provided. A total of 206 distinct families settled long-term. Over sixty per cent were initially ‘all-Irish’ families, but thirty-five per cent were of mixed ethnicity from the start. There is a quantitative analysis and classification of Stafford’s settled Irish families.

In the long term the Irish families diverged in three directions. About one third were ‘long-term transients’ – the immigrants settled for some time but ultimately they or their descendants left. Nearly half ‘integrated’ and put down deep roots in Stafford. One fifth of the families were ‘terminal’ because they withered away and died out in the town. These three ‘divergent paths’ are fundamental to the analysis of the family histories in the rest of the book. It is also a new demographic perspective on the Irish.

in Divergent paths
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Labouring families before the Famine
John Herson

Just over half Stafford’s Irish families began by depending on labouring or farm labouring and their numerical importance is given due weight over the next three chapters. This chapter looks at families who settled before the Famine and the detailed example is the Kearns family. They ultimately proved to be long-term transients even though they were present in Stafford from the 1820s to 1913. They were in poverty, never integrated and remained in a generally Irish milieu. There is, however, no evidence that they retained a conscious Irish identity. The Kearns family demonstrates how complex the history of Irish families could be and the need to avoid simplistic conclusions about family strategy, attitudes and identity.

in Divergent paths
John Herson

The book now moves to the labouring families who arrived during the Famine. Although many families arrived en bloc, almost equal numbers of new family units were established after people’s arrival in Stafford. The long-term trajectories of the Famine families divide almost equally between those who integrated and those proving to be long-term transient, whilst just under a fifth proved to be terminal and died out.

There are three case studies. The Coleman family achieved respectability through a strategy of integrating into local society, a strategy that was largely determined by the women through a network of strong kinship support. The Kelly family demonstrated symptoms possible trauma and of alienation from both Stafford and Irish society. The Jordan family ultimately withered away in Stafford.

The chapter reviews the Famine labouring families and suggests that in many families there was inter-generational tension, some of which reflected problems of identity. There is also evidence that some Famine immigrants wished to make a clean break with their Irish past.

in Divergent paths
John Herson

More labouring families settled in Stafford after the Famine than arrived during it and this chapter examines those who arrived after 1852. There are four case studies. The McDermott family were poor but despite marital problems they integrated into the local community and descendants achieved modest status. Jane Duffy illustrates the problems faced by lone female migrants. She experienced widowhood, single-motherhood and desertion. The Walsh family were unique in identifying with Irish nationalism, and they rejected Stafford. The McMahon/Mitchell/Shiel family shows how some members had a strategy towards respectability within local society whereas others integrated into Stafford’s poor working class.

The chapter shows how the prime factors conditioning the divergent paths taken by labouring families were the character of family relationships and interactions with their environment. These families often conform to the common image of Irish migrants but the family history evidence demonstrates the complexity and variability of their lives and undermines simple ethnic stereotypes.

in Divergent paths
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The families of craft, clerical and service workers
John Herson

The chapter begins by reviewing how historians have conceptualised higher status migrants. It then focuses on the one quarter of settled families who depended on a wide range of craft, service or petty trading activities. Their characteristics are compared with the labouring families. The case study families reflect the diversity of this group. The complex Corcoran family integrated into Stafford society, though with complications. The Giltrap family were Protestants who proved to be long-term transients. Margaret Carr lived in a quasi-family environment and remained trapped in poverty. The nuclear Larkin or Mullarkey family demonstrated arrested integration and apparent division over whether to retain or reject an Irish identity.

The chapter argues that one reason for long-term transience was career advancement amongst skilled or public service workers but another could be questions and conflicts over identity. There is consideration of the behaviour and identity of the Protestant Irish, often neglected by historians.

in Divergent paths
John Herson

Military families were an important group of Irish emigrants but have been generally ignored by historians. The chapter begins by reviewing their significance. Many Irish regular soldiers were sent to the militia barracks in Stafford or settled there after being pensioned off. The majority of service families integrated into local society but a few died out in the town and others proved to be long-term transient.

John Carroll was an old soldier who became part of the Coleman family. Lambert Disney family and Trench Nugent were Anglo-Irish Protestants but Disney was unable to integrate and committed suicide. John Cronin married into the Moyers family and they became respectable Catholics whereas John Ryan and his Blundon family relatives were the victims of a military life and ensuing poverty.

The chapter suggests that the strength of individual and family characteristics outweighed the general legacy of service in the forces and that this explains the divergent paths taken by ex-service families.

in Divergent paths