Irish Immigration

Irish Migration to Glasgow

“The fact that Glasgow and Central Scotland was to become the workshop of the Empire was in no small measure due to that huge reservoir of labour which arrived from Ireland. Without that special breed of readily mobile and accommodating worker, the new harbours, canals, railways .. would not have been competed on the same scale. Without them Glasgow would never have become the city we know today” (from John Burrowes :The Irish -the remarkable saga of a Nation and City)

The catholic population of Glasgow in 1805 was only 450 (with 1 priest) In 1845 it was about 100,000 (1/3 of the total).

Numbers increased during the  famine years of 1846-1847. On the SS Londonderry ferrying to Greenock and the Broomielaw from Derry and Belfast 33,000 arrived in Glasgow in a 12 week period in 1847. Travel to Glasgow was cheaper than America- less than 5 pence on deck. 

Irish Protestants were coming over as well. It is hard to know numbers as religion was not recorded, but estimated to be over 40% of total.

“Scotland wasn’t just accepting an inundation of immigrants, it was taking in nation, together with all its hang-up, its problems”

Both Catholics and Protestants had come looking for work but they did not leave behind their sentiments for each other

Initial setttlement was in Gorbals and East End. As well as employment as navies- construction workers, railways, canals, forth bridge etc, many were coalminers (it is estimated that 25% of coalminers in the Glasgow area were Irish)

As well in Govanhill there were mines at Toryglen and Polmadie. Some of the bigger pits belonged to William Dixon and Company. They owned 5 mines in Blantyre and 50% of those employed in mines 2 and 3 were Irish. Condition were bad. A mine disaster there in 1877 killed 207.

The Dixons owned the Govan Iron Works, much better known as the famous Dioxn Blazes – “a 24 hours a day nightmare inferno of iron making and one of the most awful establishment in the entire city for its noise and noisome stench, situated right in the heart of Glasgow’s most densly populated residential district”

From the mid 19thc as houses began to be built in Govanhill many Irish moved from Gorbals into the area, and newcomers from Ireland also setted here.

"The Menace of the Irish Race"

By mid 19th century living conditions in Glasgow became the worst in Europe. There was massive building and overcrowding with jerrybuilt tenements, single ends, shared outside WCs, and destitution. The majority of the slum residents were Irish or Highland Scots.

“The more of them that came, the more there was to dislike about them. Not only were they mainly Catholic and coming to a Protestant  city but they would be taking jobs away from Glaswegians” (John Burrowes, “The Irish”). Bosses could pick and choose more than they could before. There was more labour on the market and it was cheap”. Wages were depressed. This has a familer ring in today’s Britain, where the migrants themselves become scapegoated.

The Irish were seen as drunks and bringing disease- “was not it bad enough having all these inebriated Glaswegians without swelling their ranks with Irish ones as well” as one local commentator put it. Poverty and poor housing were in fact the main casues of the higher mortality rates.

There was also growing resentment by Scottish establishment. As late as 1922 the Church of Scotland produced a report entitled “The Menace of the Irish race to our Scottish nationality ” (In fact if meant Catholic Irish – not Protestant). It stated that 25-35 % of population of west scotland was Catholic and as the catholic birth rate was higher (not factually correct  by then) and ethnic and protestant Scots  were emigrating, so the Scots would be displaced in central Scotland by Irish. There was a parallel campaign for repatriation. The Church of Scotland did not apologise for this report until 2003.

The Parish of Holy Cross

holycross (1)In 1882 a chapel of ease was started in Daisy Street and was served from St John’s (Gorbals). A dual purpose building, for school and chapel was erected. This was followed by a mission in Crosshill with a school role of more than 100 and Mass at 11am in the chapel on Sundays. By 1886 the congregation of Crosshill had increased sufficiently for Holy Cross to become and independent mission. In 1891 Devon Villa, a large mansion house at 104 Albert Road, was purchased for £1850 to be used as a presbytery. By 1900 as new new school was opened with a roll of 270 and the parish congregation was 2263.

After public fundraising a new Chruch, Holy Cross, design by Pugin, was opened in Dixon Avenue in November 1911. Long before 11.30am, when High Mass was due to be sung, every seat was occupied.

To control numbers and preserve the standard of dignity
required, tickets were issued at the cost of ten and five shillings each – a substantial sum then. It made a useful contribution to the reduction of the debt. Pairsh number continued to increase, stabalising at about 6000 in the 1970s.

The pressure was relieved in 1966 when the Majestic Cinema in Inglefield Street was obtained for the sum of £8000 and a new parish of church of Our Lady of Consolation etablished, rejoining Holy Cross in 2004.

The Church was designed by Pugin and Pugin in the Italianate style, with extensive use of marble inside. It is well worth a visit.



From Donegal- go and make a life for yourself

70% of all those of Irish ancestry in Glasgow can trace it back to Donegal. There were regular boats and a later buses from all the little villages such a Gweedore.

“Many’s the time I travelled on the boat going back to Glasgow, on a cattle boat…there was was always that smell of cattle on the boats. It got pretty packed at times, pretty rough ..and the cattle cattle used to get sick.  I used to get sick myself and be walking about for two or three days, thinking I was still, on the boat, ye know” (Mr Kearney, Derry Boat)

People left because there was not enough of a living on the land and life was poor  “It was a one-roomed cottage – thatched roof, peat fire, black pot, candlelight,rain coming in the door, smoke coming down the chimney, a sort of constant battle between either being soaked to death on the doorstep or smoked to death inside” (George Jackson)

“They were encouraged to go and make a life for themselves, because there was nothing there except the land and, when you have ten children, there’s not enough to give them a piece of land, so they have to go” (Lorraine MacIintosh)

But there was work in Glasgow, often seasonal, but then people came over and settled. “I was working in a slipper factory in Eglinton Street, I got married and I kept on working. I worked in a meat factory and in a factory making skirts and blouses. Then I was on the buses and in the schools” (Rose McGeady)

It was like a home from home -“We had so many neighbours and friends who were here, that coming into Glasgow, especially the parishes in the was like coming home  because there was a strong Gaeltacht in Glasgow in 1950 when I came here (Patrick Roarty)

“As you’d be walking down the street, you’d hear people speaking Irish … Irish Culture was very strong then. There was a lot going on, sometimes there’d be five ceilidhs on a Sunday night here in Glasgow, and a band for each one. Most of the musicians were Irish, but there were people raised here playing Irish music too” (Fearagail MacSuibhne)

Irish Pubs (and some others)
  • at the Victoria bar

  • at the Victoria bar