The Irish in Leicester, c.1841 to c.1891: a study of a minority community in the East Midlands

Danaher, Nessan (1999) The Irish in Leicester, c.1841 to c.1891: a study of a minority community in the East Midlands. Doctoral thesis, University of North London.


The central aim of this thesis is to pioneer an in-depth study of the Irish in the largely unstudied East Midlands town of Leicester, and to do so across the half-century c. 1841-9 1. The Irish migrant and settler experience in Leicester is contextualised against current historiographical debates about the Irish in nineteenth century Britain; and the Leicester Irish experience is contrasted with that of Irish settlers elsewhere, including where relevant the wider diasporic framework. The work addresses social, economic, political and cultural agendas, and attempts to do so within a wide-ranging analysis which locates local developments within a national context. The thesis examines both direct and indirect patterns of migration, with reference to diachronic decennial analysis and the issue of transience. The thesis addresses: the centrality of prejudice experienced by the Irish via a prejudiced media and the mobilisation of popular anti-Catholicism; the social structure of the migrant and settled community (re: housing, health and poverty); occupational patterns in relation to class, gender, ethnicity and generation; the important but ignored contribution of Irish males and females to local Catholic growth, especially in terms of leadership, personnel, infrastructure and resourcing in education; patterns of criminal behaviour, including variations occasioned by differing religious and gender backgrounds and the situation of second as opposed to first generation Irish-, and finally the community's political development vis-à-vis both local as well as national agendas. The Irish community is identified in a wide sense, as this is felt to be a more valid way of evaluating progress or lack of it. This approach also facilitates comparisons between the Irish-born sector and the wider (or "effectively") Irish community when appropriate.

The analysis presented is based on an extensive and specially compiled database which includes relevant identifiable entries from the censuses for Leicester from 1841 to 1891 inclusive. The data includes all the census fields, and deliberately conjoins not just the Irish-born but spouses and siblings bom outside Ireland. Extensive integrated use is made of data from prison, poor law, corporation and other sources.

The thesis concludes that, whilst the Irish were, and remained, a minority, with very little expansion in relation to the host community's growth, this did not deter positive developments in the areas identified above. Whilst a Protestant and anti-Catholic culture permeated the town, and probably intersected with economic factors to limit in-migration, it was not powerful enough to deter the models of religious and political internal community development that were taking place in other Irish communities in Britain at that time. By c. 1891, the Leicester Irish had not been assimilated; they did achieve levels of integration which in employment terms reflected the situation of c. 1841, when there had been some small representation in jobs outside the unskilled sector. In ethnic and cultural identity terms the Irish in Leicester experienced upturns and downturns throughout the period. This was especially the case via formal education, Which materially assisted the processes of incorporation and denationalization, and took place despite the hibernophilic attitude of the local Catholic leadership from c. 1875. An identifiable Irish Protestant dimension existed, and this group may have been more widely represented in Leicester than elsewhere.

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