Irish in London

In the years proceeding the Second World War, thousands of migrants from Britain’s existing and former colonies moved to the capital to fill in vacancies for labour-intensive jobs in factories and building companies. Irish immigrants moved to Greater West London to work in factories, including Walls and Nestlé, or to find other types of labouring work. West London was also a hub for commonwealth immigrants from south Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and it remains a diverse area today. Within the local history of this area, the social history of Irish immigrants has been less researched than other migrant communities. I would focus my oral history project on the experiences of the Irish diaspora in west London, who left their family-run farms to find work in the big city. These migrants made up a large proportion of the labourers who reconstructed London’s buildings, railways, roads and airports after the Second World War. My grandfather was one of these workers, who toiled away to rebuild the Great West Road and Heathrow Airport in order to get England back on its feet.

Dominate historical discourses about post-war reconstruction, and the history of immigration in London can be diversified by conducting a oral history project into the domestic and working lives of the capitals largest diaspora: the Irish. It would be beneficial to hear the stories of Irish workers who did not necessarily comply with the patriot rhetoric apparent in England during the Second World War, but still laboured to rebuilt the capital regardless. This community is also sometimes overlooked in post-war immigration history, perhaps because the Irish were more easily able to assimilate into English life than other migrants at this time. I would interview each person separately and preferably in their own home. It think it is important to collect the testimony’s of both male and female workers to get an understanding of how experiences differed along gender lines. A problem with this project is that there may not be a large number of first wave of Irish immigrants still surviving however their children could be interviewed instead.

I would use a life story approach; firstly I would like to know about the narrators childhood in rural Ireland in order to get a sense of  the social and economic situation in the area at this time, how families and farm work was organised, what education was like, what the gender roles were within the family and the influence of religion in everyday life. Did people want to leave their farms or did the economic situation force them to? Secondly I would like to find out about the experiences of Irish migrants shortly after their arrival to London, for example whether they had friends who had already moved to England, what kind of work they expected to find and whether it was easy to find accommodation. Thirdly I would like to get an understanding of how immigrants brought up their families in a foreign country. Did their ideas of family values change while they were living in England? How did gender roles within the family differ?

I think this project would provide an insight into the social history of immigration to London that other sources cannot  provide.  The key significance of this project would be to get an understanding of how domestic life, family values, gender roles and the influence of religion changed within migrant families as a result from moving from rural Ireland to metropolitan west London.


One Comment on “Irish in London”

  1. Graham Smith says:

    Siobhan O’Neil’s HLF funded project springs to mind: and LMU has an archive of the Irish in Britain. There has also been a project in Leeds. It would be interesting to see and reuse what already exists and build on that. But there are loads of great ideas here in your blog post.

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