The Western Mail has really caught the history bug. We are in the middle of their Welsh History Month. Today Dr Paul O’Leary of Aber discusses Irish Migration to Wales. Well worth a read – some highlights:
…These newcomers sometimes received a hostile reception from the Welsh and were refused hospitality at inns. This was not an isolated episode.
From the 1820s Irish migrants began to appear in the new and growing industrial settlements of the country.
They encountered a violent response from the outset, as happened at Rhymney in 1826. Over the course of the 19th century there would be as many as 20 anti-Irish riots across the country, in places as far apart as Cardiff and Holyhead.
And in the famine times:
Tens of thousands of these unfortunates arrived at the ports of South Wales after travelling as ballast in the holds of coal ships that returned with a human cargo from Irish ports.
Many of these refugees were themselves diseased and starving, and they endured appalling conditions in these sailing ships.
Journeys took days or even weeks when the weather was bad and some refugees died on board ship or succumbed shortly after landing.
These were harrowing times when fearful migrants encountered an anxious and sometimes hostile population at their destination.
As one commentator at Cardiff put it, the destitute newcomers arrived with nothing more than “pestilence on their backs, famine in their stomachs”.
Things changed however….
James Murphy became the first Roman Catholic Mayor of Newport in 1868, while John Beirne was the first Irish Mayor of Wrexham in 1877.
Cardiff followed with PJ Carey becoming mayor in 1894.
And of course in sport:
..The most prominent of these was the boxer “Peerless” Jim Driscoll (pictured), a sportsman who won fame on both sides of the Atlantic.
He became featherweight champion of Wales in 1901, following this with the British and British Empire featherwight titles.
On the day of his funeral on May 3, 1925, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff in respectful silence.
…and a pretty happy ending:
But after the 1880s there were none of the bitter, violent and long-lived conflicts that continued to scar the public life of Merseyside and the West of Scotland.
If the Irish endured hostility in mid-19th century Wales, there is some consolation in that conclusion.