Conflicted Identities analyses the politics of Irish diaspora activism in England during the Northern Ireland conflict. This page signposts the outstanding scholarship, heritage projects, and online resources which continually shape our understanding of post-war Irish migration to Britain.

Books and publications

Thanks to the pioneering research of scholars such as Enda Delaney, Kathleen Paul, Mo Moulton, Angela Maye-Banbury, Sharon Lambert, and Barry Hazley, we know much about the working lives, complex identities, and cultural practices of Irish emigrants in twentieth-century Britain.

Perhaps the most important monographs on the Irish in later twentieth-century Britain are Enda Delaney’s Demography, state and society: Irish migration to Britain, 1921-1971 (Liverpool University Press, 2000) and The Irish in post-war Britain (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Demography, state and society traced mid-twentieth-century emigration from the political crises of Ireland's 'independent' polity, which formed as the Irish Free State in 1922. Charting mass Irish entry into the British labour market, Delaney noted the disjuncture between Irish citizens’ official position in Britain – enjoying the right to enter and work, enshrined in the British Nationality Act (1948) – and the ambivalent, often uneasy relationship between Irish immigrants and the British state and populace. Demography, state and society also analysed how the emigration phenomenon emerged as a crisis motif in southern Irish politics, especially when young women's flight to Britain piqued moral preoccupations.

Explaining the heterogeneity of the Irish diaspora in respect of place and class, The Irish in post-war Britain especially highlighted cultural interaction between the diaspora and their homeland. Delaney’s thematic chapters contextualised political debates in Britain surrounding the social and political position of the Irish community, which numbered 1 million by the early 1970s. The Irish in post-war Britain also situated the Irish community in an international history of contentious politics relating to immigration in post-war – even post-imperial – Britain.

Sharon Lambert’s Irish women in Lancashire, 1922-1960: their story (Centre for North-West Regional Studies, 2001) is a fascinating oral history of Irish women who settled in Lancashire during the peak emigration years of the mid-twentieth century. Lambert not only illustrated the social and economic challenges facing young women arriving in England between the 1920s and 1950s, but also how the political and cultural landscape jarred with young emigrants. Lambert’s life history methodology highlighted especially how older emigrants retrospectively organised their narratives around a shifting sense of home and community, with identity anchored in family, religiosity, and work.

Mo Moulton’s acclaimed book Ireland and the Irish in interwar England (Cambridge University Press, 2014) – proxime accessit for The Whitfield Prize in 2015 – explored how Irish emigration influenced British society and independent Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s. Drawing upon an array of ego documents from British and Irish contemporaries, Moulton’s interdisciplinary approach yielded rich insights into how Irish emigrants formulated ideas of identity and community in political terms. Delineating an Irish urban subculture, Moulton demonstrated how the Catholic Church fostered a form of community sociability which was culturally expressive in private while politically moderate in public.

Archives and collections

Former IBRG national chair Bernadette Hyland has recently donated her archive, encompassing more than twenty boxes of papers, to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. A comprehensive collection covering the IBRG’s two-decade lifespan from its foundation in 1982, the Hyland papers represent an indispensable resource for historians of Irish diaspora activism in Britain. A charity relying upon a dedicated team of volunteers, the Working Class Movement Library is a magnificent repository of books, pamphlets, and archives documenting more than two centuries of working-class history. Generations of historians of working-class politics and activism have benefited from this extraordinary place.

Thanks to Bernadette Hyland’s donation, the IBRG collection is publicly available to anybody wishing to learn about the history of this important organisation and its political networks. With her fellow IBRG veteran Patrick Reynolds, Bernadette Hyland has also produced a valuable chronology of the organisation’s campaigns, freely accessible on Bernadette’s website here. You can hear Bernadette talk about the IBRG and her collection here.

Online resources

To mark its fiftieth anniversary in 2023, Irish in Britain (formerly the Federation of Irish Societies) has launched a major heritage project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Recording oral histories with Irish emigrants and collecting artefacts in the community, this exciting project augurs positively not only for exhibitions but also online repositories including documents and interviews. Tracing the history of one of the most important organisations galvanising the diaspora, the Irish in Britain project portends a major contribution to understanding migrant activist careers and collective memory. Stay up-to-date with the project at the Irish in Britain website here.

A review article on Barry Hazley's Life history and the Irish migrant experience in post-war England: myth,
memory and emotional adaptation 
(Manchester University Press, 2023) and Niamh Dillon's Homeward bound: return migration from Ireland and India at the end of the British empire is available here (Irish Studies Review, 31 (2023), pp. 298-303).

Additional resources

Hepworth Rise And Fall Of The Abbey Shamrocks Irelands Own 20 September 2019
PDF – 320.6 KB 66 downloads

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