What about immigration?

Immigration is an issue that concerns a lot of people in Britain; it’s always in the papers and some political parties never shut up about it

Just because people have concerns about immigration doesn’t make them racist but racists and racist political groups are eager to use these concerns to further their own agenda.

All the talk of immigrants coming to Britain and bringing crime, hostile cultures and taking jobs might sound very familiar to people from the early 20th century.

irishflag.jpgIt’s exactly what was said about Irish immigrants when they arrived in Britain over a century.

Many of these Irish Catholic immigrants arrived in West Cumbria following the Potato Famine in the 1850’s.

At the time these migrants were condemned as arriving in the country bringing with them their own religion, culture, establishing their own schools, living apart in their own communities and were regularly accused of under-cutting wages and stealing jobs.

In West Cumbria Irish immigrants formed tightly-knit communities in and around Cleator Moor and the network of Catholic churches and schools they established are still with us.

In fact, it’s only recently that some of these distinctions have faded altogether

Until the last few years, it wasn’t uncommon to find people from the Cleator Moor area who had never set foot in Ireland speaking with an Irish accent, the dialect was Cleator Moor Irish.

In Maryport, it’s still normal for nominally Catholic parents to send their kids to St Joeseph’s in Workington rather than Netherhall School in Maryport.

On the other side, there were still regular Orange Order marches in Maryport up until the 1960’s.

This wave of Irish immigration into West Cumbria brought with it problems that are almost unheard of in today’s society and have been largely forgotten.

In July 1874 the Orange Order marched on the Catholic community in Cleator Moor and running battles ensued resulting in a young Irish post boy, Frances Tumelty, being shot dead.

In Whitehaven at around the same time 600 Irish miners stormed into the town to disrupt a Unionist meeting which ended when they threw the key speaker down a flight of stairs, killing him.

Today this is all history, but can you imagine the uproar if, say, 600 Asian youths attacked a UKIP or Conservative Party meeting and lynched the speaker?

These problems were not limited to West Cumbria. In the 1900’s gangs of Catholic and Protestant youths regularly fought each other on the streets of Preston but this immigration hysteria moved beyond street fighting and into the political mainstream.

The Church of Scotland produced a report entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality’, which argued immigrants were undercutting wages and threatening jobs and supported the anti-Catholic Protest Action which had a paramilitary wing, the Kaledonian Klan.

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This scaremongering about Irish immigrants reached such levels that mainstream political figures such as Sidney Webb, who published a pamphlet in 1907 with the warnings of eugenicist Karl Pearson, warning that that in the coming decades a majority of the population would be Irish Catholics or Jews.

This was because apparently they were having so many children they would produce 50% of the next generation.

The story of Irish immigration into Britain is rich in historical lessons for the period we live in. The problems surrounding current immigration are taken as proof that people from different cultures cannot and should not live together. Yet now if you heard someone saying that Irish and English people couldn’t live together because of the problems Irish immigration caused, you’d think they were mad.

Today we face a narrative of nonsense coming from those who consider themselves ‘nationalists’ and ‘patriots’ yet have obviously forgotten, or know little of, the history of this own country.

express.jpgFrom the mainstream tabloid media to the far right come stories and scares and ‘waves’ or ‘floods’ of immigrants who, bringing their own religion and culture, will take over Britain and change it beyond all recognition.

 Replace ‘Islam’ with ‘Catholic’, ‘Asian’ with ‘Irish’ and you could be back in the 1900’s. Wild-eyed rhetoric about how Sharia law will be imposed can easily be compared to frequent claims that the rule of the Pope would be re-established in Britain by Irish Catholics. It’s like they’ve been stuck on repeat for over a century.

With hindsight we can see that those who opposed Irish immigration were talking complete nonsense.

There are problems associated with immigration, no-one should pretend otherwise, but the hysterical claims of anti-immigration demagogues should be compared to what happened during Irish immigration into Britain and the predictions made by those who opposed it.

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