The Irish in Glasgow

Most of my many first cousins have Irish blood in their veins, but it was only after the 1911 Scottish census recently became available, that I was able to discover the extent of their Irish ancestry.

In the case of my father’s eldest brother William, his wife, Sarah McKee, although born herself in Glasgow in 1903, had both parents (James McKee and Susan Downerd) born in Ireland. One grandfather (Joseph Carroll) of my father’s brother-in-law, Charles Carroll was born in Ireland. Likewise, both grandfathers (Patrick McAneny and Robert Spencer) of another of my father’s brother-in-laws, Peter McAneny, were born in Ireland. Indeed, both parents (Edward McKay and Ann Mochan) of Patrick’s wife were also born in Ireland. And the maternal great-grandparents (James and Ann Esdale) of the wife of my father’s other brother, Alexander, were also born in Ireland.

What is interesting though is that, although one or two might have married in Ireland, they found their way over to Glasgow. There are several reasons for this influx of Irish into Scotland and Glasgow in particular. By 1839, half the cotton mills in Scotland were in or near Glasgow – fast becoming a centre of textile production and hence a source of jobs. Population pressures, difficulties in the Irish linen industry and easy access to ports on the river Clyde by the new-fangled steamships, meant that by 1841 nearly a quarter of the people in the western Lowlands were of Irish extraction. The Great (potato) Famine which started in 1846 was another reason for the Irish to leave their country, and while perhaps most went to the United States, many went to Scotland. And there was the seasonal migration from Ireland – particularly of men - for the harvests, which gradually became more permanent.

Migration was extensive – of the ten principal Scottish towns in 1851 (which census recorded place of birth for the first time) 53% of their inhabitants were born elsewhere (not necessarily outside Scotland though). The majority of the immigrants were young adults – almost all males - and more concentrated in the marriageable and child-bearing ages. Some 7% of Scotland’s population at this time was Irish-born – though in Glasgow in 1841 some 16% of its citizens were born in Ireland. Revised figures suggest that if those of Irish extraction were also included and not simply those actually born in Ireland, then at least one in three Glaswegians were of Irish descent in 1841!  (Actually, most of the Irish immigrants were Catholics, which caused tensions with the local Protestants – a situation that exists still to this day – witness the rivalry between the Catholic Celtic and Protestant Rangers football clubs in Glasgow.)

Unfortunately because Irish BMD records were largely destroyed by fire, then it is very difficult to know further details about my cousins’ Irish families. However, by looking at the dates of birth and marriage of their ancestors as given in various censuses, then we can get a feel for when they arrived in Glasgow to see whether they fit the young nubile adult pattern.

James McKee, born about 1860 in Ireland, married an Irish girl in Ireland about 1880, but, presumably divorced, he made his way to Glasgow where he married Susan Downerd, born in 1862 in Monaghan, Ireland in 1893. How long James had been in Glasgow is not known, but it was clearly before the 1891 census in which he appears, aged 31. And just when Susan arrived is also not known – but clearly before 1893 and thus before she was 30. James was railway engine coal filler and coke burner.

Joseph Carroll was born in Ireland about 1831 – whether he followed the normal Irish emigration pattern and went to Glasgow first is not known; however, he married in York, England in 1856 – still in his mid-twenties. Joseph was a lithographer artist and draftsman and clearly moved around the country judging from the birth places of his children. The family ended up in Glasgow between 1871-1873 since the last child was born there in 1873. The children mostly appear to have stayed in Glasgow – marrying there and dying there.

Edward McKay was born about 1826 in Monaghan, Ireland and Ann Mochan was born there in 1833, but they married in Glasgow in 1851. Did they meet there? Or did they already know each other back home and emigrated together? They obviously came sometime before October 1851 - Edward in his early twenties and Ann in her mid-teens. Edward was initially a mason’s labourer, later becoming  a carter. Their daughter, RoseAnn, married Patrick McAneny in Glasgow. Patrick was born about 1861 in Ireland, so he too came in his early twenties and before 1 January 1884 when he married RoseAnn. Patrick was variously a carter, coal dealer and tramway car driver. The son of Patrick and RoseAnn, also called Patrick, married Mary Spencer in 1907 in Glasgow. Her father, Robert, was born about 1860 in Ireland but also came to Glasgow in his mid-twenties since he married there in 1885. At the time of his marriage he was a lithographic printer journeyman.

James Esdale and his wife Ann, were both born in Ireland and came to Glasgow, either together or separately when they were in their late teens. Their daughter, Mary, was born in Glasgow in 1839 and in the 1841 census the age of both parents is given as 20.

My father was born and lived in Garngad in Glasgow, as did his siblings and many of his uncles and aunts mentioned above. Garngad was known as Little Ireland because of the numbers of Irish navies who settled in the area after 1800 working on digging canals and railways. The industrial age brought both work, pollution and disease to those who lived in Garngad’s congested streets. Slum clearance began in the early 1930s, but it was not until after the 2nd World War that better housing became available for the Irish descendants of Glasgow.

Sunday, 26 June 2011