The Irish Poor in Great Britain

Published 27 Dec 2016

The migration of Irish poor in Great Britain is greatly attributed to Irish Potato Famine. This famine has also paved way to the very infamous Irish Diaspora. In this paper I will provide a clear outline of Ireland’s migration to Great Britain, and in doing so, it is a necessity to give a geographical background of both Ireland and Great Britain. Since Irish Potato Famine is the root of this migration, it is a must to provide a concise account of the matter. The paper will also discuss the labour make-up of Great Britain for Ireland. After laying down all of these, the paper will enlighten the question of “whether poor relief should be given in Ireland as a means of staunching the flow of immigration into Britain?

The Art of Famine

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In between 1845 to 1849, Ireland was suffering from a great agriculture crisis. There major source of food was consumed by a potato fungus that wiped out the majority Ireland’s potatoes, and affected drastically Ireland’s potato production. The Irish Potato Famine resulted to a nation food shortage and starvation. Within three years of its existence, approximately 500,000 inpiduals died due to hunger and diseases. In order to escape this worsening predicament, about two million of Ireland’s populace migrated to several countries such as Great Britain, United States of America, Canada, and Australia. This worldwide migration was later on called as Ireland’s Diaspora.

But the bulk of refugees stationed in Great Britain because of two reasons: geographical proximity and the belief that the famine should be attributed to Great Britain. Since the start of the famine, Irish immigrants are continuously vacating Great Britain’s territory up to this moment. According to Paper on Foreign Policy, there is an estimate of two million Irish citizens who are living in Great Britain. The issue of Diaspora is not only limited to agricultural problems but also with the economic, political and religious conditions. In Great Britain Irish immigrants are not called as Irish Briton, rather they are entitled as British Irish due to some political and cultural disagreements of pro-British unionists.

One of Great Britain’s contributions that catapulted the Irish Potato Famine is due to landholdings. The declination of Irish landholdings originated in 1169 due to Norman invasion. Ireland was invaded by Great Britain. The acquisition of land is limited to inheritance, in which male children are considered as the heir. This kind of acquisition led to the conceptualization of subpision, until lands were pided only to those living sons. As time went by, subpision became only visible in poor Irish citizens. Landholdings at this point, was strictly concentrated on the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, were the latter was the biggest part of population who receive only a part of their supposed, and in most cases, limited to farm land.

In 1840’s the majority of lands in Ireland was owned by Great Britain. But British government did not focus much on their Irish lands because during the famine they are more concerned with cattle and other food exportation. Those Irish who suffer from financial difficulty focused on planting potatoes since it has a high nutritional value, and cheaper and easier to propagate, and they did not attempt to widen their land boundary because it will only led to high rent payments, and worst eviction.

On Labour System

The fluctuation of potato production was changed to corn production; still the agricultural industry of Ireland did not flourish due to a more profitable industry, specifically of dairying and stock raising of England. The diminishing agricultural condition of Ireland continued because the majority of Irish migrated in England in exchange of their tillage to livestock, and worst, those Irish farmers who were left in their native land do not have the mastery of tilling.

Incessant increase in migration led to high underemployment in Ireland and high overemployment in England. The competition over employment in Great Britain resulted to lower labour cost, and unfortunately Irish citizens were a large part of the competition. The Irish poverty was so prominent that they could not even acquire any land of their own, especially in England. A job for an Irish worker is not permanent because as the labour costs constantly decreases, laying-off of Irish employees increases.

The aftermath of the famine proved that Ireland is in great devastation. According to Ernest Barker, during the nineteenth century Ireland was congested in the sense that of disproportional share of uneconomic possessions. The point is that all holding during this time was undeniably uneconomic because the majority of it was peasant holdings. Because of this condition, Ireland was in dire need of assistance.

As pointed out earlier, Ireland and England has a very close geographical proximity, which is the main reason why the former asked the latter for their assistance, and later on created a relationship between two nations. This relationship sprouted several issues on both sides; one is of Irish unionist and the other one is the British loyalists. According to historians, this relationship was in a form of genocide in favour of Great Britain because the aid that they have given to Ireland almost exterminated the existence of the latter. The issue heightened when Lord John Russell of Great Britain executed ill-informed, catastrophic and misguided policies for the Irish poor.

The question of assistantship purported a moral debate against the British government in terms of how the policies benefited the Irish, and whether the British Empire successfully assisted the Irish in their humanitarian needs. Some historians accused Great Britain of mistreating the Irish in the sense that the former take advantage of the latter manpower capacity and the depopulation of Ireland were highly favoured By British government.

According to An Act for the Union of Great Britain and Ireland on the second July 1800, the ties between Great Britain and Ireland will be strengthened and consolidated and will unify two Kingdoms into one Kingdom. But the most important part of the resolution was clearly pointed out in its sixth article, which stated that Great Britain and Ireland will have an equal footing in any economic endeavors and will help each other in times of crises.

As of this time, there is a prominent issue on the acceptance of Irish poor in Great Britain. James Apinall Turner found an absurd attitude among Irish when it comes to migration. According to him, British are not fond of travelling from another border just to look for a greener pasture. But this is not case for Irish people as Turner stated, because he sees them to be well comforted in leaving their own dwellings without any reluctance at all. He also added that Irish people who are migrating to Great Britain are people who seem to be coming to their town, meaning, as if they are just going to their own niche. And worst, they enjoy a minute amount of comfort of migration they still have the capacity to accommodate their fellows in that minute amount of comfort.

James Guest, on the other hand, sees Irish as well capable workers. According there is no much difference between Irish and British workers, but he sees the former equally efficient and reasonable as the latter. The only discrepancy with Irish is their lack of education that is why most of the time they get engaged to some hullabaloo.

Can poor relief be the panacea in curbing the incessant migration of Irish to Great Britain? It was morally established that each neighbouring countries are ought to be responsible with each other, especially if two neighbouring countries are proximally close to each other. In case of Great Britain and Ireland, proximity is not only the basis but most importantly their pact on the creation of United Kingdom. Poor relief is a good means to alleviate the existing poverty of Ireland but it will not staunch their practise of migration for several reasons.

One, the attitude of looking for a greener pasture is deeply embedded on Irish psyche. Poor relief cannot satisfy the wanting of this psyche because it can only satiate basic needs, Irish want more than this. Two, they can take advantage of poor relief and they can still migrate because poor relief does prohibit one from migrating. It is like hitting two birds with one stone. Three, poor relief does not solve the core problem of Irish poor, which is need acquiring jobs. The reason of their migration is to seek for a decent job that they cannot find in their native land.

To curb this incessant migration Great Britain must go beyond poor relief. First, they must ensure that this poor relief is continuous and must be reinforced continuously because if it is for a given timeframe only then Irish will still resort to migration. Second, British government must provide more job opportunities for Irish inside their native land. And lastly, if it is possible for British government to enact and to strictly reinforce a law that will curtail the continual migration then they must make one. It must be noted that each country must ensure that other countries will not invade (in the sense of getting jobs and enjoying the perks and freebies of the state) their own land. Therefore, ratifying a law to stop Irish citizens is sound since they occupy a big part of Great Britain’s geography.


  • BOYCE, D. G. & O’DAY, A. (2000) Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism Since 1801 London ; New York Routledge.
  • GRIBBEN, A. (1999) After the Famine: Irish Agriculture, 1850-1914 Amherst University of Massachusetts Press,.
  • SAILER, S. S. (1997) Representing Ireland: Gender, Class, Nationality, Gainesville University Press of Florida.
  • SHANNON, M. O. (1986) Irish Republic, Oxford, England ; Santa Barbara, Calif. ABC-CLIO.
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