The Irish Journey to Birmingham
The Irish emigrated to Britain at an unprecedented level during the Second World War and made Birmingham their new home. Throughout the twentieth century, poverty in rural areas forced Irish to seek a new life overseas making them Britain’s largest foreign born population.
At the onset of the Second World War, with few industries in Ireland and many British men enlisted to fight; Britain desperately needed Irish workers to help with the war effort and launched a large-scale recruitment effort.
There was a huge shortage of workers in transport and The Midland Red and Birmingham Bus Corporations recruited Irish workers on mass. In 1955, there was 5,000 vacancies for women and 2,000 spaces for girls under eighteen; they were known as ‘clippies’. Young men and women often found romance working on the buses.
As the city was undergoing a huge post-war transformation, Irish men worked on the city’s most iconic structures, including the infamous M6 Spaghetti Junction and the Rotunda in the city centre. They essentially built the city which we now know today!
Soon there was a second-generation baby boom of babies born in Birmingham to Irish parents in the 1960s. One in six births in Birmingham were to Irish born parents and The Birmingham Mail newspaper reported in 1965 that one in ten people could claim Irish identity.
Uniquely, the number of women arriving in Birmingham from Ireland matched and even overtook the number of men. They did not arrive with a family but as young, single, migrant workers. Many women were recruited as student nurses and by 1951, 11% of nurses and midwives in Britain were Irish.
In the 1940s and ’50s, Irish migrants often found themselves in Deritend as buses and trains would come into the city from Holyhead and Liverpool ports. They arrived with little money and no accommodation. Many eventually settled in areas such as Sparkhill and Sparkbrook.
Irish charities and community groups have always supported Irish migrants to settle in the city. The original Irish quarter in Deritend was a vital lifeline for working-class Irish immigrants to the West Midlands seeking work as well as for socialising. In June 1957, the Irish Welfare and Information Centre was established, operating out of one room in Moat Row.
First, second, third and even fourth generation Irish have shared their culture and tradition through the establishment of Warwickshire GAA, the Comhaltas and Irish Dance Schools. The Irish diaspora were celebrated as marked in the first St. Patrick’s Parade in 1952.
It has not always been easy for the Irish community in Birmingham. The catastrophic tragedy of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974 claimed the lives of 21 innocent people. The Birmingham-Irish community faced an onslaught of discrimination and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade ceased for 22 years before its return in 1996.
In the nineties, the Irish became popular again as the Celtic Tiger revived music and culture. Michael Flatley and his team of dancers became overnight sensations on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994.
Today the Irish community in Birmingham continues to thrive and we can’t wait to bring you the biggest celebration of Irish culture and music here at Páirc Fest!
Want to learn more about the Irish in Birmingham? Get a ticket to see Prof. Carl Chinn MBE talk on ‘Irish History in Birmingham & Was There a Peaky Blinder Connection’.