Birmingham has long been shaped by its Irish residents. The migration caused by Ireland’s potato famine gave Birmingham the fourth highest Irish-born population of any English or Welsh town in the mid-1800s. During the 1960s, one in six children born in Birmingham had at least one parent from Ireland. Today the city hosts one of the largest St Patrick’s Day parades in the world, attended by an estimated 100,000 people. This book examines this important aspect of English-Irish history, and explains how events in Birmingham have influenced Irish political figures from Daniel O’Connell to Pádraic Pearse, Irish dramatists from Brendan Behan to Tom Murphy, as well as English writers from Gerard Manley Hopkins to Jonathan Coe. ‘Well written, engaging and stimulating … this book fills a major gap in the history of Birmingham.’ Professor Carl Chinn, University of Birmingham ‘One of the widest ranging studies of the Irish in Britain yet written. Focusing on the previously overlooked Irish communities of Britain's second city, Moran takes us on a fascinating journey from the Georgian theatre to the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings. A major piece of scholarship.’ Professor Don MacRaild, Northumbria University
Even if you have no ties with Birmingham, if you are interested in culture or history, you’ll enjoy Irish Birmingham: A History , by James Moran (Liverpool University Press, 256pp, £16.95). This meticulously researched book tells how, in the mid-1800s, largely as a result of the Great Famine of the 1840s in Ireland, Birmingham had the fourth-highest Irish-born population of any English or Welsh town, writes NOELEEN DOWLING
By the 1960s, one in six children born there had at least one parent from Ireland. Today, its St Patrick’s Day Parade is attended by an estimated 100,000 people.
But it was only in the latter half of the 1700s that Irish people began to settle in any numbers in Birmingham, which was then a large town. It was not until the turn of the 18th/19th century, with the advent of the Irish theatrical actor manager William Charles Macready, that a recognisable “Irish” cultural identity began to emerge, thanks to his masterly exploitation of the stage Irishman. In his play The Magic of British Liberty , Macready “presented an impression of Irishness that Birmingham’s spectators would find palatable” Moran writes. The beginning of the book helps to illustrate a range of attitudes to Irishness and sets the scene of the Napoleonic wars, the French adventure in Ireland in 1796, and the doomed Robert Emmet rising in Dublin in 1803.
This way of viewing history is most effective, and holds the reader’s interest. The book charts a timeline through the major developments of the next two centuries, from the Daniel O’Connell-led Birmingham Political Union, through the Murphy Riots and the career of Joseph Chamberlain, through the impact of the war to the pub bombings of the 1970s and the miscarriage of justice in the case of the Birmingham Six and its effect on political discourse. Moran is a splendid writer, and a very engaging one.
Noeleen Dowling, Irish Times
The cover image apparently just an op art decoration, is in fact Selfridge’s Birmingham store lit up in green for St Patrick’s Day 2008. In Birmingham’s case its history has been overshadowed by the IRA’s bombing of the city in 1974 and the subsequent wrongful conviction of six men for the crime. In Moran’s comprehensive history of the city’s Irish presence since the 18th century and how the immigrant Irish community has been an intrinsic part of the city in the subsequent centuries. Moran follows its history focusing on the mass migration of the 19th century, the growth of the community and the impact on it of major events like the two world wars. He looks at the different waves of immigration and how each new wave impacted on the existing Irish community. As well as the infamous bombings of 1974. Moran highlights aspects of the Iris history of Birmingham like the Pearse family which moved from Birmingham back to Ireland, the development of the St Patrick’s Day parade as a public event, and the Birmingham Irish involvement in politics back home. Moran stars from the premise that the Irish community in Birmingham has either been ignored or misrepresented in studies of the diaspora in Britain. He sets out to correct this and does so.
Well written, engaging and stimulating … this book fills a major gap in the history of Birmingham.
Carl Chinn, University of Birmingham
One of the widest ranging studies of the Irish in Britain yet written. Focusing on the previously overlooked Irish communities of Britain's second city, Moran takes us on a fascinating journey from the Georgian theatre to the aftermath of the Birmingham pub bombings. A major piece of scholarship.