Irish roots run deep in South Tyneside

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AHEAD of tomorrow’s Irish Ancestry Day at South Shields library, it’s been interesting to learn that Irish immigration into this area was different to what you may think.

Irish migration to the region is generally perceived to have taken place in the middle of the 19th century.

“Up to a point this is correct, but further examination shows that migration started long before the Irish potato famine,” says a friend in Shields, a genealogy expert who will be taking part in tomorrow’s events.

By 1851 the Irish population living in England, Scotland and Wales was already approaching 2,500,000, a large increase on the previous census.

In turn, in the 1861 census, Newcastle, Sunderland, South Shields, Hartlepool and Jarrow had experienced a large increase on the census of 10 years earlier.

In fact by then, astonishingly enough, the immigrant population of Newcastle was 67 per cent of the total population.

In County Durham, it was 20 per cent, rising to 34 per cent in 1871 – and those figures don’t even include the children of immigrants.

The reasons for the influx, of course, was the rapidly growing industrialisation of the North East.

But is it the case that the Irish were only attracted to Jarrow when Charles Palmer opened his shipyard?

“In fact there were a considerable number already working in the alkali works, where the foreman was Irish. Research shows that 63 Irish men were working in the parish of Jarrow,” says my correspondent.

In the 1841 census – a decade before Palmer opened his works – Irish names noted down by census takers included Boyle, Byrne, Caine, Galway, McGraw, Mooney and Murphy.

Subsequently, of course, the population of Jarrow did rise exponentially, from 3,836 in 1851 to 24,361 by the time of the 1871 census.

The figures also show that migration into County Durham wasn’t evenly spread: The ratio in South Shields was one in nine; In Gateshead, one in four and in Jarrow, one in three.

By the 1870s, the Irish had become established in the North East. In 1873, a Father Waterston, speaking in South Shields on St Patrick’s Day, was already advocating the establishment of a branch of the Home Rule Association!

n Irish Ancestry Day events, with talks and help with research, commence at South Shields Library tomorrow at 10am.

n Follow me on Twitter @Just_JanisB