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Donald MacRaild ‘Culture, Conflict and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria’

Donald MacRaild’s ‘Culture, Conflict and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria’ is a meticulous account on sectarian violence and communal division in the county of Cumbria. MacRaild documents four main incidents that occur between the host community and the Irish over the period of thirty nine years. The factors which communicate the anti-Irishness that England portrayed during the time (that MacRaild lists) include: the Barrow anti-Irish riot of 1864, the disorder that accompanied notorious protestant preacher William Murphy’s lectures in Whitehaven, 1871, the CleatorMoor Orange Day riot of 1884 and the violence that followed John Kensitt’s Wycliffe Preachers to Barrow in 1903.

While it would take more than a few pages to surmise the events that MacRaild highlighted in his chapter, the common denominator remains the same throughout each incident: violence was a common language between English and Irish. Throughout each incident, the anti-Irishness felt by the English had devastating consequences, specifically showcased in the Barrow riot of 1864 that had spawned merely due to, what is assumed, a rumour that the Irish were brought in to undercut wages. Upon hearing word of this, a crowd formed in rage who later stalked the streets, battering down dwellings known to contain Irishmen. Sectarianism was the main cause of the following three factors, which resulted in mobbing’s, planned attacks, deaths on both sides and brutal violence. The Murphy riots highlighted the inter-communal hostilities within Cumbria and was the root of the Orange orders revival in the area, as William Murphy was badly beaten by the Irish after he had given a controversial performance. Murphy died the following year (whose death was attributed to his beating) after being bed-ridden for what can be assumed as months due to the injuries he had sustained from the Irish in Whitehaven. This furthered tensions in Cumbria to a dangerous level. The Orange Day riot of 1884 was a boiling point for the county, as a riot broke out when Catholics had heard that an Orangeman had ‘struck one of the crowd a blow to the face.’ Revolvers were then drawn with sixteen of the crowd arrested. MacRaildnotes it could be possible to dismiss these instances as an inevitable feature of working class life that has only been heightened by incendiary elements. In regards to John Kensitt’s Preachers, Catholic tensions had rose upon their visit when George Wise, a prominent Protestant leader ‘cut left and right at Roman Catholics’ before the Preachers gave their lecture. When the Preachers began, an argument quickly surfaced among the Catholics and a ‘rush was made for the preachers’ and the following day, they were surrounded by a mob with one Ulster Irishmen savagely beaten. The Preachers were charged for causing a breach of the peace.

MacRaild’s chapter is both fascinating and a complex account of issues that are integral to understanding Irish immigration. His chapter is accessible, broken down into large sprawling sections with an incredible attention to detail on each incident. A key component is that he never favours one side over the other, he expresses the brutality of both sides and refuses to harbour the trials and tribulations both sides face. The topic of Irish Immigration in Cumbria is niche, but MacRaild manages an impressive 141 sources to document his journey, dealing mainly in newspapers from the time. While the majority of the chapter is excellent, a weakness is that the reasons for the breakouts in the riots are entirely speculated, and can never be definitively proven. Therefore, the truth still remains unknown for who started the riots, or the specifics of what caused such devastating violence.

One thought on “Donald MacRaild ‘Culture, Conflict and Migration: The Irish in Victorian Cumbria’

  1. This blog provides a concise explanations of the main events detailed by MacRaild, three of which were motivated by sectarianism in Cumbria. The first event is more linked to the rumour of Irish migrants undercutting wages. Such rumour is one which applied to many of the migrant groups coming into Britain and could be said to be a stereotype which to this day influences the views of a minority of the British public towards migrants. The blog highlights the complexity of MacRaild’s work, however makes it easy for the reader to grasp the main points of it. Mentioning the vast amount of sources used by the author is beneficial as it conveys the in-depth research carried out in order to produce such a detailed piece of work, as well as the author’s investment. The blog includes a criticism of MacRaild’s work which shows thorough analysis of the article.

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