Scotlands History

Irish immigration

Emigration to Scotland from Ireland was common. Tickets aboard ships were cheap and many came to work temporarily around harvest time when there was work available in the fields.
The Irish people suffered the Great Famine when potato blight decimated the crop. Much of Ireland's best pastureland had been given over to rearing cows for beef to sell to Britain. The native Irish population depended on the potato crop for their survival and now faced starvation.

In our opinion, the Irish have as much right to come to this country to better their lives as the Scots and English have to go to Ireland or any other part of Britain... Let us hear no more complaints about the influx of Irish having a bad effect on Scotland unless it is to do something about tackling the problems which caused the emigration.

The Glasgow Courier, 1830

In 1841, census results showed that 4.8% of the population of Scotland was Irish-born (126,321 out of a total population of 2,620,184). In ten years that figure grew to 7.2%. Between 1841 and 1851 the Irish population of Scotland had increased by 90% to stand at 207,367.

Almost a third of Irish immigrants settled in Glasgow to find work in the industries that flourished along the Clyde. In 1851 it was estimated that the majority of dock workers and miners in Britain had been born in Ireland. Many Catholic Irish immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry in Presbyterian Scotland. They were attacked from the pulpit and in the street. The Irish women working in the jute mills of Dundee were an exception – they were widely accepted.

The Irish communities grew strong – funding churches and schools. In 1875 Hibernian Football Club was founded in Leith by Catholic Irishmen. Celtic FC was founded in Glasgow in 1888. In the late 1870s and 1880 large numbers of Ulster Protestants immigrated to Scotland. They brought with them their Orange traditions. As late as 1923 sectarian rivalries were inflamed by the Church of Scotland when it published a pamphlet entitled ‘The menace of the Irish race to our Scottish Nationality’.

Over the years Irish immigrants have done much to enrich the culture and economy of Scotland. Famous Scots of Irish descent include Sean Connery, Carol Ann Duffy, Gerald Butler, Dick Gaughan, Brian Cox, Arthur Conan Doyle and Billy Connelly.

  • Image of workers inside the Dundee Jute Works, about 1900
  • Image of a parade of Irish National Foresters
Click on the image to view a larger version.

A celebration of Irish culture in Scotland

This learning journey looks at the contribution the Irish community has made to Scottish culture.