1841, a tenth of the city's population was Irish and many
lived in the district known as "Little Ireland", a slum
area in the Ancoats area of Manchester which Engels labelled
in his 1845 'Condition of the Working Class In England'
as "the most disgusting spot of all!". This area of the
city was so overcrowded that the sudden Irish influx during
the Potato Famine could not be accomodated and had to turn
to other English cities, notably Liverpool and Birmingham.
"The New Town, known also as Irish Town, stretches up a
hill of clay, beyond the Old Town, between the Irk and St.
George's Road. Here all the features of a city are lost.
Single rows of houses or groups of streets stand, here and
there, like little villages on the naked, not even grass-grown
clay soil; the houses, or rather cottages, are in bad order,
never repaired, filthy, with damp, unclean, cellar dwellings;
the lanes are neither paved nor supplied with sewers, but
harbour numerous colonies of swine penned in small sties
or yards, or wandering unrestrained through the neighbourhood.
The mud in the streets is so deep that there is never a
chance, except in the dryest weather, of walking without
sinking into it ankle deep at every step. In the vicinity
of St. George's Road, the separate groups of buildings approach
each other more closely, ending in a continuation of lanes,
blind alleys, back lanes and courts, which grow more and
more crowded and irregular the nearer they approach the
heart of the town. True, they are here oftener paved or
supplied with paved sidewalks and gutters; but the filth,
the bad order of the houses, and especially of the cellars,
remain the same." [Buy
Engels 'Condition of the Working Class']
to the census of 1841, 60% of the population of the West
of Ireland lived in windowless single-roomed mud cabins
with little furniture. It was from this area that the majority
of Manchester's Irish immigrants came. Unprepared for city
life, they often took any job available, many degrading,
low-paid and dangerous.
early Irish inhabitants found themselves living in poverty.
They often crammed into houses with little air and light.
A tax on windows caused many landlords to block up as many
openings as possible, making the houses dangerously dark
and lacking ventilation. Overcrowding forced many to live
in the cellars of houses where the conditions were damp,
dangerously dark and lacking sanitation. A report found
that 18,000 Irish inhabitants lived in Manchester cellars.
(15% of these actually slept more than 3 people in one bed,
with cases of 8 in a bed reported and even horrific tales
of many even sleeping without a bed).
Life in Manchester
though for many was surprisingly better than that enjoyed
in Ireland, and for this reason immigrants were willing
to work for lower pay than the locals. This lead to tension,
especially when Irish workers were used to break strikes.
Many Irish in Manchester sent a fraction of their earnings
'back home' which helped the Irish economy.
In the main
Manchester's Irish immigrants found jobs in construction.
As well as the labourers and builders there were the 'navvies'
(navigators), who learnt their trade in the construction
of canals (of which Manchester had many), before adapting
to work in railway and road construction. Many women became
domestic servants, a surprisingly high number of Irishmen
found jobs in the armed forces, and a few became prize-fighters
finding fame and small fortune in the process.