Thursday 28 July 2011

13 - ‘Famine, navvies and emmigration’

Irish navvies working on an English canal
December 08, 2009

On the last show we got talkin' about the way ye meet fellow Irishmen abroad - and immediately seem to have a rapport with them.

Practically anywhere you go in the world you'll find Irishmen - quite often working in the construction industry, or engineering. You will also find the Jews, who will quite often be financing those same projects.

 I think the Celts in general have a bit of wanderlust in them, but this desire to travel was greatly increased by things like the Irish famine of 1846/47, when around 1 million people in Ireland died - while England and the rest of the world mostly watched and did nothing!

Actually, a small group of Native Americans, who had recently been part of the Cherokee 'Trail of Tears' ethnic cleansing march, took pity on the people of Ireland and raised a gift of several hundred dollars, which they sent to help the victims of the famine.

The population of Ireland before the famine was around 8 million people, but it reduced to around 4 million in just a few short years. Those who still had something left to sell and could scrape together the fare to America travelled to the USA and Canada. Many of them died on board the famine ships, or shortly after arriving in the New World.

Others made a shorter trip - to Liverpool and to London. At that time men were needed to work on building the new canal systems - the 'navigations' - and these men were soon referred to as Irish 'navvies'. Later they worked building railways and then roads - but the term 'navvie' seemed to stick.

That trend towards emmigration has continued up until the recent past, with a continual stream of Irishmen heading for the USA, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa - and other places, too. The result now is that Irish culture has been spread far and wide across the globe.

Now, in Ireland, we have what is known as 'reverse immigration' - with Irish Americans returning to Ireland and finding it easier to start up a business here than in North America. We also have the relatively new phenomenon of immigrants coming here from eastern Europe, China, India, The Phillipines and various African countries.

Though this has been normal now for many years in the Republic of Ireland, in Northern Ireland it has only been happening since the 'Troubles' came to an end - so I'm afraid we are still getting used to the idea of Poles, Chinese and other nationalities doing something which we ourselves have been happily doing for decades!

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