Famine Irish Landing in Liverpool

Many did not receive sufficient “compensation” to pay the fare to the New World. Irish migrants disembarking at Liverpool during the Famine years were observed to have been in a state of extreme distress, destitution and exhaustion, and press reports from the period expressed concern about the tax burden of Famine migrants on local ratepayers, the impact on the city’s health and the suffering of the migrants themselves. For example, the Liverpool Mercury sympathetically reported in 1847:

The fact is; that in the cold and gloom of a severe winter, thousands of hungry and half naked wretches are wandering about, not knowing how to obtain a sufficiency of the commonest food nor shelter from the piercing cold. The numbers of starving Irish men, women and children—daily landed on our quays is appalling; and the Parish of Liverpool has at present, the painful and most costly task to encounter, of keeping them alive, if possible…

The Lancet medical journal also referred to the poor health of Irish emigrants. One particularly harrowing account described the migrants who arrived in Liverpool in the first six months of 1847 as:

80,000… located themselves in dog-kennels and cellars, and remained to glut the labour market and propagate a wretched mode of life. In this unhappy year, 60,000 persons were attacked with fever, and 40,000 with dysentery.

As the report illustrates, Irish migrants were generally compelled to stay in overcrowded housing in districts lacking sanitation which were prone to outbreaks of epidemic diseases.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the migration patterns of Irish to Lancashire were varied and included young families, single men and women of varying ages, who were attracted by work in the mills. From the 1860s, however, the typical Irish migrant to Lancashire was young and single; these individuals lacked family support networks and were thus therefore more susceptible to institutionalisation in times of unemployment. At times of peak employment, the Irish were recognised as being a crucial source of labour for the local economy in the north-west of England. Most Irish migrants worked in the worst-paid, lower classes of employment, surviving on a typical poor Irish diet comprised of potatoes, buttermilk and occasionally herring or bacon. In 1870, 82 per cent of Irish migrants in Liverpool were listed as unskilled manual labours, while 80 per cent of migrants leaving Ireland in 1881 described themselves as labourers, with 84 per cent of women describing themselves as domestic servants. Working in these spheres of employment, the Liverpool Irish were likely to have been more susceptible to the impact of trade depression, unemployment and poverty. In the words of Cox, Marland and York, ‘the portrayal of the Irish as able to take on the jobs no one else wanted, to survive on very little, and to inhabit the most squalid areas of town, resonates with accounts of Irish asylum patients’. Once their limited resources were withdrawn, Irish migrants appear to have been very vulnerable to mental breakdown.

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