It’s estimated that three quarters of Liverpool’s population has Irish roots; with some people nicknaming Liverpool as ‘the second capital of Ireland’. That shared cultural history has tied Liverpool and Ireland together and each year it’s celebrated at Liverpool Irish Festival; a whole 10 days worth of music, performance, theatre, literature, dancing, film and tours - with plenty drinks and good craic along the way.

#liverpoolirish 🇮🇪

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This is an opportunity for artists to tell their story, and to offer a glimpse into the hands held across the Irish Sea for centuries. This year, Liverpool Irish Festival is 15 and is exploring what it means to be Irish in 2017.  

2017 is a significant year for Irish culture and identity. Up to six million people are eligible to apply for Irish citizenship, and there has already been a flood of applications for Irish passports in the UK after last year’s Brexit result. More people in the area with Irish roots are turning to their grandparents or parents heritage and wanting to have it mould their future.

But where did Liverpool’s incredible connection to Ireland even start? And what exactly can we thank our Irish brothers and sisters for? (Btw, there's a lot). To celebrate this year's festival, let’s dig a little deeper into our Irish roots.

THE HISTORY

The 19th Century

As Liverpool gained prominence as a port city, many Irish made the leap and emigrated to the city in search of a brighter and more prosperous future. Labourers, drovers and artisans were within that bunch, as well as middle-class families who were to make their mark on Liverpool’s future (more on that a bit later).

The Great Famine (1846-1853)

Although many pin the influx of Irish to Liverpool from the Great Famine of the 1840s, prior to this, there was already an established Irish community here. Liverpool had long been a staging post for Irish migrants travelling to North America (apparently, Irish contributed to around 17% of the population of Liverpool even then).  During the Famine years though, more than 1.5 million Irish people came to Liverpool (for comparison, that’s around 400,000 more people than the entire population of Cyprus).

While a large amount of Irish escaping the famine went on to Canada and North America after stopping shortly in Liverpool, many eventually stayed, gravitating to already established Irish communities such as around St Anthony’s Church on Scotland Road. You can find Liverpool's memorial to the victims of The Great Famine at The Church of St. Luke - or the Bombed Out Church, as it's known to locals.

Though many became vulnerable to exploitation due to their lack of finance, many workers were to eventually become an integral part of Liverpool’s progress over the next century - whether they knew it at the time or not…

Late 19th and Early 20th Century

1926 a photo showing a derrick man giving the correct mark for lowering a crane into a street below in Liverpool

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Eventually, the Irish came to completely dominate Liverpool docks. With a need for efficiency in their building, maintenance and running, Irish settlers provided an otherwise lag in progressing the city as an international porting hub. Around 1900 Irish porters were employed in warehouses along Liverpool’s docks; while Irish ‘carters’ carted tobacco between the port and private warehouses, ‘lumpers’ loaded and unloaded the ships cargo and many were actually involved in the construction of the Mersey’s docks, with plenty finding work as stevedores, sailors and ships firemen too.

People saw our growing Irish community begin to establish its own cultural centres and associations. Plenty of organisations and venues across the city garnered support to Irish music and dance, and from the 1930s onwards, various venues and parish clubs ended up hosting regular céilí nights. One such place is the Shamrock Club on Lime Street; a popular hangout for the young Irish community, holding weekend céilís and dances.

Post-WWII

If you've not got tickets for Damien Dempsey tonight, get yourself to Kelly's on Smithdown Road for our #madfortrad Irish session

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As Liverpool was the most heavily bombed area of the country outside of London during WW2, there began a challenge to the community to rebuild their city together, and with the help of others, once the ‘Liverpool Blitz’ finally came to a halt. This meant that another ‘wave’ of Irish settlement happened at the end of the 1940s as Irish workers helped assist with the city’s post-war regeneration.

In a nutshell, we have a lot to thank our Irish neighbours for.

THE PEOPLE

Over the years, the Irish community has brought plenty of pioneers to our city that have made incredible changes in the progress of Liverpool. We’ve pulled together a few of the Irish superheroes that we should be thanking:

Michael Witty

From: Nicharee, Duncormick, County Wexford

Founder of Liverpool Fire Brigade and the Liverpool Daily Post (which was the sister Post of Liverpool ECHO)

Dr John Bligh

From: Galway

Acted as a translator between the English and the poorer Irish migrants that could not yet speak the language.

Agnes Jones

From: Fahan, County Donegal, Ireland

This is where I live.#uk #liverpool

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One of the first graduates from Florence Nightingale's School and the first trained Nursing Superintendent of Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary. A stained glass window in the Lady Chapel of Liverpool Cathedral commemorates her life-saving work in the city, and one of our student residents is named after her too. 

Kitty Wilkinson

From: County Londonderry

She garnered the name: 'Saint of the Slums' because of her work as a health campaigner dedicated to educating the public about health and hygiene.

Sir. William Brown

From: Ballymena, County Antrim

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He was made a Freeman of the City of Liverpool, promoted the reform of the Liverpool Docks Estate and of course, he established the William Brown Library (which now houses Central Library and World Museum) and helped establish the Bank of Liverpool. A busy man!

Richard Sadleir

From: Cork

Was elected as Liverpool’s first mayor in 1875 and spent much of his time in the city bringing light to such issues as railway extensions, the city water supply, the homeopathic system of medicine and the production of combustible light. Apparently he sent more letters to newspaper editors than anyone else of his time.

LFC & Everton

Both teams have obviously had their fair shares of important Irish people over the years:

John McKenna (first director of LFC football), William Edward Barclay (first manager of Liverpool & former manager of Everton), David Hannah (first LFC Irish player) and Jack Kirwan (first Everton Irish player) – to name just a few.

THE ACCENT

Ever wondered where on earth the Scouse twang came from? Apparently, it’s developed over the years thanks to the influx of Irish migrants – with some areas of Liverpool adopting a softer tone, while others sounding more ‘gritty’ – similar to that of differing areas of Ireland.

THE PLACES

No stone has been left unturned when it comes to the deep Irish connection with Liverpool; some connections – to our football clubs for example – dates back to the 1800s.

Streets

Ulster Road, Belfast Road, Killarney Road and Donegal Road make it sound like you’ve jumped across to the Irish Sea. Don’t worry, you’re still in Liverpool, just in the Old Swan area.

Anfield

Thanks to a prominent family back in New Ross, Ireland, the area of Anfield – and the subsequent name of Liverpool’s football ground – was named after the family’s old townland of Annefield.

Old Irish Centre

Heading up Mount Pleasant just before the LJMU John Lennon Art & Design Building, you’ll find the Grade II listed Neo-classical Old Irish Centre which used to host ceilis, music and drama performances from 1965 – 1997. Although it’s currently derelict, plans have been put in place recently for its regeneration.

Calderstone’s Park

Thought to be the oldest monument in Liverpool, you’ll find six megaliths here from the remains of a 50000 year old Neolithic burial chamber that once stood on the edge of the park (which was known as the Harthill estate). Because the stones have unique spiral and circle markings that are only found on stone burials in Eastern Ireland, it looks like Liverpool’s links to Ireland are even older than you’d initially thought!

Agnes Jones House

As previously mentioned, the now student residence of Agnes Jones House was named after one of the most influential figures in 19th century British medicine.

THE PUBS

No mention of Liverpool's Irish roots could be mentioning the plethora of pubs we've come to know and love in this great city. When celebrating Liverpool Irish Festival, you'll definitely be heading to one (or all) of these.

Shenanigans

#guinessandblackcurrant

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Dating all the way back to 1841, this friendly Tithebarn Street pub hosts live music every Thursday - Saturday night and claims to have the best Guinness in Liverpool...Let us know your verdict. 

Flanagan's Apple

A day out in Liverpool watching the mighty Spurs! #coys

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Being on the famous Mathew Street, this place has a longstanding history - housing everything from a Beatles museum to a drama school. Live music and sports go hand in hand here and we bet you'll make lots of new friends over a pint or two.

O'Briens

Dirty Old Town

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Cracking atmosphere, cracking interior and cracking drinks - whatever you order. We're yet to hear a punter unimpressed with the lively clientele, and the lively bartenders to match.

So to break it all down - there's no other city that should have a whole festival dedicated to Ireland more so than Liverpool. We love our Irish neighbours, and everything that they have brought to this city over the years. Let's make this year's Liverpool Irish Festival the best one yet. For the full programme, head here

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