BETWEEN 1750 and 1821, Glasgow’s population QUADRUPLED – and it was mainly because of immigration in general, and the Irish in particular.

As St Patrick's Day (March 17) approaches, Glasgow City Archives is exploring our city's links with Ireland.

Early Irish immigration was largely temporary annual harvest migration to Scotland, its closest neighbour. It was an obvious choice for those who lived in the north of Ireland.

One of the earliest permanent industrial settlements to emerge in this period was in west and central Scotland, within the growing textile industries.

Many of the earliest Irish immigrants were in traditional trades such as weaving. Most of the non-harvest migrants came with highly valued textiles knowledge and came from the Irish counties where linen and yarn were produced.

From the late 18th century, Glasgow was a natural place of settlement for Irish Protestant weavers, particularly Presbyterians, who shared a common ancestry and cultural heritage with Lowland Scots. 

Many skilled linen handloom weavers worked in the cotton weaving communities in the villages around Glasgow, such as Calton and Bridgeton. By 1819 about 30 per cent of the area's weaving population were of Irish origin.

Unlike later years, when migration was mainly about  the arrival of unskilled and destitute people, this early Irish immigration was about skilled workers.

By the 1830s, Scotland could offer a chance of a regular wage. Unskilled Irish Catholics came to the west of Scotland in large numbers firstly to undertake the heavy physical work involved in improving farmland. They went on to help sustain Glasgow’s industrial revolution.

The Great Famine (1846-50) exodus from Ireland saw the poor and starving arriving in Scottish ports in desperate straits. By 1851, the Irish-born population of Scotland had reached 7.2%. In Glasgow it was 18.2%

Glasgow Times:

By the early 1850s, the number of destitute Irish people arriving in Glasgow had declined significantly. Most who settled in Scotland found employment in Glasgow and in other manufacturing and industrial towns in the west of Scotland.

The country was experiencing a boom in the construction of homes, factories, roads, canals, and other infrastructure.  Whole towns grew up to provide a workforce to some of these industries and saw the development of significant Irish communities within them.

Scotland’s Irish Protestants, particularly Presbyterians, were a significant minority, about a quarter of the total who arrived in the late 1840s. They found it relatively easy to settle in Scotland.

Working-class Church of Ireland members made a substantial contribution to the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. Irish members of the  diocese represented the greater number of Episcopalians in the west of Scotland for most of the nineteenth century.

Catholics found it more difficult. There were many tolerant Scots in the post-Enlightenment era. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 should have reduced opposition to Irish Catholicism, but it was opposed by Presbyteries, such as Glasgow. This mid-century tension may have encouraged the setting up of distinct Irish Catholic communities, often based around the growing number of Catholic churches.

The Scottish civil engineer, Thomas Telford had redesigned the Broomielaw quays to handle the busy steamboat traffic as thousands of immigrants came over from Ireland in the mid-19th century to work in the new industries generated by the Industrial Revolution.

Glasgow Times:

Travel between Ireland and Glasgow was facilitated by the establishment of a shipping company in 1824, which later became Burns & Laird,  running services between Glasgow and Liverpool.

In the next few years, they inaugurated steamer services to Ayr, Belfast, and Liverpool. The service to Belfast was initially twice weekly but more sailings were organised as demand grew. By 1849 there was a daily Glasgow to Belfast service, except on Sundays.


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Many readers will remember getting the boat from Broomielaw to Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s.  My own brother and sister talk about going to Dublin when they were very young children, something I missed.

Despite providing Scottish and Irish travel for almost 150 years, the firm struggled in the 1960s, unable to adapt and compete with other services which catered for increasing car travel. It was taken over by P & 0 in 1971.