With a life of toil and cans of lager for comfort, Paddy was a stranger in a strange land
Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30
The emigrant's story is always a sad one, and nobody knows it better than the Irish. At a time when Brexit paranoia casts migrants and exiles somewhere between vermin and villains, most Irish will nod a sympathy based on direct hereditary experience.
We were, in fact, amongst the earliest emigrants to England, with tens of thousands having 'crossed over' many decades even before the Famine. Itinerant Celtic 'spailpins' and 'tattie howkers' migrated with the season's harvesting crops across the UK throughout the 19th century. At the height of the industrial revolution, most major construction projects had an Irish majority blasting the tunnels, building the viaducts, and laying rail tracks from Land's End to John O'Groats. Even up to the 1970s, masses migrated from every parish on the 'beet campaigns' in Suffolk and Lincolnshire.
"The success of the British construction industry owes a great deal to Irish skills in excavation and construction of the country's canal, road and rail network," noted Robert McAlpine, 'Concrete Bob' of his 'fusiliers' from Ireland. "Their contribution to the development of the industry has been immeasurable."