Category: Archive

UK Irish facing identity crisis, report reveals

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The report, titled “The Second Generation Irish: a hidden population in multi-ethnic Britain,” was released in late November. (In the UK what is known as second generation equates with first generation in the U.S.)
It is based on the findings of the 2001 UK census that for the first time included an Irish ethnicity category, and suggests that the census seriously underestimates the number of people who have a strong sense of Irishness.
Previously studies offered the assumption that first-generation British-born Irish people simply assimilated fully into the majority population.
This is not the case, according to the study by Dr. Bronwen Walter of the Anglia Polytechnic University and her study team.
The researchers looked at people with at least one Irish-born parent or (in Scotland) grandparent, and carried out discussion groups as well as looking at previously collected census data.
They found that children of Irish-born parents felt that they existed between two nations, neither of which accorded them full recognition as to their identity, even though many of those interviewed felt themselves to be strongly Irish and British.
Specifically, interviewees said that English people often challenged them as to their ethnic origins, with England insisting on Englishness while Ireland “rejecting these ‘hybrids’ as not-Irish.”
Children of Irish parents reported having strong cultural, religious and family ties to Ireland, and the report said that such complexities of identity ought to be taken into account by UK government agencies.
One interviewee, born of Irish and Pakistani parents in England and who experienced the social welfare system, said that she was forced to identify as English.
In Catholic schools in cities where first-generation Irish are often the majority, Irish history is rarely on the curriculum. Other ethnic minorities had their culture and literature recognized in public libraries but Irish material was often absent.
Scotland presented an even more complicated picture of emerging Scottishness blending with Irishness, with the latter often downplayed because of sectarian tensions.
Researchers found that Irishness was more publicly celebrated in Scotland than in England.
Dr. Walter said that her team found that many people eligible to tick the Irish box in the UK 2001 census were confused and failed to do so.
One interviewee in Scotland said that because the Irish were white, they had to stake a greater claim to their difference than do ethnic minorities in the UK who are visible because of their color.
The report substantiates growing anecdotal evidence that the fate of the Irish in Britain has been an often-unhappy one, compared with those who emigrated to the U.S. or other parts of the world.

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