I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Becoming One of Us

Becoming One of Us

Martin Maguire

Migration and the Making of Ireland, by Bryan Fanning, UCD Press, 300 pp, €25, ISBN 978-1910820254

With this book Bryan Fanning, professor of Migration and Social Policy at UCD, adds to his already extensive publications on immigration and social change in Ireland. Here he takes a long historical view of the phenomenon of migration both into and out of Ireland. The long view is indeed very long, beginning with the first peopling of Ireland after the last Ice Age. The first chapter, Invasions, moves from the Neolithic to the beginning of the seventeenth century. The following four chapters keep to an historical sequence. The chapter on plantation schemes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Munster and Ulster, which caused large-scale inward migrations, is followed by the outward migration of Irish Catholic clergy and soldiers to continental Europe and the transplantation of poor Irish to the English colonies in the Americas. The inward migration of Huguenot religious refugees (a loan-word from French first used in 1651) is then covered. The German Protestant Palatines who migrated to Ireland in the first decade of the eighteenth century receive an entire chapter of historical discussion. From the early eighteenth century until the end of the twentieth, as Fanning notes, most migration that affected Ireland was outward emigration. But, as the latter half of the book shows, inward migration has exerted a powerful and growing influence in the making of modern Ireland as the experiences of Jews, Africans and Polish, along with expatriate and return migrants, are surveyed.

A key objective of the book is to assess to what extent our history of emigration, which scars the Irish experience, informs reaction to the arrival of immigrants driven by the same experience of poverty and dispossession. This leads to some intriguing parallels, such as the experience of Catholic Irish refugees in Spain and of the German Palatine Protestant refugees in Ireland. After the disaster of Kinsale, Catholic nobility and their retinues, their troops, along with priests and scholars, arrived into the Galician port of La Coruna as refugees. Initially welcomed as fellow-Catholics, as the numbers swelled they came to be seen as a nuisance. By the end of 1605 the repatriation of the poorest women and children back to Ireland was approved by the Spanish court and the Irish Catholic clergy and nobility. None were actually deported, but the message went out, and an Irish community that at its peak numbered 2,700, was dispersed across the continent. A century later, the German Palatine Protestant community of refugees that had landed in England numbered 13,580. Initially treated with benevolence, as the numbers grew sympathy turned to hostility and moral panic. The response was to disperse the refugees across the kingdoms and 821 families were shipped to Dublin to strengthen Protestant Ireland and ease the pressure on England. They formed a distinct settlement community in Limerick and in Wexford that maintained a German culture. The parallels are evident, initial sympathy turning to antipathy and outright hostility as numbers grew.

A further parallel is that of religion in sustaining a sense of identity and community. For the emigrant Irish that scattered across the British empire and the United States the Catholic church provided the network that secured jobs, shelter and a community. Similarly the Litvak Jews that arrived as economic migrants in the later nineteenth century created a community around the synagogues. Today the Pentecostal church is an essential network for the Nigerian communities in Ireland, offering an affirmation of distinctive social and moral values that appear very conservative in contemporary Irish society.

The “Making” of the title has historical resonance as it echoes EP Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class, published in 1963. Thompson, by allowing the working class speak for itself, wrote what may be considered one the foundation texts of social history. Fanning, by extensive use of personal narratives, also allows the emigrants speak. The title also suggests that we ought to look beyond the more familiar “making” influences of politics, religion and land in considering the development of the political and social system that forms all that live on the island of Ireland. In centering migration Fanning suggests a complex answer to the question of “Who are the Irish?” The Irish would include the emigrant Irish and their descendants in the United States, in Great Britain and further afield. The question that Fanning proposes is whether the Irish now includes the immigrants and their children.

As he readily admits, many would have problems with the use of the term “migrant” as a blanket term to cover many different sorts of movements of people. The planters of the seventeenth century were soldier-conquistadors who displaced the defeated Catholic Irish and established themselves as a new social elite. The Huguenots and the Palatines were refugees when they arrived in England but in Ireland they were settlers within that culturally, politically and economically dominant Protestant elite. The economic migrants that fled Ireland after the Famine were neither persecuted nor defeated. Can these all be included under the same category of “migrant”? Fanning fully resolves this tension by clearly differentiating between the response of society and the response of the state to the migrant and migration. His insight is that for most people in Ireland these were simply migrants who were doing the best they could for themselves and their families in circumstances not of their choosing. The response of society is contrasted with that of the state, for it is the state that creates the category of refugee, economic migrant, stateless person, guest worker, undocumented, or asylum seeker in a growing typology of dehumanisation. The core argument of the book is around that contrast in independent Ireland, in which it seems Irish society is usually more generous and open than the Irish state.

The territorial boundaries of any state are fixed by international negotiation and agreement and are protected by law and not subject to revision except by agreement. The population that makes up the membership of the state can be expressed in terms of nationality and in terms of citizenship. Nationality is a sense of collective identity that embraces past and future generations and extends beyond the borders of the state to include emigrant Irish who have become citizens of another state. It is a social and historical construct. Citizenship, however, exclusively defined by the state. As is affirmed by the 1930 Hague Convention of Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws, it is for each state to determine under its own law who are its nationals. The state alone can determine who belongs and is “one of us”, and who does not. Citizenship confers many benefits, including rights of work and residence, the right to vote, and eligibility for social services such as education, medical care and welfare. This power of the state is freely altered and revised as history and circumstance demand. Citizenship is usually conferred by birth within the territory of the state, regardless of ethnic origin. Or by parentage, which asserts a cultural basis for citizenship. Or, as is increasingly the practice in the former eastern European states and in Israel, by ethnicity, which means anyone anywhere in the world of the correct ethnicity may be a citizen but residents within the state not of that ethnicity cannot. Naturalisation confers citizenship exclusively as a gift of the state. As an independent Irish state established itself in the 1920s and 1930s it was most anxious to establish the international legitimacy of the new nation-state and to end the status of the Irish as subjects of the British crown. Under the terms of the Treaty as interpreted by the British, Irish citizenship did not extend beyond the boundaries of the Irish Free State and therefore any Irish travelling abroad became British subjects. The Irish Free State wanted international recognition of an Irish passport and also to be able to offer such citizenship to the Irish living in Northern Ireland, beyond the boundaries of the state. This was essentially an ethnic definition of Irishness. The 1935 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act established the distinct nature of Irish citizenship, though the British continued to consider Irish citizens as British subjects. This was the case until the declaration of the Republic in 1948. The passing by Westminster of the 1949 Ireland Act ended the “British” status of Irish citizens but created a replicate distinct “citizen of the Irish republic” status, which still exists. Which is why when you fly into Heathrow from Dublin you are on a domestic flight and do not need to present a passport, but when you return to Dublin you are arriving from a foreign point of departure and do need to present a passport. Irish citizenship is by birth in Ireland (including Northern Ireland) or by parentage, by marriage, or by naturalisation. The Good Friday Agreement also added to the complexity of citizenship by permitting those in Northern Ireland to choose to be Irish or British, or both. Thus the unique power of the state to determine citizenship was open to choice. This remained the case until the moral panic, fed by minister for justice Michael McDowell, about alleged hordes of Nigerian women arriving in Ireland in the last stages of pregnancy to avail of the advantages of instant citizenship for the new-born babe led to the constitutional amendment of 2004 which approved limiting the right to citizenship for all those born in Ireland.

As the new Irish state was negotiating the complexity of determining who are the Irish, the world was swept by a century of refugee crises. World Wars I and II created vast movements of millions of people fleeing war and annihilation. The 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which Ireland is a signatory, was the first attempt to define and deal with the status of refugee. The convention, which based refugee status on the fear of persecution, asserted the right to a nationality for each person and was intended to prevent the emergence of stateless persons.

The Irish state, as is discussed by Fanning, has not a good record in responding to international refugee crises, driven now by war, oppression, poverty and increasingly climate change. In the 1950s the Hungarian refugees that fled to Ireland after the suppression of the 1956 rising, in a pattern now familiar, were subject to prison-like conditions in holding camps and encouraged to move on and resettle in the USA and Canada. The Chileans who fled the Pinochet oppression were few in number and were also discouraged from integrating. So it continues. Fanning’s point is well-made: it is the state and its officialdom, and not society, that creates the dehumanising and degrading status of the undocumented, the stateless, the economic migrant and the asylum seeker and while working to secure the future of the similarly described Irish in the USA, does all it can to deny the future of those non-Irish that arrive on our shores.


Dr Martin Maguire is author of The Civil Service and the Revolution in Ireland, 1912-38 ‘Shaking the blood-stained hand of Mr Collins’, (Manchester, 2008).



Dublin’s Oldest Independent BookshopBooks delivered worldwide