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The Irish in England: How they view their ethnicity and nationality

New emigrants have helped “replenish an aging population of people who identify as Irish in Britain”.

Domhnall the Irish Wolfhound wears a shamrock after being presented it by Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to the 1st Battalion Irish Guards at the St. Patrick's Day Parade
Domhnall the Irish Wolfhound wears a shamrock after being presented it by Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to the 1st Battalion Irish Guards at the St. Patrick's Day Parade
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE DATA COLLECTED during the 2011 Census in the UK is a mine of information on Irish emigrants.

The Irish In Britain reports, published by the Social Policy and Research Centre and Middlesex University London, have been described as an “invaluable source” for Irish-focussed organisations.

Broken into regions, one of the documents shows that in 2011 there were 395,182 people living in England who were born in the Republic of Ireland.

The data confirms that there has been a relative decline in numbers of Irish migrants coming to England since the 1990s due to the “strength of the Irish economy and increased employment opportunities at home”.

However emigration from Ireland has increased again since the recession and the collapse of the ‘Celtic Tiger’.

According to the authors, this second influx has helped “replenish an aging population of people who identify as Irish in Britain”.

“The Irish in England are disproportionately old compared to other ethnic groups. This has many consequences – older Irish people are likely to suffer poor health, and there are particular consequences for care provision – with significant numbers of people requiring care,” said Professor Louise Ryan of Middlesex University.

“It is important that their contribution to this society is recognised and that their needs now in old age are addressed. Hence, there are clear policy implications for service providers in England. In particular, social isolation needs to be addressed through schemes that provide not just physical care but also emotional support and visiting/ befriending to lonely older people.”

Ethnicity versus Nationality

During the Census, every person living was England was asked how they define their ethnicity according to their place of birth.

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The overwhelming majority (81%, or 320,000) of those born in the Republic of Ireland said they were White Irish.

However, about 11.9% (or 47,050) said they were White British. A small number, 9,320, put themselves into the ‘White Other’ category.

For people born in Northern Ireland, the majority – 83.6% – identify themselves as White British. (However, it should be noted that on the census form this category included Northern Irish and it is currently not possible to disaggregate).

Just 14% of those born in Northern Ireland, now resident in England, defined their ethnicity as White Irish.

Also, there were around 174,000 persons born in England who identified as White Irish and may be second or third generation of Ireland-born persons who migrated several decades ago.

Combining Nationality

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Similar to defining their ethnicity, Irish-born people in England identify their nationality as Irish.

The majority of people born in the Republic of Ireland (67.9% or 268,000 persons) defined themselves as ‘Irish only’.

However, some did say they were ‘Irish and a UK identity’, ‘British only’ or ‘English only’.

Almost 77,000 people born in Ireland told the Census collectors they were ‘British only’, with another 27,000 saying they were ‘English only’.

Another 2,00 said they were ‘English and British only identity’, and 3,725 identified as ‘Northern Irish’ only.

Just over 8,000 said they were of another identity.

Interestingly, 5.3% of those born in Northern Ireland recorded their national identity as ‘Irish only.’ In addition, there were just over 48,000 England-born persons who stated they were ‘Irish only’, whereas in the previous table there were 174,000 England-born residents who stated their ethnicity as White Irish.

The researchers say this suggests that people are using these two categories (national identity and ethnicity) to record different aspects of their identities.

Related: Have you emigrated? How’s your mam?

Vlog: Emigrating with other people can be tough… emigrating alone can be much tougher

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