Irish in post-war Britain ‘funded’ Irish economy with remittances

London-Irish centre hosts discussion on being Irish in Britain ahead of Higgins visit

Artist Bernard Canavan with his work Early Morning, Camden Town. Emigrants, he said,  were deeply affected by the “hypocrisy” of being told they were betraying their church by moving to England as their remittances were spent in Ireland

Artist Bernard Canavan with his work Early Morning, Camden Town. Emigrants, he said, were deeply affected by the “hypocrisy” of being told they were betraying their church by moving to England as their remittances were spent in Ireland

Mon, Apr 7, 2014, 01:01

A prominent London-Irish artist and historian has said there needs to be a deeper examination into the roots of the Irish community in Britain. He described how emigrants funded a large part of the Irish economy in the decades after the second World War.

Bernard Canavan told a conference at the weekend, about being Irish in Britain, that emigrants were deeply affected by the “hypocrisy” of being told they were betraying their church by moving to England, while at the same time, their remittances were spent in Ireland.

“Eight-hundred thousand people sending back £5 a week is a lot of money and that kept the Irish economy going. It made it possible for Mr de Valera and all of the rest of them to live in a kind of comfort there, talking about how awful England was and what a terrible place it was when they were living off the remittances being sent back,” he said.

“That level of hypocrisy was deeply affecting to these Irish people who had to come over. They were told that they were betraying their church in coming over. They were told that they were coming over to a godless country. We would do well to think more about our history and what the roots of our Irishness in Britain actually are. We are not doing enough of that.”

The London Irish Centre in Camden hosted a public discussion on Saturday about the nature of being Irish in Britain ahead of the state visit of President Michael D Higgins.

Mr Canavan, whose art has focused on Irish and immigrant life, moved to Britain in 1959 and taught Irish history from the 1970s in London. During a discussion on changes within the Irish in Britain, he showed a small booklet of remittance receipts which his father, a labourer, had kept after sending £5 a week home.Those who moved to England after the war were regarded as “the lower dregs of Irish society” by the established farmers and middle-class merchants, he said,

Kelly O’Connor, a recent emigrant who works at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, said people from her generation had a responsibility to learn from those who went to Britain before.