Historical Notes: 'Little Ireland' riots in Cornwall

ON 19 April 1882, the Home Secretary, Sir William Harcourt, received a letter from the clerk to the magistrates at Camborne informing him that

a riot of somewhat serious character occurred last night. The cause was apparently an ill feeling existing between the native and Irish population of the district in and around Camborne.

This riot, which involved assaults on Irish people, attacks on their homes, and damage to the local Roman Catholic Church, was eventually quelled by the Cornish County Constabulary, assisted by a large body of special constables.

Reports of disturbances involving Irish migrants in Victorian towns were by no means unusual. Most were confined to Irish districts and comprised drunken brawls, quarrels between neighbours and domestic disputes. Police attempts to combat the drunkenness, noise, and casual violence in the public houses, beershops, and lodging- houses of these so-called "Little Irelands", not to mention the celebration of weddings, wakes and St Patrick's Day, sometimes resulted in more general disorders. So too did sectarian violence between Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics, especially in Liverpool and Glasgow.

More serious, however, were instances of communal violence against the Irish, rooted in popular stereotypes of the Irish as a threat not only to jobs and living standards but also, as Roman Catholics, to Protestant traditions and, as Irish nationalists, to the British state. Anti-Irish sentiment was exacerbated by migration from Ireland during the Great Famine, when the size of the Irish-born population of England, Scotland and Wales virtually doubled. In their search for work, many of the newcomers crowded into the urban slums, magnifying the contemporary social ills of poverty, public health, and crime, for which the poor Irish emerged as convenient scapegoats, and economic competition between English and Irish workers contributed to serious anti-Irish violence in several towns, including Newcastle, in 1847, and Durham, in 1858.

Religious issues also fomented anti-Irish violence. The restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in 1850 prompted both public and government to embark upon a phase of anti-Catholicism in response to "papal aggression", resulting in a spate of serious anti-Catholic and anti-Irish disorders, including the infamous Stockport riots of 1852. Later, between 1867 and 1871, the public lectures of William Murphy, the apostle of anti-Catholicism, sparked serious communal violence in the Midlands, Lancashire, Northumberland and Cumberland.

The Camborne riot does not, however, fit easily into the general pattern of anti-Irish violence. The town's Irish community was the largest in Cornwall but most Irish people settled in the surrounding hamlets, where housing was cheaper, so that these came to be considered Irish areas, even though their Irish residents were never more than a minority of the population. Because of the local mix of agriculture and industry, they had an interesting range of occupations, including tin-mining.

The riot of 1882 was largely the product of a local popular tradition of protest against injustice by authority, in this case, the perception of a too-lenient sentence (of two months and six weeks respectively) for an assault by two Irishmen, Daniel Corney and John McCarthy, on a Cornishman, Richard Evans, on 3 April, and was part of a Cornish pattern of riotous behaviour which took the form not so much of actual violence as of mob intimidation.

Moreover, the riot occurred during a period when anti-Irish disorders were becoming increasingly rare. By the 1880s and 1890s, with public concern focused on the thousands of poor Jews fleeing from persecution in Russia to the sanctuary of London's East End, Irish immigration and its consequences were no longer contentious public issues.

Roger Swift is the co-editor, with Sheridan Gilley, of 'The Irish in Victorian Britain: the local dimension' (Four Courts Press, pounds 17.50)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us