THE IRISH DIASPORA: THE COMPLEXITIES OF MASS MIGRATION
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Where do Irish migrants fit within the new comparative, interdisciplinary and global perspectives on migration history? Their numbers certainly demand attention: there was the persistent removal of over a third of each cohort of population, the highest ratio of emigration to population in Europe. A widespread assumption persists that wherever they went, Irish settlers were disadvantaged. Some historians, indeed, still wax sentimental over a distinctively Irish narrative of suffering and subsequent 'contribution' achievement. The geography of this 'Irish diaspora' extends from internal mobility within the United Kingdom through passage to the colonies of (white) settlement within the British Empire and onto emigration to the receiving countries of the new world, out of British control, but generally (to the benefit of Irish migrants) English-speaking. Within the United Kingdom, the Irish may have remained apart, occupying 'a curious middle place' as internal 'outsiders', unable to effect either assimilation or separation. Beyond, the United Kingdom, however, the Irish differ little from other emigrants - Welsh, Scottish and English - from the British Isles, all of whom (as British) stood apart from migrants from Continental Europe. A matter of rational choice, dependent upon time and circumstance, Irishness took different forms and was of differing value within different parts of the 'diaspora'. The one constant factor was back in the homeland: in steadily depopulating Ireland migration became a defining feature of national identity and culture, a register of Irishness.
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