The Irish in post-war England: experience, memory and belonging in personal narratives of migration 1945-69

  • Barry Hazley

Student thesis: Phd


AbstractThe Irish in Post-war England: experience, memory and belonging in personal narratives of migration 1945-69.Scholars of Irish migration in twentieth-century Britain have tended to present migrants' experiences through two opposing stories about 'assimilation' and the struggle to preserve an 'Irish ethnic identity' in the face of official attempts at repression. Based on in-depth analysis of oral history interviews conducted by the author between 2009 and 2011, with eight Irish migrants who settled in England between 1945-69, this thesis suggests that individual migrant experiences resist simple incorporation within this dichotomy. It does so through exploration of the diverse ways the psychic and the social intersect in the production of migrant subjectivities within specific contexts. The thesis argues that such subjectivities were not coherently constituted or unified through a single discourse on 'identity', but that there were always multiple, often contradictory, possibilities available for self-construction within the different spaces migrants inhabited, in both the past and present. Through investigation of the distinct ways different respondents constructed themselves in relation to four sites of memory, namely leaving Ireland, pre-marriage years in the post-war British city, the construction industry, and 'The Troubles', the thesis shows how migrants negotiated and drew upon a diverse range of subject-positions in order to constitute themselves within their personal accounts of settlement. This inter-subjective process was conditioned by the possibilities and constraints of the various local, communal, and institutional discourses which mediated the lived realities of migration to Britain and which were available in the present for self-construction. But it was affected too by the active if usually unconscious workings of memory. How migrants interacted with available discourses was never predetermined but was shaped by on-going dialogues between public and private, past and present, there and here. Within each narrative these dialogues formed parts of individually specific strategies of 'composure' through which subjects, with varying degrees of success, sought to render their experiences into a coherent, integrated whole. The thesis argues that Irish migrant 'identity' in post-1945 England was never the finished product of a linear process of 'assimilation' or simple determinants like national origin, class, or religion. It is more usefully approached as a variable set of dialogic processes, as part of which migrants made investments in a diverse range of discourses in a bid to formulate self-affirming understandings of the migration experience.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPenny Summerfield (Supervisor)


  • Irish migration, post-war England, oral history, subjectivity, discourse

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