Today, St Patrick’s Day, reporter DAVE HIMELFIELD charts the history of the Irish community in Huddersfield
IT BEGAN as a modest influx of Irish farmers escaping poverty and hunger.
Now, almost two centuries later, the Irish make up one of Huddersfield’s biggest and most colourful communities.
From Gaelic Football to the St Patrick’s Day Parade and Ceilidh, their events are an important addition to the calendars of people of Irish – and non-Irish – descent.
Irish settlers in Huddersfield were first mentioned in 1832, according to the Huddersfield Irish Project run by the University of Huddersfield.
According to the records of St Patrick’s Church, a chapel was built in 1832 to encourage Irish workers to stay in the town.
The church on New North Road has been a centre for people of Irish decent for around 150 years.
But it was during the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852 that a mass of Irish immigrants – mainly from Connacht in northwest Ireland – moved to Huddersfield.
The 1851 Census revealed 969 Irish people were living in Huddersfield North, many working as labourers on the canals and railways and as hawkers and servants.
Many lived in squalid conditions. A scathing account by Dr Pritchett, Medical Officer of Health in 1874, reads: “Dock Street (no longer in existence) is one of the colonies of Irish people which it is impossible to keep clean and wholesome as they fill the various rooms of each house with various families and abuse and misuse all the conveniences prepared for them.”
A steady flow of immigration continued into the 1960s as Irishmen and Irishwomen searched for better jobs and independence from their families.
Irish immigration to Huddersfield slowed in the 1970s and came to virtual halt in the 1980s.
Around 2005 some older Irish people began returning to take advantage of their old country’s generous pensions.
Now with generations and generations of people of Irish descent living in Huddersfield it would be impossible to put a figure on its population, but it clearly runs into tens of thousands.
With such a large number of people of Irish descent living in Huddersfield, the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade is a key event on the Huddersfield calendar with colourful floats and music galore.
Gaelic Football has been a real draw in Huddersfield since 1954 when the Brothers Pearse Athletic Association was formed.
The club, which has headquarters at the Huddersfield Irish Centre on Fitzwilliam Street, has junior and senior teams.
Brothers Pearse has won countless national and county trophies and plays in the Yorkshire Gaelic Association League and the Pennine League. It has over 100 adult players.
The Irish Centre has long been the place for traditional Irish events such as Ceilidh, step dance and folk music.
St Patrick’s Catholic Club on Trinity Street in the town centre has also been popular for events in the Irish community.
Irish black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane plays at Lawrence Batley Theatre from March 25 to 27.
Irish-born Ollie Walsh is an active member of Brothers Pearse and the St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.
Mr Walsh, 65, moved to Huddersfield from Galway in 1962 to join his uncle.
One of eight siblings, he came to Britain in search of work and independence from his large family.
The dad-of-two and grandfather-of-five worked for 26 years as an engineer, including a 16-year spell at David Brown Engineering.
Like many Irish ex-pats, Ollie was keen to keep his Irish heritage alive and joined Bros Pearse Gaelic Football Club in the 1960s.
Ollie became a member of the club committee in the early 1970s and is still a member.
So why do people of Irish descent feel it so important to keep their celebrate their roots?
Ollie said: “It’s a preservation thing and it’s an identity. You find the same with all nationalities, like Brits abroad.
“If we were all the same, life would be very boring. In Huddersfield we’ve found that the communities have mixed really well.
“I think non-Irish people admire the Irish for their happy nature and their relaxed attitude.
“One of the things I’ve found is the recognition we got from the ordinary people of Huddersfield, even during the troubles in Ireland. We couldn’t ask for more support.
“I remember when I came to Huddersfield in 1962. It was all black buildings and grey. I wasn’t very impressed, but it’s improved lots since.”