In the mid 1820’s it is recorded that at that time there were just two Irishmen in Cardiff and that they both spoke Welsh. Barely fifteen years later, after the construction of Cardiff’s first dock (1836-39) and the Taff Vale Railway (completed 1841) the situation had changed quite dramatically.
In a survey of the 1841 census for Cardiff, I counted 1,206 people who were either Irish by birth or were the children of Irish born parents. No fewer than 1,075 of these were gathered in nine small areas, 423 of them in two communities, namely Stanley Street and Whitmore Lane with John Street, where they formed a large majority.
The other streets or areas where they were concentrated were: Mary Ann Street (24.9% of street population), Millicent Street (18.7%), Military Barracks (26.1%), various courts off St. Mary Street (26.7%), Working Street (courts, 26.7%), The Hayes (courts, 32.2%) and Little Frederick Street (21.2%). Butetown had begun to develop and had a population of 501 located at the upper and lower parts of Bute Street. Only 14 of these were of Irish stock as the bulk of these early residents appear to have been Welsh. The total population of the whole town at that time was 10,077.
However, by 1851 there were 16,259 people living in Cardiff (if one excludes a further 2,086 souls who were on board vessels in the port on the night of the census). Of this total, 2,363 were Irish by birth and another 614 were children born outside Ireland but to Irish parents. This gives an Irish population of 2,977 – being 18.3% of Cardiff’s residents. By this time David Street (30.8%) and Love Lane were receiving the overflow from the Irish community centred around Mary Ann Street and Stanley Street. Apart from this small addition to the area of the Irish community, there was little else to relieve the huge demand made by the influx following the Irish famine.
Further communities were established in town in the 1850’s. The first, being less concentrated, was scattered amongst the newly built small streets running off Adam Street. The second, which was very concentrated and separate, quickly became known as ‘Little Ireland’ and lay between Tyndall Street and the South Wales Railway line. (Demolished in 1966 it is now remembered as ‘Newtown’ – Ed.). Outside the town, in Roath, Irish families congregated in Milton and Russell Streets on opposite sides of City Road (then called ‘Heol Plwca’) and to a lesser extent, initially, in Byron Street. Off Broadway, Nora Street and Helen Street were the focal points for Irish families who, together with their kin in City Road, were quickly served by the opening of St. Peter’s Church in 1861.
By that same year, Grangetown had a population of 466 of whom 137 (29.5%) were Irish born or the children of Irish parents. This comparatively small area to the north of Penarth Road and to the west of Clare Road was to become the home for many more Irish people and of course the location of St. Patrick’s Church (1866) and School.
In Canton at the same time, there were Irish communities in Halkett Street, Harvey Street and Stag Terrace, to the north of Cowbridge Road, but it seems that otherwise the considerable Irish population that gathered in the area was unusually well dispersed. Likewise the Irish who settled in Splott from around 1880 onwards, although not small in number and settling originally in the streets off Portmanmoor Road, tended to live amongst the general population rather than gathering together in specific streets.
By 1891, with the addition of a small Irish concentration in Scott Street (off Wood Street), the Irish communities were still those listed above. Many had expanded gradually into neighbouring streets whilst those based on courts in town (such as Landore Court off St. Mary Street) or in extremely poor accommodation like Stanley Street, shrank as their occupants moved to better housing. In town, this led to the concentration of the bulk of the Irish population in three adjacent areas, centred on Bute Terrace, Adam Street and Newtown, straddling the intersection of the Taff Vale and South Wales Railway lines.