O’Leary, Paul. Immigration and Integration: The Irish in Wales, 1798 – 1922.
Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 2000.
Paul O’Leary has in this book attempted to bring together the true history of the minority immigrant group with the historiographical traditions. In this way he has produced a pioneering work as he seeks to understand the experience of Irish immigrants in Wales.
O’Leary’s book is a confident and comprehensive study of an area of cultural history largely neglected by historians. The author himself comments on the barrenness of historical writing on this topic, and indeed the lack of an Irish aspect to Welsh history in the formal curriculum of education in Wales. This is indicative of a wider disregard for Irish history within mainland schools. The experience of the Great Famine is conspicuous by its absence from the formal curriculum paying such great attention to the history of the industrial revolution and the social improvements in society in the 1850s. Yet this is not a phenomenon suffered only in Irish history, Welsh history is also largely ignored in the greater scope of things. This trend has seen some reversal in recent times and O’Leary’s book, as part of a wider series of historical studies, is testimony to this.
This book is easy to read, with a style that is at the same time familiar and full of detailed research. He has looked at the main areas of immigrant life, and gives an analysis of other areas no one has covered. One such is his covering of the area of language. O’Leary shows clearly that “an examination of the social history of language highlights the complexity of cultural interaction and should serve as a warning against deceptively easy generalisations about ethnic groups, even in the same region.” Paul O’Leary examines all the key areas of the life of the Irish immigrant in Wales in the study period with these complexities in mind. His study of the pre famine immigration, of the role of the Irish in the labour force, and of the formation of community institutions both religious and secular make this a book which is compulsory reading for those interested in this era and subject.
O’Leary’s great achievements in writing this book derives not only from the lack of earlier books of a similar genre, in many ways his is a pioneering approach, but also in his ability to make the history enjoyable. This is a quality not enjoyed by all historians. He manages to combine the dual qualities of looking at the period in terms of the facts and presenting an accurate history, while also ensuring that his book is a pleasure, and not a task, to read. He makes it accessible to anyone with an interest in the topic as well as a source for intellectual analysis.
The book has a wide-ranging bibliography, which will commend it to serious students of this subject, as well as a helpful index.
The reviewer, Joe Moore, from the Armagh shore of Lough Neagh, has lived in Cardiff many years where his children have acquired a reputation as splendid display dancers at Irish events. He is also well known as the local correspondent for the London weekly, 'The Irish Post'. He is also Treasurer of The Wales Famine Forum.