The Archive of the Irish in Britain
The Archive of the Irish in Britain consists of materials donated in a number of different media for over thirty years.
Founded in 1984, this unique collection of documents, audio and video recordings, books, photographs and ephemera catalogues the history of the Irish in Britain from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The Archive is regularly consulted by researchers, students, academics and journalists from Britain, Ireland and further afield.
The Irish Studies Centre at the Polytechnic of North London (a predecessor institution to London Metropolitan University) acquired the Archive in 1989 and expanded the collections in the wake of subsequent funding, exhibitions and other outreach initiatives.
For further information or to visit the archive, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Content of the collections and how to search them
Please note that some files marked RESTRICTED ACCESS contain personal information and therefore cannot automatically be viewed as this would mean a breach of GDPR. (See box list for further details). Some collections are CLOSED to the public and cannot be viewed; these are also clearly marked.
The collections mainly consist of 'grey literature' i.e. reports, newsletters, publicity leaflets and other forms of documentation produced by Irish Community organisations in Britain from 1945 to the present day. They also include some personal correspondence and postcards, minutes of meetings (of local associations and organisations), photographs, and publications. These are organised into a number of sub-series, namely:
Archive of the Irish in Britain articles and reports bibliography
We have a small collection of articles and reports written about the Irish in Britain over the last 150 years from academic journals, newspapers and other sources. There are also articles, reports and press cuttings to be found in many of the boxes in the Box Collection and in the Community Collection (grouped in folders by theme). It should be noted that this bibliography holds the details of many important and relevant sources that are not held here but which may be of interest to researchers.
A collection of oral history interviews, lectures given to the Irish in Britain History Group in the 1980s, radio programmes about the Irish in Britain and recordings of the Irish Studies Centre Public Lecture Series.
Books by and about the Irish in Britain houses in the Special Collections Reading Room. Most titles can be searched for using our Library Catalogue, however there are some books that are in the Box Collections, please ask staff for further details. The books can be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.
Archive of the Irish in Britain Community Collection
This collection is divided into three broad categories of culture, politics and welfare. Within these categories, there are numerous sub-categories, some related to specific issues and some related to specific groups or events.
We are happy to receive donations that might fill gaps in this collection, please email us at email@example.com if you have a potential donation.
A small collection that includes Irish step dance medals, tee-shirts, sporting shields, rosettes, sashes and banners.
These are from a variety of photographers, disseminated throughout the collection, dating from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Archive of the Irish in Britain Poster Collection
Posters publicising a variety of political, cultural and social events related to the Irish in Britain from the 1970s to the 21st Century.
Rare Book Collection
Histories, autobiographies and fictional accounts of the Irish in Britain dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Titles can be searched for using our Library Catalogue.
Student Works Collection
Student projects, dissertations and these on all aspects of the Irish experience in Britain. Whilst most of the work in this collection is of undergraduate level, much of it covers topics un-researched or under-researched elsewhere.
Archive of the Irish in Britain Box Collection
Consists of boxes of archival records, grey literature, photographs, flyers etc. for individuals, organisations, events and community groups.
A collection of video recordings about the Irish in Britain over the last forty years, including material donated to the Archive by the Activision Irish Video Project.
Archive of the Irish in Britain - digitisation project 2018
Timed to coincide with the move of the Archive of the Irish in Britain to purpose-built facilities in the University's Special Collections at Aldgate, this project aimed to digitise tens of thousands of documents and other material and making them accessible online for research and private study.
Amongst the collections being digitised were:
- the St. Patrick's Day Programme Collection
- the papers of the late 19th century London Irish writer, Winifred M. Patton
- the historical records of the London Irish Centre and the Irish County Associations
- ephemera of the Gaelic League of London
Initially funded by the Irish government's Emigrant Support Programme, the primary purpose of the project was to ensure that the historical and contemporary records of the Irish in Britain are preserved for posterity and disseminated, as widely as possible, for the benefit of current and future generations of Irish people at home and abroad.
Digitisation is enhancing awareness of Irish history and helping to engender a better understanding of specific welfare and cultural needs, helping to foster a more cohesive sense of community. Most of the physical collections in the Archive are not on open access for preservation reasons - and therefore providing access to the digitised collections to members of the Irish community and the public enables access for those prevented from viewing them due to geographical distance or impaired mobility.
By protecting, sharing and celebrating the heritage of the Irish in Britain, this project is raising awareness and deepens understanding of the Irish diaspora. Digitisation of this largely untapped resource is opening the Archive's contents to a much wider constituency and offers a new way for the Irish community in Britain to communicate and interconnect. It includes cataloguing of the digitised collections and online access to an extensive information base for research and study by individual researchers and community practitioners.
By raising awareness and appreciation of Irish Community history, this project is nurturing a sense of pride in Ireland and Irish identity abroad and helping to contribute to the strengthening of Irish-British relations now and in years to come.
The collections can now be searched at the Archive of the Irish in Britain Catalogue.
Copyright Notice: The images in the Irish in Britain Collection remain the property of the Creators and as such come under Copyright law. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents is forbidden without the express permission of the said Creators and Copyright holders. For permission requests, contact us at the email provided below.
For further information about the project or any Copyright permission requests, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The collections can now be searched at the Archive of the Irish in Britain Database.
Visit to the Archive of the Irish in Britain by the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, in 2016.
London Metropolitan University gratefully acknowledges the support of the Irish Government's Emigrant Support Programme.
Searching the digitised collections
Preview the digitised collection here: Archive of the Irish in Britain
Search the digitised collection here: Archive of the Irish in Britain
A Notice and Takedown Policy is available.
Holding up a mirror to the Irish in Britain (article)
In an essay for the collection 'Migrations: The Irish at Home and Abroad' in 1990, Liam Ryan wrote, "Emigration is a mirror in which the Irish nation can always see its true face". Today we might suitably substitute the word 'immigration' for 'emigration' but the metaphor of the mirror serves as a useful one for capturing the essence of the project I have been involved within recent years. In June 2000, a development programme funded by the Smurfit Foundation was launched in the Irish Studies Centre at London Metropolitan University to preserve, catalogue, expand and disseminate a unique collection of documents, photographs, books and audio-visual materials relating to the Irish in Britain. As part of the launch, items form the Archive of the Irish in Britain were exhibited to the public for the first time. During the all too brief three days available to do this, I met and spoke to countless local Irish people as well as visitors from further afield. My abiding memory from the time was watching the way in which people saw their own experiences of migration and life in Britain reflected back to them in a way that is still relatively rare for our community. Allied to this was the many individual stories people had to tell me, how similar or different their experiences were to those displayed and how important it was to them for their voices and personal histories to be acknowledged also. No single repository, of course, can pretend to adequately reflect the multifarious dimensions of a community as large as the Irish in Britain, but the fact that so many visitors to the exhibition wanted to contribute to the development project in however small a way convinced me of the importance of ensuring that such a venture had to at least attempt to be as inclusive and representative as possible.
The Archive of the Irish in Britain was originally donated to the Irish Studies Centre by the Irish in Britain History Group in 1991. The IBHG which was set up in the early 1980s began to collect documentation and oral interviews on the Irish in Britain as no other such collection existed at the time. Since moving to the Irish Studies Centre, the collections have been significantly expanded and due to better access arrangements many more people have been able to use the Archive, in some cases from as far afield as Japan and Australia. Many visitors have remarked on the advantage of being able to access so many sources for their research under one roof. Examples of some the holdings we have are a copy of the first-ever book-length history of the Irish in Britain by John Denvir published in 1892, a collection of St. Patrick's Day programmes produced for events in London dating back to 1922, oral history recordings of individuals' experiences of migration to Britain in the 1930s, photographs of Irish community events in the 1950s and political posters from the 1980s. In addition to this, the Archive possesses the prison letters of Guildford Four-man Paul Hill and is regularly consulted by researchers, programme-makers, historians and journalists from Britain, Ireland and further afield. Tim Pat Coogan's recent history of Irish migration 'Wherever Green Is Worn', the TV documentary on the Irish abroad 'The Irish Empire' and Clare Barrington's bibliography of Irish Women in Britain are just some of the works for which the Archive has been consulted. In addition to visits, the Archive deals with numerous enquiries requesting information, literature searches and referrals to other Irish agencies in Britain.
A development programme was launched in 2000 and is progressing in three key ways. Firstly by preserving and expanding the collections. The Archive contains a number of rare and fragile materials which it has newly preserved and recently acquired dedicated archival space within the University to ensure safe housing and appropriate access for users. The expansion programme entails outreach, liaison and consultation with various organisations and individuals in order to acquire new materials. In particular the Archive is keen to expand its collection of photographs, recordings and ephemera. A schedule of oral interviews with individuals about their personal experiences of life in Britain is part of this initiative and a film documentary of interviews with London Irish elders was produced in 2003 entitled 'I Only Came Over for a Couple of Years...'. Secondly, dissemination and widening access to the data held by the Archive is an important goal. The Archive helped fund and support the 'Shades of Green' directory of the Irish in Britain and will launch a website in due course with digitization and the establishment of a digitized library of photographic and other images of the Irish in Britain planned.
By extending the metaphor of the mirror referred to earlier, the Archive might be compared to a mirrored ball. Apart from containing numerous small individual mirrored tiles that represent each of the individual items, stories or images in the collections, the ball, once it begins to spin in the spotlight of publicity, begins to reflect and project its contents far and wide. The Irish have a special historical and cultural relationship with stories and storytelling. There is an argument that no story, be it academic, fictional or autobiographical truly exists until it is told. So too it could be argued that no archive truly exists until its contents are disseminated. My hope is that this project will go some way to achieving this through the goals outlined above and that the Archive will be seen as a process as much as an end product, which all sectors of the community can feel they have a stake in. Despite the existence of an 'Irish' category in the recent census, there is still a massive shortfall amongst large sectors of British society in awareness and recognition of the contributions, needs and achievements of the Irish in Britain as compared to other ethnic groups. The Archive of the Irish in Britain is one means of attempting to put this right. To that extent, I hope this particular Archive is as much about the future as the past.
Tony Murray, Archive of the Irish in Britain
On the map: thirty years of the Irish Studies Centre
On the Map: 30 years of the Irish Studies Centre
Other organisations, libraries, archives and digitised collections
We have created a list of libraries, archives, organisations and digitised collections that may be of interest to users of our Archive of the Irish in Britain. The purpose of the list is to assist researchers and interested parties with tracing organisations and digitised materials relevant to their research.
This list is not exhaustive and inclusion on this list does not constitute a recommendation by London Metropolitan University.
London Metropolitan University is not responsible for the content of external websites.
Irish in Britain site contains a bibliography of research bringing together material from different sources, perspectives and disciplines and is intended as a resource for those wishing to know more about the Irish community in Britain.