Negative attitudes to Irish immigrants

Scots identity

The Scots worried about the large numbers of Irish immigrants arriving in Scotland.

Lots of the Irish immigrants were Catholic, especially before 1880. Scotland was a Protestant country and the Scots worried that Catholicism would return to Scotland.

The Church of Scotland, newspapers and political leaders tried to convince Scots that they were in danger of losing their identity and their religion.

Cost of support

Many Irish people were very poor when they arrived in Scotland and were without any money. The Scots worried that the Irish immigrants would drain the Poor Law provision, costing them more in taxes.


Many workers felt that the Irish immigrants took their jobs. The immigrants were willing to work for lower pay and in poor conditions and the Scots felt that this put them out of a job.

If the Scots tried to fight for better conditions, the Irish immigrants were brought in as strike breakers.

Moral claims about the Irish

Irish immigrants were seen to ‘bring down the moral standard’ of Scotland and were blamed for bad behaviour for a number of reasons:

  • The navvies (labourer/manual worker) gained a reputation for being violent.
  • Irish immigrants were stereotyped as illiterate due to their lack of education.
  • The areas where the Irish immigrants lived had a lot of social problems related to poverty and poor housing.

Positive attitude to Irish immigrants

On the other hand, many Scots made Irish immigrants settlers feel welcome.

  • Early immigrants often married locals and changed their surnames to Scottish equivalents.
  • Employers were very happy to see so many Irish immigrants as there was a shortage of manual workers and factory workers.
  • The Irish immigrants were willing to work for long hours and low pay and were welcomed by employers.
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