Irish ancestors (general)

This guide was last updated in 2009

If you're interested in tracking down relatives in Ireland, there's a wealth of documents available. Mary Quinn and Ruairí Blaney explain how to make the most of the information.

An estimated three million people in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) are of Irish descent. Some Irish ancestors arrived here as far back as the early 17th century, others as recently as just after the Second World War.

London and Dublin were connected from early times by the silk and linen trade, which brought many Irish immigrants to London. However, the rapid growth in Ireland’s population, combined with harsh working conditions, saw the rate of immigration increase in the 1790s.

By the 1830s many Irish communities were established in London as well as in Scotland and Wales, where Irish workers became an essential element in the burgeoning Industrial Revolution.

The biggest wave of immigration came during the Great Famine of 1845-1847, when more than one million people left Ireland. Most fled to America but a substantial proportion made for Great Britain, with Liverpool the most popular destination for famine refugees.

As the 19th century progressed, a steadier influx of Irish was accompanied by a wider distribution throughout the country.

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