Ruins of the Cornish mining village at Allihies, County Cork, Ireland. Photograph, S.P. Schwartz 2005

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Visit to Ireland, August 2006

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Networks of Metalliferous Mining Migration in the Nineteenth Century Transatlantic World: the Cornish and Irish – a Comparative Study

This British Academy funded comparative migration project is being undertaken by Dr Sharron P. Schwartz of the University of Exeter and Professor Graham Davis of Bath Spa University, with the assistance of Diane Hodnett, Limerick Ireland.

Migration has been an important feature of European history for centuries. However, we still know relatively little in detail about migration in the past. Baines (1994) considered that one of the key questions that needed to be addressed was the relative incidence of migration in the past: why did people migrate from some communities and not others? Observers of contemporary migration such as Faist (2000) have also isolated the relative incidence of migration as one of the factors problematizing international migration analyses: ‘Why are there so few migrants from so many places and so many from only a few places?’

Yet, there are still few investigations that examine the details of past migrations from the British Isles, who the migrants were, the type of communities they came from and what kinship and recruitment networks supported their migration decisions. In order to address these concerns, migration research needs to move away from a purely qualitative approach to encompass quantitative analyses. However, quantitative research that enables partial life-course reconstitution or longitudinal analyses has been impossible until relatively recently with access to large computerised databases of nineteenth century census returns and other rites of life data available online.

The most intact surviving example of a Cornish design man-engine house in the world at Allihies, County Cork, Ireland. Restored by the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland. Photo S. P. Schwartz, 2005The Cornish and the Irish were among the most mobile of ethnic groups in nineteenth century western Europe and some of this movement was accounted for by the migration of hard rock miners. Cornwall is renowned for its mining migration, which has been well documented by Rowe, Schwartz and Payton (1974; 2000; 2005), but as Cowman has pointed out, school geography text books of a generation ago ‘assured us that there had been no mining in Ireland’ (1983). It is no surprise then that the migration of miners from Ireland has received rather less attention. The significance of emigration streams of Irish miners to metalliferous mining centres in Britain and the US has been overlooked in mainstream literature that has focused largely on Irish immigration to the urban centres (Burchall 1979; Belchem 1990; Davis 1991), exceptions are Emmons (1989) whose work focussed on the Irish in Butte Montana; MacRaild (1998) who looked at the Irish in Cumbria and Mulligan (2001) who has analysed Irish migration to Michigan.

Cornish and Irish miners at the Tamarack Mine, Calumet Michigan, USA, c.1922Additionally, the dominant discourse of post-famine Irish migration to Britain and the US is that of destitute, unskilled, often diseased people with few prospects of social and economic advancement, a movement of non- or semi-skilled opportunists (see for example Hickey 1967). Yet Ireland was an important centre of nineteenth century hard rock mining as field and archival research by the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland has demonstrated.

One of the factors problematizing the study of Irish migration networks is the absence of census data. In its place, the Griffith Valuation and other records are used to attempt to determine where people came from in Ireland using the origin and ramification of family names as a means to determine geographical patterns that point to places of origin for certain surnames. For example, people with names such as Harrington and Sullivan are likely to come from County Cork, whereas the surnames O’Donnell, Boyle and McGehan are common in West Donegal (for more on this see MacLysaght, 1985). Current work on Cornish and Irish migration within Britain and the US has focussed on surname distribution (for example see Lloyd, Webber and Longley, CASA, UCL and the ESRC—funded Application of Isonymic Analysis to Historical Data: Irish Migration to Britain, 1851-1901, Smith, MacRaild et al), but while this highlights the spatial distribution over time of surnames that are relatively unique to both Cornwall and Ireland, such a macro-approach does not sufficiently explore the dynamics of migration networks: how did they come into being, why were they localised and how were they sustained across time and space leading to often distinct settlement patterns? Moreover, as Kenny argues in his 1998 work on Irish immigration to the anthracite region of Pennsylvania, 'surname analysis, on its own, cannot produce scientifically reliable data and is only of use if it supplements a pattern verified elsewhere'.

Our project is innovative for three reasons:

  • there has been no comparative research of Cornish and Irish hard rock mining migration and our research will break new ground in exploring similarities and differences in migration networks and settlement patterns in our case study areas.

  • it will link internal and external migration flows, for migration within the boundaries of the nation-state and emigration outside those boundaries have usually been treated separately and comparisons across international borders and internal migrations are therefore rare.

  • it attempts to move beyond previous research on surname recognition. This has identified certain patterns of skill migration from Cornwall/Ireland within Britain and to centres in the USA. With a micro-study of specific names and families, a fine mesh analysis of the networks and process of migration could be reconstructed, an approach called for by Baines back in 1994. The principal working hypothesis is that many of the migration streams from Cornwall and Ireland were skill-based and localised.

Project Methodology
For the purposes of our pilot study we have decided to employ four case studies that span the nineteenth century and take in four important hard rock mining areas in Britain, Ireland and the US. We will extract a cohort of Irish and Cornish miners from each of the following records to which we have full access: 1) the 1870 Census for Keweenaw, Michigan; 2) the 1881 Census for Cumbria; 3) the 1861 Census for Cornwall; and 4) the Allihies Mine Cost Books (West Cork) Jul 1833-Dec 1837 and Jan 1838-June 1844 used in tandem with the Griffith Valuation, the Tithe Apportionments and all other available records. We estimate this will give us approximately 1,200 Irish and Cornish miners.

Utilising methods employed by genealogists, we will then nominally link our cohort individuals both backwards and forwards using computer-assisted manual linkage methods using the nineteenth century census returns to which we have full access, civil registration data (for example, and FreeBMD available online), company work records, and other data based records to explore similarities and contrasts in the timing, direction and longevity of migration networks from Ireland and Cornwall. This research project will thus bring together the genealogical approach with that of the academic resulting in a more holistic study of the dynamics of the migration process.

We are only testing the feasibility of a quantitative approach in this pilot project and we would emphasis that relationships between mobility and other variables that are indicated by quantitative data will need to be supplemented by qualitative data that provide more evidence for the reason for the migration flows rather than their context. This will be addressed in a future, more elaborate joint project.