Irish immigrants arrive in Scotland over the course of the 18th Century, growing a community in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh known as 'Little Ireland'. St Patrick's Church is resultantly established.
Hibernian Football Club came into being in 1875, but the origins of the club started long before Friday, 6th August of that year, the day the founding of the club was formally announced. Irishmen had been arriving to work on Scottish farmland throughout the 18th Century, but these were for the most part temporary workers who soon returned over the Irish Sea to their homeland. Towards the end of that century some dramatic changes to that pattern were taking place, and many thousands of immigrants started arriving on the Scottish west coast never to return home. For the most part these Irish families settled in and around Glasgow, however some branched out Eastwards and thus a small proportion found their way to Edinburgh.
An unwelcomed community
Two hundred years on we think nothing of nipping over to Dublin from Edinburgh for a brief visit, or vice-versa. In 1800 however it must have seemed to the Irish settlers that they were arriving on a different planet, and not a particularly welcoming one at that. The existing people of Scotland's capital did not welcome the newcomers with open arms, but rather with suspicion and this inevitably resulted in the immigrants looking to each other for support rather than the integration with the existing community that they very likely craved. Settling first in the Cowgate area of the city, the quickly increasing Irish population spread to nearby Grassmarket, West Bow, Pleasance, Holyrood, St John's, West Port, Candlemaker's Row, Potterrow, Lawnmarket and Conongate.
St Patrick's Church, situated in the Cowgate area of the Old Town in Edinburgh
The area centred on the Cowgate became known as 'Little Ireland', and the social roots were formed that would eventually see the birth of a football institution. This however was an area of desperate depravation; the tenement housing into which the Irish immigrants sought shelter where over 300 years old, and profiteering landlords had divided the available space to such an extent that the living conditions were in effect the worst slums in Europe. There was not much work for the immigrants, and what did exist was very poorly rewarded. This was reflected perhaps in recruitment for the Army with records from 1804 showing that the local regiment, the Royal Scots, had twice as many Irishmen in their ranks as they had Scots!
Increasing Irish numbers
By 1821 there were some 12,000 Irish now living in Little Ireland with a further 800 settled in the nearby port of Leith. Just twenty years later, that had risen to 16,000 and 1,000 respectively, in a total Edinburgh population of 133,692. The conditions for these people did not improve as the years passed, with surveys in 1844 (around the time when the Waverley Railway Station was built on the fringes of Little Ireland) revealing that some 40 lodging houses in the area and no basic living facilities or water, not even beds! So almost half a century after the Irish immigrants first started to arrive in the city, their social status in the community had not improved one jot.
An amazing statistic from the time shows that something like one third of the population of Edinburgh's Old Town were now of Irish birth, with even these figures considered to be conservative given that they included only adults aged between 16 and 60. Little Ireland was now a community of 25,000 people, with the 1850 figures showing that the Irish population in Leith had risen to 2,000. The latter came about through the expansion of the docks at Leith, with many from Little Ireland moving to the port where they found work and perhaps living conditions that were marginally better than those in Little Ireland.
St Patrick's Church
The local authorities in Edinburgh had done precious little to aid the integration of the Irish into their community, indeed 'precious little' is perhaps more than understating the facts. It fell then to the people themselves to make the best of what they had, and to that end a significant move came in 1854, when the Catholic authorities managed to obtain premises for the first church that could really meet the needs of the Little Ireland community. It was an Episcopal Church in South Grays Close (facing on to the Cowgate) that became available for £4,000. The sum was raised half by the Catholic church and half by the local community, and so on 3rd August 1856 St Patrick's came into being.
In the years that followed, St Patrick's would play a crucial role in the founding of Hibernian Football Club.
Irish immigrants settle in both Glasgow and Edinburgh throughout the 18th century.
Immigrants initially settle in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, later known as 'Little Ireland'.
A growing Irish community throughout the 1800s was laying the foundations for the birth of a football institution.
St Patrick's Church is established after the Cathloic authorities obtain premises for the first church that could truly meet the needs of the Irish community.
Written as part of 'The Origins of Hibernian' series