2012 - Patrick O'Farrell Memorial Lecture

When:5 Dec 2012, 7pm - 9pm
Venue:Ritchie Theatre, John Niland Scientia Building
Who:Professor Cormac ?? Gr??da, School of Economics, University College Dublin

Professor Cormac Ó Gráda

School of Economics University College Dublin

‘Because she never let them in’: Irish immigration a century ago and today’

Reception from 7.00pm

Lecture 7.30pm - 8.30pm

One hundred years ago, and for most of the twentieth century, Ireland was a land of emigration not immigra¬tion. However, in the space of a decade, Ireland has been transformed from a homogeneous community, where non-native residents were in a very small minority, to one in which one-sixth of its inhabitants are foreign-born. The lecture will compare immigration and attitudes towards immigrants in the very different Irelands of a century ago and of the present.

Cormac Ó Gráda is a professor in University College Dublin’s School of Economics. He has published widely on the economic history of Ireland and his most quoted works are on the Irish famine of the late 1840’s, and studies of fluctuations in the Irish population. He was awarded the Royal Irish Academy’s Gold Medal for the Humanities in 2010.

Event Report

Launched in 2011, to commemorate the life and work of a renowned UNSW historian of Irish-Australia, the Patrick O’Farrell Memorial Lecture continues to be a flagship event for the GISC. This year, eminent economic historian, Professor Cormac Ó Gráda of University College Dublin, delivered a highly stimulating and academically rigorous address on the theme of immigration to Ireland, past and present.

The quotation in the lecture title comes from a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses. In June 1904, when Mr Deasy, attributed Irish tolerance towards Jews to a policy of “not letting them in”, Ireland was a land of emigration, not immigration. So it continued for most of the twentieth century. However, in the last two decades, Ireland has been transformed from a homogeneous community, where non-native residents were in a very small minority, to one in which one-sixth of its inhabitants are foreign-born. Ó Gráda examined in detail this unprecedented recent influx, comparing current societal attitudes and political responses to immigration with those of Ireland a century ago.

The first-half of the lecture brought to life the often-colourful experiences of two tiny immigrant communities that settled in Ireland in the early 1900s: Russian-born Jews, working mainly in Dublin as money-lenders, and the Italian (particularly Casalattican) families that founded the fish and chip shops still thriving today. Ó Gráda then shifted his focus to the present day, explaining that whilst early-twentieth-century Italians and Jews were subject to some abuse, the foreign-born are in fact more badly treated now, than they were one hundred years ago.

Today’s episodes of violence towards immigrants must, of course, be placed in perspective and, in the second-half of the lecture, Ó Gráda used an impressive variety of attitudinal and other data to measure carefully native responses to mass immigration. With the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s historic ambivalence towards immigrants has been replaced in some quarters by a more heightened resentment (particularly of perceived welfare ‘spongers’). However, opinion polls show that overall Ireland bucks the European trend towards xenophobic and right-wing politics; Ireland is more immigrant-friendly than are, for example, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Spain.

Ó Gráda’s salient topic choice and impeccable scholarship reinforced the value of the value of the Patrick O’Farrell Memorial Lecture series not only as a celebration of a great Irish historian, but also as a forum for debate on the issues that matter in Ireland today. The 200-strong audience contained academics and the general public (many of whom have their own experiences of migration to a new land); this excellent lecture appealed to, and challenged the assumptions of, both groups.

Watch the lecture here on UNSWTV

Contact: Angela McLoughlin | T: 02 9385 7164 | E: irish@unsw.edu.au

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