Migration: Past and Present

In the period when the Church was being established Irish migration formed a core of the migration to Swansea.Irish migration had been occurring long before the Church was built, but it was the Irish famine (1845-1847) that drove millions of Irish people in search of work in Swansea.[1] Swansea at this time was an important industrial town, even the most important town in Glamorgan,[2] and St David’s Priory was a small but growing Catholic Church.

The Irish migrants were important to St David’s Priory, just as the Priory was essential to them. Irishness and Catholicism were deeply entangled in the identities of the Irish Catholics, for them to have been unable to find a place of worship in a land they had fled to to avoid starvation would have been tantamount to death in respect to their souls.

In Swansea there was a similar pattern of Irish migration to the rest of Britain at the time. Before the 1840s and 1850s Irish migration can be described as a ‘slow trickle’, culminating in the flood of immigrants during the famine. After the famine, however, Wales saw a much more sustained level of migration than the rest of Britain, with consistent numbers of Irish immigrants arriving between 1860 and 1901, though at much lower numbers than the famine years had seen.[3]

Although in the early years of their migration the Irish did not strongly identify with Catholicism, and were reported by Rev. Kavanagh (priest 1839 to 1856) in 1842 to be fairly reluctant to attend Mass.[4] As the famine years began, this apathy with religion decreased and the Catholic Church, as well as St David’s Priory became a very important part of the Irish migrants networks in Swansea.

Even today, in 2014, we can see similar patterns in the congregation of St David’s Priory. In the mid 1800s Irish migrants were creating a vibrant congregation, and today, in 2014, many members of the congregation will too be migrants. They are no longer generally Irish, rather they are students studying abroad, or migrant from Eastern Europe, with Cannon Flock reporting that the Polish are probably the largest group. For St David’s Priory, which maintains a 300 strong weekly congregation, this migration is important to it’s survival, enriching the Catholic community and helping sustain the church in a period where religion amongst the younger generation is declining.


[1] R.T Price, Little Ireland, Aspects of the Irish and Greenhill, Swansea (Swansea: Swansea City Council, 1992), p. 23.

[2] Price,  p. 20.

[3] Paul O’Leary, Immigration and Integration, The Irish in Wales, 1798-1922 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000), p. 4.

[4] O’Leary, pp. 42-3.


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