Irish Lives in Swansea

In Swansea the Irish seem to have been relatively welcomed, but not so much so that they were included in all aspects of life. The escape from the famine helped them survive, but it did not remove them from poverty. The Irish, according to records found in the archive, continued to live in poor conditions, but they did not suffer terribly from disease.[1]

They faced problems typical to immigrants – language, the need to form new kinship networks, finding work, and worship.

In Greenhill the Irish were able to form their own Irish community, which became known as a ‘Little Ireland’.[2] After 1850 the Irish began to worship mostly at St Joseph’s in Greenhill rather than St David’s Priory. The Church was established as part of St David’s Priory initially and later broke from the mother church. Nevertheless many of the priests from St David’s also ministered to the Irish in Greenhill.



Although Wales is now a bilingual nation, in eighteenth and nineteenth century Wales, Welsh remained the dominant language. In the coastal towns of the South this was less true, but the Irish were compelled to learn at least basic Welsh.[3]

Though the Irish still faced poverty and suffering in some forms, they did have welcome reprieves, especially in relation to the Church. The Reverend Kavanagh was a blessing to the Irish who sought sanctuary in Swansea, providing for their needs. During a cholera outbreak he rented a room in Swansea so that he could live amongst his suffering parishioners. His ability to speak Gaelic must have provided welcome relief for those amongst his flock who had not yet learnt sufficient Welsh or English, and the archive records show him as someone who interpreted for these people. He also conducted Sunday School in Gaelic, allowing Irish children to continue to learn the Catholic traditions in their mother tongue, and connect with their home and their heritage.


[1] LAC/99/K2. RBA, Swansea University.

[2] LAC/99/K2. RBA, Swansea University.

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


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