People forget the discrimination which the Irish, along with other immigrants, suffered even in recent times in Britain and America. It was not uncommon to see signs in boarding houses after the Second World War in England like the one below saying “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.” My Father in Law worked as a Painter / Decorator in the UK after the war and often remembers the dangerous jobs given to Irish and Polish workers on building sites, quarries and factories in the days when safety precautions were non-existent and no protective equipment was issued. He lost the sight of one eye when it was punctured by a sliver of metal when he was using a grinder without goggles. A friend of his was killed by a train while working on the tracks outside Paddington Station, London. His wife was informed by a note left in their letterbox by the Transport Police and she was never paid compensation as she was told it “was his own fault.” When my Father in Law and his colleagues went looking for “digs” when starting a new job he used to have to hang back and let his English friends do the talking, if a landlady heard an Irish accent they wouldn’t get accommodation.
In more recent times the discrimination has been more subtle with Masonic networks, cabals of Evangelical Christians and others looking for similar types as they are made of the “right stuff.” Indeed the sectarian discrimination against Irish Catholics continues with snide articles about “backward attitudes” as witness the guff written about Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly when she was a government Minister. It is hard to think such patronising guff would be written about another minority in the UK without provoking an outcry. The latest engine of discrimination is the ludicrous and self validating equality industry with its shadow quotas for “Visible Ethnic Minorities” which is perpetuating the same syndrome with manager’s icentivised to appoint the “right people” to meet arbitrary ethnic targets. Another factor in the UK is “security clearance” which is used to discriminate against Irish people in government jobs – for instance up to 4 years ago “Irish nationals” were not invited to Buckingham Palace garden parties on “security grounds.” If this is the discrimination we know about what else is there paddling furiously below the surface?
Similarly in America during the period of peak immigration after the Famine and early in the 20th Century Irish people were forced into jobs that demanded many hours of hard physical labour with very little pay. Irish immigrants often entered the workforce at the bottom of the occupational ladder and took on the menial and dangerous jobs that were often avoided by other workers. Many Irish women became servants or domestic workers.
Americans disdained this type of work, fit only for servants, the common sentiment was: “Let Negroes be servants, and if not Negroes, let Irishmen fill their place…” Many Irish men laboured in coal mines and built railroads and canals. Railroad construction was so dangerous that it was said that there was an Irishman buried under every tie.
Well in a strange role reversal after the boom of the Celtic Tiger we are seeing again the ‘NO Irish need apply’ – the signs are already going up on building sites abroad in a throwback to the grim days of the last century according to a report in the Irish Independent. But this time they are starting to appear in Poland as that country takes its revenge for the way in which some unscrupulous Irish contractors treated their countrymen during the years of the Celtic Tiger.
According to Trade union official Michael Kilcoyne – also president of the Consumers Association of Ireland – said it had recently been brought to his attention that the ‘No Irish’ signs had appeared on a couple of Polish building sites where workers were being sought. Mr Kilcoyne said: “The reality is that our international reputation as employers has been sullied. Many foreign people, who have worked here, especially during our boom years, have had bad experiences.
“The evidence of this is in the number of cases taken before the Labour Relations Commission over the last year or two in respect of unpaid wages or holiday money that was not paid. Ireland’s name as a good place to work has been badly damaged by such contractors who held onto the money of their workers.”
Mr Kilcoyne, who is a SIPTU trade union official in the west, revealed that he had personally won 14 such cases in Galway, while he believed there were hundreds, if not thousands, of similar awards made countrywide against employers and in favour of non-national workers who had been short-changed.
Maybe it is time to dust off the lyrics of an old Music Hall song celebrating these NINA (No Irish Need Apply) signs which was originally popularised in English Music Halls before being exported to America.
“I’m a dacint boy, just landed from the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation: yis, I want it mighty bad.
I saw a place advartised. It’s the thing for me, says I;
But the dirty spalpeen ended with: No Irish need apply.
Whoo! says I; but that’s an insult—though to get the place I’ll try.
So, I wint to see the blaggar with: No Irish need apply.
I started off to find the house, I got it mighty soon;
There I found the ould chap saited: he was reading the TRIBUNE.
I tould him what I came for, whin he in a rage did fly:
No! says he, you are a Paddy, and no Irish need apply!”
NO IRISH NEED APPLY. (1862)
Written by JOHN F. POOLE, and sung, with immense success, by the great Comic-Vocalist of the age, TONY PASTOR.
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