History of immigration from Northern Ireland

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Map of Northern Ireland
Map date: 2013
Victorians born in Northern Ireland have only been identified separately in censuses since 1971.

Immigrants from the whole of Ireland were the second largest community in Victoria after the English from 1854 until World War I. By 1871, when the community numbered 100,468, more than one in four Victorians was Ireland-born.

The Irish famine of the 1840s caused large numbers of impoverished people to migrate. They worked in Victoria as whalers, fishermen and farm hands. In townships they were labourers and factory workers. A few became property owners and professionals.

Between 1850 and 1890 most Irish came to Victoria as assisted immigrants, many escaping cultural repression in Ireland. In contrast to many other groups, they came in equal numbers of men and women. Many sought their fortunes on the goldfields.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Victoria was strongly supported by the Irish community. Many nuns and priests came here in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to develop Catholic churches, orphanages and schools such as St Peter and Paul's School, South Melbourne, established in 1854.

By the early twentieth century, mass immigration from Ireland had ended. The community decline continued after Northern Ireland became a separate political entity in 1921 following the Anglo-Irish war of independence.

The arrival of migrants from Northern Ireland peaked in Victoria between 1960 and 1967, with a 20% increase in the population. This coincided with an escalating rate of violence in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics and a consequent downturn in the economy.

In 2011, 5,858 Victorians were born in Northern Ireland. Today the community spreads from Berwick to the Mornington Peninsula. 50% work in professional and managerial roles; 31% work in clerical, sales and service roles. The church plays a significant role within this community, with over half of its members Protestant and one in five Catholic.

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