As with any national “label”, the term “Irish-Scots” is open to interpretation; many Scottish-born descendants of the Irish immigrants would style themselves “Scottish”, while others take pride in their dual Irish and Scottish identity or spurn any association with the country of their birth, feeling greater affinity and loyalty to Ireland. The same is true of many other transnational groups or diasporas, such as Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans, where the link to the country of origin may be decades or centuries old.

Attitudes to the waves of immigration from Ireland to Scotland were mixed, as evidenced by the following quotations:

  • “In our opinion, the Irish have as much right to come to this country to better their lives as the Scots and English have to go to Ireland or any other part of Britain for the same reason. Let us hear no more complaints about the influx of Irish having a bad effect on Scotland unless it is to do something about tackling the problems which caused the emigration.”
    The Glasgow Courier, 1830
  • “The immigration of such a number of people from the lowest class and with no education will have a bad effect on the population. So far, living among the Scots does not seem to have improved the Irish, but the native Scots who live among the Irish have got worse. It is difficult to imagine the effect the Irish immigrants will have upon the morals and habits of the Scottish people.”
    Report from the Scottish Census of 1871 [1]

Some of the Irish-Scots were brought over from Ireland to take the jobs of striking workers, which was a source of great friction. Difficulties also arose due to differences between the typically Catholic immigrants and the predominantly Protestant native Scots population. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, it was reported that, in Glasgow, there were only thirty-nine Irish-Catholics, but forty-three anti-Catholic clubs. [2]

In the UK census of 2001, the new category “Irish” was added to the list of ethnic background.

In Scotland, results showed that 49,428 (0.98%) people described themselves as of Irish background but this does not seem to be an accurate reflection of the Irish presence in Scotland. The Irish immigrated to Scotland in the tens of thousands, especially from the mid-19th century to the mid 20th century. It is believed that because the Irish category was a new addition to the census, that respondents confused this question with the more familiar question regarding country of birth. [3]

The Irish-Scots were instrumental in the formation of Celtic Football Club, Hibernian F.C., and Dundee United F.C. (which was originally known as Dundee Hibernian). Indeed, these teams were originally formed to provide recreational facilities for the Irish immigrants. At first, these teams faced discrimination from the football authorities, and there was controversy over whether their players should be picked to play in international games, especially against the Irish international team.

Celtic F.C. still has a very proud connection with its Irish heritage. The predominance of Irish tricolours (including official flags atop Celtic Park) and the singing of Irish national anthems and folk songs (e.g. the Fields of Athenry) among their supporters may be controversial to some, particularly among Rangers F.C. supporters. (For more information see the article on the Old Firm).

There is also some mild controversy over prominent Irish-Scots politicians (Rosemary McKenna, John Reid etc.) and their outspoken opposition to Scottish independence. Some Scots who support Scottish independence find it odd and paradoxical that such politicians are (rightly) proud of their Irish roots, and support the status of an independent, economically successful Republic of Ireland, yet are opposed to Scotland possibly moving towards a similar status as an independent state. However, Sean Connery, undoubtedly the most famous Scot in the world, and one who is partly of Irish descent, supports Scottish independence, as do many other Irish Scots

Notable Irish-Scots

  • Comedian Billy Connolly
  • General James Connolly Irish soldier and revolutionary
  • Sean Connery (actor)
  • Actor Brian Cox
  • Rosemary McKenna, Labour MP
  • Gerard Butler, (actor)