“Oh Mary, this London’s a wonderful sight. With the people here workin’ by day and by night” - the opening lines of Percy French’s much-recorded 1890s ballad, The Mountains of Mourne, invites the listener to eavesdrop on the first impressions the English capital makes on a recently arrived immigrant from Co Down.
Almost a century later, Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady’s visceral protest song Nothing But the Same Old Story, released in 1981 during one of the darkest periods of the Troubles, howls its condemnation of anti-Irish racism in Britain: “Living under suspicion. Putting up with the hatred and fear in their eyes. You can see that you’re nothing but a murderer. In their eyes, we’re nothing but a bunch of murderers.”
Although very different in tone and perspective, these songs bring into focus the distinctive experiences of migrants from the North of Ireland in England, both before and after partition. If songs about the experience of Northern Irish people in Great Britain are a scarce commodity, academic research on the topic is not exactly plentiful.