Caribbee Island Medley

Publication, exhibition, audio-visual presentation

The title comes from the name of a notorious slum area in Wolverhampton in the 1840's, home to the new Irish migrants. Caribbee Island was an area of cheap housing in Wolverhampton for many of these early migrants: it was described by a local newspaper in 1849 as an ‘open gutter occupied by the lowest class of Irish.’

My own ancestors were Quigleys and Dooleys from County Offaly and County Galway, who came over to work in England in the 1930’s. As a young boy, every few years – when we could afford it – we’d make a trip home to visit distant relatives, meeting a myriad of cousins, aunties and uncles. On these trips, there was always an opportunity to pose for a family photograph on the Cliffs of Moher or to kiss the Blarney Stone, to visit a seminary or a wake, to collect Holy Water from a sacred well or leprechaun figurines or dig turf from the bog for the fireside. In England, I attended a Preparatory School run by the Sisters of Mercy and then a Grammar school run by the Marist Brothers.

Rewalking these old paths – ‘as people continue to write about their past with relish, nostalgia or bitterness’ – this project was an exploration of and homage to Irish roots and image of the Emerald Isle.  The project produced an exhibition and a publication based on oral history material, stories, photographs and memorabilia from interviews and workshops with people of Irish heritage in the local area. An audi-visual presentation was made at Wolverhampton Art Gallery as part of ‘Fresh Perspectives’ – a programme of music, talks and art activities that addressed Irish heritage and culture. Sláinte!

Supported by the National Lottery

View pdf of one of the stories, which recounts the riotous visit of Baron De Camin
to Wolverhampton in 1858: caribbee-island-medley_decamin