"A people without knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots"
A Sligoman's experience: Leaving Ireland.
Below is an interesting letter I received
from Dave Burke re his emigration experience. Would you like to tell us
of yours? Or of your parents? It doesn’t matter when you emigrated,
in the ‘40s or ‘50s, prior to that, or in more recent times.
Perhaps you have returned to Ireland and now live here or maybe it’s
an ancestor who has left a record. No matter what part of Ireland you
come from we would like to hear from you and will dedicate this page to
your stories. (Pic: emigrant ships leaving Cork early 1900s)
Emigration by Cattle Boat
I recently read a letter in the Sunday Times (16/2/04), originally printed in 1876, about how passengers had to share the boats with cattle and this was long after the famine emigrations. I thought you might be interested.
In 1936/7, when I emigrated, things hadn’t changed much and I remember emigrating to England in the same conditions. As you can see matters hadn't improved in over 60 years but there were people of conscience about then too. This is the letter with the construction of the sentences faithfully reproduced:
"Sir--In this progressive age, when so many improvements are being adopted to meet the requirements of the traveling public, and third - class accommodation on railway is taken advantage of by persons able to pay higher fares, the poor deck passenger crossing the Irish Channel has to submit to an amount of inconvenience and often suffering, which only those who experience it can fully realize, in consequence of the want of shelter from the weather on many of the steamers, while on others the miserable cabin accommodation is so scanty and ill ventilated that when at all crowded the atmosphere is most unfit for human life.
But worst of all the steamers in the cattle trade, to which most of the class alluded to belong, on many of these little or no provision is made for deck passengers, and while the Board of Trade regulations require that each person must have a square yard of space, there is no rule or law to compel the steamship companies to provide shelter, and it not infrequently happens that such passengers are not any better off than the cattle. These are the facts observed from personal observation.
The Board of Trade very properly requires sleeping accommodation for sailors to be duly certified by their officers, but entirely neglects any such provision for passengers above alluded to; consequently, it often happens that the poor mother with helpless little children has to be satisfied with some dry corner on the same deck with the pigs sheep or cattle as the case may be, exposed to the cold wintery storms during the season of the year and the usual sickness. As the government has under consideration a new Shipping Act, it seems a favourable opportunity for rectifying the serious omission in the Board of Trade Regulations.
John C Newsom
Cork . February15.1876."
Emigrant Memories from Manchester Irish Centre
On a visit to Manchester Irish Centre some years ago I was quite moved by personal accounts written by emigrants of their experiences. Some wished their comments to be anonymous and so their names are not appended. The testaments were hung around the walls and read as follows:
(1) "We were not a wealthy people but we always helped each other out. We rallied round and looked after each other, stuck in this alien land without your family. We were mainly naïve country people leaving our homes for the first time. You’d be rotten with the homesickness. The other Irish made it bearable. We gave each other hope.
Nowadays people seem to have everything but share nothing. Those days are long gone but they were real and I’ll never forget them. What’s the use of money and all the big palaver if you don’t have the hand of a friend." Jim Foy
The Lost Generation
(2) "I’ve always felt bad for the children. We took their identity away by settling here. They’re Irish through and through but they missed out on a lot of culture. We were the lost generation, our age group from Ireland . I left in 1943 and I have been here since so, in my view, I was lost to Ireland . My efforts for Ireland were lost.
(3) "Although I’ve lived here all my working life I never wanted to have to leave Eire. Tis my only regret. We’ve bought a home back in Rockfield and, God willing, we’ll go back to settle there. I’ll always be an Irishman to the bone. I enjoyed my life but I wish I’d never left Tipp. I ‘d love to retire back there and walk through the fields my heart never left."
(4) "There were great houses in Manchester where there would be music sessions. When we came to Manchester first we always went to the places where the music was, particularly Stretford Rd. , the Gaelic League, Dickenson St. and the Ceilidhes.
We were labelled at a very early age as Catholic and Irish. In Collyhurst and around the inner city there was great bigotry. They used to shake their fist at us when we went to Mass and call after the priest. You had to stick up for your own side. That’s why we were very Irish. It was our origin and culture and there was no way we were going to let it go. Our parents taught us the songs and it was part of our lives. It was how we were brought up. Every time I go to Ireland I feel at home and that I belong. It’s where my roots lie.’
My race is Irish. Outside of Ireland I will always be part of an ethnic minority enjoying the privileges or disadvantages, as the case may be, of such a status. We are an ethnic minority with our own distinctive culture. We should preserve that culture in a spirit of fellowship and respect for other minorities in Britain . We are also an ethnic minority with our own special needs that require positive action. It is high time that we as a community acknowledge this and begin to unite around principles of justice."
Adapt and Change: Sink or Swim.
(5) I met my husband in a pub. I was never in a pub in my life before I came over here. Where I came from people used not to drink or do anything like that.
All my brothers that came over were in the Fusiliers — McAlpines. They built motorways and bridges. Every six weeks they got a long weekend and they all used to come here and bring their mates, six or seven of them.
In the meantime I took this house. They used to sleep anywhere. They came into Oxford Rd. , the Adelphi, the Irish Club was around the corner from there. They took us to the Frascatti. Jack was over at the time. He was from Sligo . His sister was once with me in Fallowfield. We didn’t know what to drink so he suggested gin and orange. I nearly died and I can’t stand the smell of it since that time. Kathleen Walsh, Finneran, Co. Mayo.
(6) "I always feel bad about the lads that never married. It must be a lonely old life. They came from big loving families and their mammies did everything. They grafted hard. Most of them were in digs. They’d come home soaking wet from work to a shared bedroom with no way to dry the clothes. On they’d go the next morning, still wet. No wonder they’re all sick or dead. Sure the poor things didn’t stand a chance.’
"There’s no diversion can compare
With an Irish dance and an Irish air
And we danced away to the pipers tune
Laughing under the Rising Moon.
And, ah, it seems but yesterday
Though years of life have passed away."
Why don't you let
us know of your emigration experience? Click HERE
Part 3: The Emigrants
"Immediately the cabin was full of the sound of bitter wailing. A
dismal cry rose from the women gathered in the kitchen.
"Far over the sea they will be carried," began woman after woman.
In the bedroom, the son and daughter, on their knees, clung to their mother,
who held their heads between their hands and rained kisses on both heads
Mary and Michael got to their feet. The father sprinkled them with holy
water and they crossed themselves. Then without looking at their mother,
who lay in the chair with her hands clasped in her lap, looking at the
ground in a tearless stupor, they left the room. Each hurriedly kissed
little Thomas, who was not going... and then, hand in hand, they left
As Michael was going out the door, he picked a piece of loose whitewash
from the wall and put it in his pocket...
(Going into Exile, from 'Spring Sowing' by Liam O'Flaherty)
by Sean Keating. 20th century. Oil on board. 48 48 inches. Crawford
Municipal Gallery, Cork, Ireland
January 28th 2010
Dear Sligo Heritage,
Your heritage site on the Internet came up when I put the words "Sligo Ireland" in a Google search. The reason for this is because my great grandfather was a son of Sligo.
His name was James Foody aka Toody. Back in 1825 he was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to life and transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales. On arrival in 1826 he was assigned to a free settler as a convict labourer. Convicts were put to work mainly as labourers, in this case to hack out from the bush farms along the banks of the Hawkesbury river just north of Sydney Town. James had been born in Castle Connor, Sligo Ireland in 1792 & was therefore 32 on conviction.
Transportation meant leaving his wife and four children forever. Subsequently he "married" in New South Wales and the couple had 5 children. He received a pardon from the Governor in 1838 and was thereafter classified as a farmer. He died in the same area he was designated to in 1870 and now is honoured as a pioneer of the area.
His descendants here in Australia number thousands. We know nothing of the circumstances of his crime nor trial and conviction. My sister tried some years ago without success and for my part it seems all records were destroyed years ago. One avenue that has occured to me might be local Sligo newspaper reports if such exist. But its a log way from here to Ireland.
If you have access to Ancestry.com and if you find yourself so inclined The Mitchell Family Tree owned by popandnan04 has details.
I have found it interesting and saddening to read your accounts in your site. But it does you great credit and I wish you good luck.
PS I attach a photo of my sister by the headstone of James Foody's grave in the Macdonald River area of the Hawkesbury valley of New South Wales, Australia
See also Letter from the Grave Click HERE