Irish Canadian Famine Research

Irish Canadian Famine Research

Category: Irish National Famine Museum

Mullingar Workhouse

Mullingar workhouseAt the end of the third day of the Famine walk the walkers reached Mullingar and visited the Mullingar workhouse. According to Seamus O’Brien, the “Mullingar poor law union was one of the largest in the country. The union workhouse, which was situated on the northern outskirts of Mullingar, admitted its first paupers in December 1842. Designed to accommodate 800 inmates, it struggled to cope with double this number at the height of the Famine” (Carn, Killare: A Forgotten Westmeath Famine Village (Rathlainne Publications, 2000, 9).

The Mullingar workhouse is described in detail by Peter Higginbotham at:

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Mullingar/

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Mullingar workhouse site, 1914.© Peter Higginbotham.

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Mullingar workhouse site general view, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

Mullingar Workhouse 4

Mullingar entrance block, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

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Mullingar workhouse entrance and date-stone, 2000. © Peter Higginbotham.

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Famine Village Ruins at Carn hill, County Westmeath

Carn hill site of famine village

Carn hill Famine village ruins.

On the third day of the walk the walkers past through the more remote parts of Westmeath along the Royal Canal. In Famine & Community in Mullingar Poor Law Union, 1845-1849. Mud Huts and Fat Bullocks (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999), Seamus O’Brien notes that the villages in the Killare area along this stretch of canal were particularly devastated by the Famine, and that “throughout the union generally the appearance of the population was wretched. Their clothing was in rags” (24). “The biggest losses here occurred,” he adds, “in the southwestern districts of Castletown and Killare where 53 and 40 percent of their respective populations either died or emigrated between 1841 and 1851” (48). Near the Royal Canal are “the ruins of the Famine village on Carn hill and the now fossilized lazy beds which supported it” (56).

Carn famine village fozzilized potato ridges

Carn Famine village fossililzed potato ridges.jpg

In his book Carn, Killare: A Forgotten Westmeath Famine Village (Rathlainne Publications, 2000), Seamus O’Brien this authentic famine ruin. In his own words:

This area of Westmeath belies the usual depiction of the county as a typical part of the central plain of Ireland with its limestone solution lakes, rolling pastureland and extensive raised boglands. The area west of Mullingar is quite hilly. Historic Usnagh hill with the famous “Catstone” erratic on its southern flank, is justifiable the most famous of these limestone hills. Directly opposite Usnagh is Carn hill, a structural limestone fold which has an average elevation of 600 feet above sea level.

Famine village cabins artist rendering.jpg

Famine village cabins, artist rendering.

The Famine village was in a sheltered central location near the summit of the hill… The skeletal remains of the many stone houses still visible on Carn hill today, as well as being evidence of the last and seemingly final human settlement in this area of Westmeath, are a poignant reminder of the economic pressures experienced in this region during the Great Famine” (9-10).

Map of Carn Famine Village near Mullingar

Map of Carn Hill Famine village.

 

Michael Collins and the Irish Famine Novel

From Irish Times (March 31, 2017)
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/below-the-rust-belt-trilogy-a-famine-undercurrent-1.3032081

Below the Rust Belt trilogy, a Famine undercurrent

Historian Jason King finds Michael Collins has spawned new forms of creative energy in finding his own way back to the story of the Famine

Irish Author and Ultra Runner Michael Collins on National Famine Walk

From Irish Times (March 31, 2017)

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/i-feel-an-obligation-to-re-engage-and-better-understand-what-it-is-to-be-irish-1.3032147

‘I feel an obligation to re-engage and better understand what it is to be Irish’

Author Michael Collins explains why as an emigrant, a father and a writer he feels drawn to explore his own sense of Irishness

Irish Famine Folklore

Famine walk 2015 14Famine walker Cathal Póirtéir

Famine walk 2015 9.jpgCathal Póirtéir and Mick Blanch, Irish Famine Walk 2015.

On day three of the Famine walk, the walkers reached Ballynacarrigy, a village that was devastated by the Great Hunger as recalled in local folklore.

One of Ireland’s most renowned folklorists, Cathal Póirtéir, is the author of Famine Echoes (Gill & Macmillan, 1995), the leading work in the field.

Famine Echoes

In Famine Echoes, Póirtéir observes explains why folklore provides such a rich cultural resource for recovering the perspectives of the Famine Irish.  In his own words:

I feel that the echoes of those silenced voices which we have in folk memory are the nearest we can get to the experience of the poor in the 1840s and 1850s. Survivors, as well as victims, suffered hunger, lost loved ones and neighbours, suffered the ignominy of the poorhouses and the dangers of the fever. Many of those who lived to tell the tale had witnessed the dying days of individuals, families, and communities who would otherwise have lived and perished without mention in official records.

Some of the tradition bearers recorded by the expert collectors of the Irish Folklore Commission were people whose own families had been evicted, people who had buried the dead, received charity, worked on the relief schemes and existed on relief food. Others were those who benefitted from the Famine as their families increased their holdings by getting the land of those who died or emigrated.

Many of these survivors of the Great Irish Famine lived into [the twentieth] century with a store of personal and communal memories of the bad times. Not everyone had the same story to tell. The memories and the telling of them varied from person to person and from place to place, depending on individual circumstance and experience. Undoubtedly, many memories and stories of the horrors of the Famine were suppressed consciously and unconsciously for a variety of reasons. Other elements were simply forgotten or reshaped with the passage of time.

While we are not fortunate enough to have a written record from the ordinary people of the period, we are exceedingly fortunate in having a very rich and detailed source in the folk memory which was collected and preserved within one hundred years of the Famine (12-13).

A particularly rich and striking source of that folk memory was collected in Ballynacarrigy. It can be found here:

http://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009099/4986529/5122096

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The Story of 1490 orphan James Flood

Enda Kenny Strokestown

On May 11, 2014, Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveiled a glass wall memorial to the 1490 emigrants during the National Famine Commemoration at Strokestown.

James Flood Irish Famine Memorial Wall Strokestown.png

https://www.rte.ie/news/player/2014/0511/20576539-national-famine-commemoration-held-at-strokestown/

Colin McMahon has traced the 1490 orphan James Flood’s movements between Strokestown, Liverpool, Grosse Île and Montreal in an article entitled “Recrimination and Reconciliation: Great Famine Memory in Liverpool and Montreal at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Atlantic Studies: Global Currents 11.3 (2014): 344-64.

Colin McMahon.pngColin McMahon

In McMahon’s own words (347-348):

The Famine influx has long been an emotionally charged and politically potent memory for Irish groups in Liverpool and Montreal, not only because of the devastation wrought in their port cities in 1847, but also for its evocation of the calamitous condition of Ireland that led to the harried exit of the Famine Irish from their homeland. We can catch a glimpse of the horrors of this phase of Famine migration by tracing the route of one Roscommon family, the Floods, who, having lost their land and livelihood, fled Ireland in the spring of 1847. Mary and James Flood Sr. and their nine children were among the first contingent of 465 tenants that were evicted from the Strokestown estate and participated in a landlord-assisted emigration scheme that took them on a harrowing three-month journey through the Irish midlands, over the Irish Sea to Liverpool, and across the north Atlantic to Montreal. Their landlord, Major Denis Mahon, calculated that the expense of overseeing the large-scale clearance and transatlantic shipment of his smallholders who had neither food to eat nor money to pay rent would amount to less than half the cost of maintaining them in the workhouse for a single year.

The first stage of their journey out of Ireland began with a 150-kilometre trek from Strokestown to Dublin. After four days of trudging cross-country and sleeping rough, the Floods and their neighbours arrived on the outskirts of the Irish capital. From there, they were escorted by the estate’s bailiff to Eden Quay on the River Liffey, where Major Mahon’s land agent awaited to oversee their passage to Liverpool. The inexpensive cross-channel voyage took less than a day, but the rough currents of the Irish Sea would have made it a distressing experience for this already malnourished group of migrants who were packed together on deck and in the holds of a steam-driven ferry.

Disembarkation at Liverpool’s Clarence Dock offered little respite. The Flood family and the other Strokestown migrants represented a mere trickle in the deluge of over one million Irish into Liverpool during the Famine years, most of them in search of a cheap berth on a vessel bound for North America. Entering Europe’s busiest port, with “thousands of hungry and half naked wretches…wandering about, not knowing how to obtain a sufficiency of the commonest food nor shelter,” the destitute Irish were easy prey for sharpers and harpies, “the most unscrupulous set of scoundrels” notorious for bilking hapless newcomers to the city of the little they possessed. Even a brief stopover in this “City of Plague” exposed many Famine Irish to typhus, a disease that had reached epidemic proportions in the city by May 1847. Despite quarantine facilities at the Brownlow workhouse, on the waterfront, and aboard three government supplied quarantine ships docked on the River Mersey, the louse-borne bacterial infection stalked Irish migrants upon boarding vessels that had been hastily converted for the emigrant trade between Liverpool and British North America.

The Floods survived their week long stay in a north-end lodging house in Liverpool awaiting embarkation, but would suffer terribly on their voyage to Quebec, arranged for them by their landlord. Opting for the cheapest fare his land agent could find, Major Mahon sent his former tenants across the Atlantic on a vessel that would soon gain infamy as a ‘coffin ship’. During the two month passage the Flood family and their former neighbours struggled to survive on paltry provisions while lodged in the bowels of the Virginius—a dank, insanitary, suffocating space below the foredeck that was a breeding ground for dysentery and typhus. In conditions likened by The Times to “The Black Hole of Calcutta,” typhus spread rapidly among the Strokestown emigrants. Daily, corpses were hauled up from the holds, covered in old sails or meal-sacks stitched together, weighted down, and then “buried in the deep without the rites of the Church.” Three of the Flood children (Bridget, Edward, and Mary Jr.) who succumbed to typhus en route were dropped overboard. By the time the Virginius laid anchor in the St. Lawrence River next to the Grosse-Île quarantine station on July 28th, one third of its passengers had met the same fate.

Those who survived the voyage faced further adversity on disembarkation in Quebec. Dr. George Douglas, medical superintendent of Grosse-Île, described the Strokestown emigrants as “ghastly yellow looking spectres, unshaven and hollow cheeked, and, without exception, the worst looking passengers I have ever seen; not more than six or eight were really healthy and able to exert themselves.” Five-year-old James Flood Jr. was among the few who emerged from the hold of the Virginius in relatively good health, but the fate of the remaining members of his family is unclear. At some point between their inspection at Grosse-Île and James’ arrival at Montreal’s waterfront several days later, the boy was separated from his family, possibly during the chaotic sorting process at the quarantine station or at some stage in the 50 kilometre voyage upriver aboard one of the crowded steamers, which carried 70,000 Irish migrants along with a typhus epidemic to Montreal, turning the city “into a virtual Quarantine Station.” It is equally plausible that members of the Flood family were afflicted with typhus upon their arrival in Montreal and were among the 13,189 Irish emigrants who were hospitalized in the twenty-two fever sheds of Pointe Saint-Charles in the southwest of the city, and possibly among the roughly 6,000 who died there and were “buried like dogs in the Hospital pit.” Whatever the circumstances that led to him losing his family, we know that James found himself alone in Montreal, a city under siege by disease. Like many of Montreal’s Famine orphans, James found refuge in the Catholic Church, in his case with the Grey Nuns in the Hôpital Général des Soeurs-Grises. He remained in Montreal’s waterfront neighbourhood very near the dock on which he was deposited in 1847, working as a labourer until 1875, at which point his name disappears from the public record.

To read Colin McMahon’s full article, follow the link (pay wall):

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14788810.2014.921097

Colin McMahon’s article has also been reproduced in full in Marguérite Corporaal and Jason King, Irish Global Migration and Memory: Transatlantic Perspectives of Ireland’s Famine Exodus (Routledge, 2016).

Irish Global Migration and Memory Cover

https://www.routledge.com/Irish-Global-Migration-and-Memory-Transatlantic-Perspectives-of-Irelands/Corporaal-King/p/book/9781138693388

 

 

Ballybrannigan’s Restored Ticket House

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On the second day of the Famine walk, the walkers visited the Ballybrannigan ticket office, which has been restored. It is a fitting place to reflect on the Strokestown 1490 emigrants and multitude of others who passed this way while travelling on the Royal Canal to Dublin.

Professor Cian McMahon from the University of Las Vegas has discovered sample passage tickets used by Irish emigrants in 1847 and from Sir Robert Gore Booth’s estate at Lissadell in County Sligo who sailed to Saint John, New Brunswick in 1847.

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CopeSampleLetter(2)

Gore Booth Passenger Tickets:

Gore Booth 1

Gore Booth 2

Gore Booth 3

A Short History of Strokestown Park and the Irish National Famine Museum

Strokestown park house jim caroilinCaroilin and Jim Callery, Strokestown Park House

Strokestown Park was the family seat of the Mahon family from 1653 until 1981 and is infamous due to the events of 1847, when Denis Mahon was the first landlord to be assassinated during the Famine period with repercussions as far as the Vatican, Rome and The British Parliament, London. The gun used to shoot Major Mahon is on display in the Famine Museum.

Famine Museum Pistol 1

Famine Museum 1

In the 1970s houses such as Strokestown Park faced a precarious future and their value lay mostly in the adjoining land. In 1979 the house and estate were purchased by the Westward Garage Group and a chance discovery of boxes containing documents secured the fate of Strokestown Park.

Denis Mahon

Jim Callery, the founder of the Westward Group, was exploring the house and uncovered letters and documents relating to the estate, most notably a letter from tenants in the townland of Cloonahee. Dated 1846, the letter was a plea to Denis Mahon to provide them with some form of relief as their potato crop had failed and their situation was desperate. The digitzed Cloonahee petition can be found on the Great Famine Voices website:

Great Famine Voices

http://www.greatfaminevoices.ie/?q=documents/cloonahee-petition

Realising the significance of the material, Jim had the foresight to recognise that Strokestown Park was a unique resource that spanned almost 350 years of Irish history. His company, the Westward Group, have supported this initiative since that day through a continuous programme of restoration work. This has included restoring the house and gardens and establishing the first Famine museum in Ireland in order to preserve and share this important part of our heritage.

The Irish Heritage Trust has been working with Strokestown Park and the Westward Group since 2010 to help secure the future of this special place.  On 1st August 2015 the Trust became responsible for the property, team and the archive. The Trust will continue the work to restore and care for this place, supported by the Directors of the Westward Group, to create a sustainable operation for future generations.

http://www.irishheritagetrust.ie/

 

 

 

The 1490, the Grey Nuns, and the Fever Sheds of Montreal

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Minister Heather Humphries, President Higgins, Famine walkers and exhibit curators Christine Kinealy and Jason King.

On this first day of the Famine walk, Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins greeted the walkers and joined them as they set off from Clondra and the commemorative ceremony for the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canal.

A few months earlier, in September 2016, he launched the “Saving the Famine Irish: The Grey Nuns and the Great Hunger” exhibit along with Arts and Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys at the Glasnevin Museum during the National Famine Commemoration in Dublin. The exhibit is curated by Christine Kinealy and Jason King, both of whom are on the National Famine Walk.

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The eyewitness accounts of the Grey Nuns, who cared for Irish emigrant typhus victims in Montreal’s fever sheds during the summer of 1847, can be found in a digital archive curated by Jason King:

http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/

Irish Famine Archive Home Page

http://faminearchive.nuigalway.ie/eyewitness-accounts/grey-nuns

One of the 1490 Strokestown Famine orphans who was cared for by the Grey Nuns was five year old James Flood, whose story will be told in another post.

Famine walker Michael Collins, the Booker-prized nominated acclaimed novelist, is walking in the footsteps of James Flood.

Michael Collins Dublin 2

Strokestown Quebec Youth Connection

RTE’s Nationwide featured an episode on the “Strokestown-Quebec Youth Connection”

On this first day of the Famine walk, Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins greeted the walkers and joined them as they set off from Clondra and the commemorative ceremony for the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canal.

President Higgins is the patron of the Irish National Famine Museum in Strokestown and very supportive of its activities, such as the National Famine Walk.

President Higgins Strokestown 1

President Higgins Strokestown 2

President Higgins Strokestown 3

The walk was inspired by the museum’s founder Jim Callery’s meeting in the year 2000 with Léo Tye, the grandson of Strokestown Famine orphan Daniel Tighe who was forced to emigrate on the Naomi in 1847.

It was also inspired by Jim’s daughter, Caroilin Callery and Maggie Gallagher’s Strokestown-Quebec Youth Connection project that established an arts based cultural exchange between Strokestown and communities in Quebec where orphans from the area had been adopted. Between 2010 and 2012, the project encouraged young people in Ireland and Quebec to learn more about the traumatic historical experiences of their ancestors by teaching them how to research and trace cultural and familial associations between County Roscommon and places in Canada where the descendants of Irish Famine migrants are still living today.  It brought together young people from the Strokestown area with students from Laval Liberty High School in Montreal through a variety of multimedia workshops in areas such as film, cinematography, theatre, movement, writing, art, music and historical research techniques.  RTE’s Nationwide featured an episode on the “Strokestown-Quebec Youth Connection” project that can be viewed above.

The Strokestown youth then travelled to Grosse Île and Irish Memorial National Historic Site in Quebec in 2013, and that same year Richard Tye, Léo Tye’s son, made a return visit to Strokestown as part of the “The Gathering”.

RTE’s Nationwide also featured an episode on Richard Tye’s return visit to Strokestown for “The Gathering” in 2013 that can be viewed here: