The Irish in America

WHERE GENEALOGY COMES FULL CIRCLE


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Mick Moloney and the Music of Irish America

Yesterday I heard a re-broadcast of an  Arts Tonight interview with folklorist and musician Mick Moloney on RTÉ Radio1.  Here is a little bit about Mick from his website:

Mick Moloney is the author of “Far From the Shamrock Shore: The story of Irish American History Through Song” released by Crown Publications in February of 2002 with an accompanying CD on Shanachie Records. He holds a Ph.D. in folklore and folklife from the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, and Villanova Universities, and currently teaches at New York University in the Irish Studies program.

Mick has also recorded and produced more than forty albums, organized and performed countless concerts and productions, consulted on American Public Media programs, and earned a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The interview was very interesting because it reminded me that I can look to music as a historical resource for furthering my understanding of the Irish American experience.  When Mick was asked what he encountered when he came to the United States looking for Irish music, he said that he was amazed by the number of songs about the Irish that existed in America…songs about Irish railroad workers and Irish canal workers, Irish anthracite miners in Pennsylvania and Irish coal miners in Montana, big-city Irish politicians and pioneer Irish farmers, Irish activists and Irish gold-rushers  in California.  Songs covering most of the Irish experiences in America.  Mick’s conclusion?  The Irish “speak of our personal lives and our history as a people through music and song.”

Mick was impressed by the quality of the Irish music being played in American cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, New York City, and Chicago.  From the mid-1970s, Mick documented the music he found as he traveled all over the United States.  The result is a collection of recordings housed at the Taminent Library and Wagner Archives of New York University.  Click here to visit the library’s detailed guide to the Mick Moloney collection.

 

This looks like a great book.  It was published by Mick Moloney in 2002 and is accompanied by a sixteen song CD.  It is available from Amazon.com – click here to take a closer look.  I will be ordering myself a copy soon…can’t wait to read and listen to it!

I will leave you with a song…


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Letters from North America

The New Brunswick Archive in Canada has a great collection of letters to and from Irish emigrants to the area.  You can read the actual hand-written letters, or if you prefer not to struggle with nineteenth century script, transcriptions are available for download. The collection contains items from the nineteenth century, as well as some from the early twentieth century.  Also included are a diary, family histories, and other documents.  Take a look around the site…fascinating stuff!

An example of what the New Brunswick archive has to offer…

The Laurence Hughes collection (MC2618 :: Laurence Hughes fonds) contains several letters written to Laurence Hughes of Fredricton, New Brunswick from relatives in Ireland and elsewhere in North America.  I think these letters are particularly interesting for they demonstrate the networks of Irish emigration and how that support facilitated further migration from Ireland and within North America. The letters span seventeen years (1837-1854) and see several relatives in Ireland considering emigration and dealing with the decision to stay.

In 1837 Laurence’s brother Thomas writes from Newry sharing the news from home.  Thomas encourages Laurence to move to Boston and gives him advice on how to be successful there:

Now before you go to Boston enquire of every respectable person that knows you if
they can give you a line or two of recommendations to any person they may be acquainted with…[damage]…the Catholic Priest of Fredericton…

Good advice, I would say.  Thomas provides his brother with options, outlining a plan for Laurence’s return to Ireland since, “It is only natural to expect you would prefer living in Ireland.”   Laurence stayed put in Fredricton, at least until 1854.  Thomas mentions that he had four children and was looking forward to more…”We calculate on having one every 13 or 14 months that’s not bad trade thank God.”

In the 1837 letter, Thomas mentions another brother, Edward, who had also gone to New Brunswick.  By 1852 he was living in Pennsylvania with a large family and looking to move west to Iowa:

I some times think of selling it to go live in the west. There is a fine
colony of settlers from Carlow in loway State sent out by Rev. James Heigher and they have fine schools there now for boys and girls. I think dear Lawrence if we would go there it would be a fine chance for our children but I am afraid it is not healthy there.

Read Edward’s full letter here.  I wonder if Edward ever made his way to Iowa?  Establishing Catholic colonies in the midwestern United States was popular during this time (until the mid-1880s.)  The goal of such projects was two-fold: provide opportunities for Irish immigrants to escape congested Eastern conditions and own land, farm, and raise families in a Catholic community, and to strengthen the American Catholic Church by populating the West with Catholic settlers.

These letters are full of interesting observations.  Edward comments on his fellow Irishmen who work on the railroad, a job many felt lucky to get:

There is a great deal of railroads making here but the most degrading characters work on them now. Some of this is a disgrace to the land that gave them birth.

This comment is important because it reminds us that all Irish immigrants were not treated equally in America, even by their fellow countrymen.  Clearly Edward was educated to some degree, and from his letter it is apparent he was a religious man who did not approve of drink.  Irish in America like him would have had little time for the poor, uneducated, Famine-era emigrants.  Edward and his brothers made the decision to come to North America before the worst years of the Famine hit Ireland while for many of the million who came during the Famine, the alternative was starvation.  This is not to say that conditions in Ireland were favorable at the time of the Hughes brothers emigration, but judging from the letters, it was not a case of emigrate or starve.

Research Help Requested…

Edward mentions a “Catholic Almanac” in his letter to Lawrence.  Has anyone ever heard of that before?  I would love to know where I could find 19th century copies!


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Ireland Reaching Out, Portumna Workhouse, and a Family Reunion

Journalist Loretto Leary has written several articles, as well as conducted interviews, about the Portuma workhouse in South East Galway and posted them on her website Breise! Breise! (Extra! Extra!).  We have heard quite a bit about the South East Galway region recently for its participation in the Week of Welcomes, the pilot program of Ireland Reaching Out.  Local Portumna historian John Joe Conwell ties the workhouse, emigration, and the Ireland Reaching Out initiative together very nicely in Part 2 of the Irish Workhouse Center video (which appears midway down the page.)

Ursula Marmion is the project head of the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna.  It is an exciting and ambitious project to conserve the buildings, establish a visitor’s center, and tackle future redevelopment.  Ms. Marmion shares her thoughts in Part 1 and Part 2 of Irish Workhouse Center.  Videos and articles can be found on Loretto Leary’s site.  When you are finished with the Irish Workhouse information, take a spin around the rest of her insightful blog.  Thanks to Noreen Bowden (@noreenbowden) who introduced me to Loretto’s blog via a tweet yesterday.  Click here for a few photos of the Portumna workhouse.

More than simply a family reunion, the Irish Times calls the meeting of over 300 members of the McNamara clan in Loughrea, Galway the McNamara Festival!  This ambitious endeavor was inspired by the Ireland Reaching Out program, now perhaps it will inspire you to plan your own family reunion.  I am more than happy to help spread the word and help track down American relatives.  Leave a comment if you have ever considered organizing an Irish family reunion.


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The Famine: Views from Ireland and Abroad

“The Coffin trade is the most flourishing one at present here.”

This quote appeared in the January 8, 1847 edition of the Cork Examiner.  Steve Taylor of Vassar College has compiled a fascinating collection of newspapers, illustrations, and other items from Irish and British sources pertaining to the Great Famine.  The collection, Views of the Famine, is available online and provides a glimpse into how the press was reporting the crisis, and what people were doing (or not doing) to cope with the disaster.

"The causes of emigration in Ireland." 13 January 1849 (from Views of the Famine)

The collection includes excerpts from the Cork Examiner during 1846-47.  The weekly reports of death by starvation and disease and a pervasive sense of hopelessness can be difficult to read.  Entire families perished, their lifeless bodies found on the dirt floors of make-shift huts, post-mortem exams showing not even a trace of food in their stomachs and intestines.  Columns reporting over-capacity in the workhouses appear alongside advertisements for steerage passage to North America costing more than most Irish could ever afford.

On September 1, 1847, a column Emigrant Disasters ran in the Cork Examiner.  The column explains why the journeys of emigrants bound for the United States were more “successful” than those destined for Canada.  The major difference was the ships used to transport emigrants to Canada were timber ships, vessels utterly unsuitable for passengers.  The Examiner explains: “…less attention to be paid to their [ship's] sea-worthiness, since they are laden half the way with what can’t sink, and the other with a freight, which is thought no loss if it do.”

The passage to Canada (British America) was cheaper and the preferred route for much of the “assisted emigration” that took place during the Famine years.  Owners of the large estates in Ireland who favored a more “humane” method of getting rid of tenants, chose to send them to Canada rather than merely evict them from the land.

The destination for many of these emigrant ships was New Brunswick, Canada.  The New Brunswick Archive offers a collection of online databases pertaining to the Irish who came to Canada.  Specifically, there are some useful resources related to assisted emigration.

The Fitzwilliam Estate Emigration Books 1848-1856 lists the tenants evicted from the Coolattin estate of Lord Fitzwilliam in County Wicklow, Ireland.  The archive provides an informative introduction, a narrative by Jim Rees providing context, a finding aid, and a transcript, complete with genealogical information.  Quite an interesting and useful tool.

The New Brunswick Archive also has a collection of letters, transcribed and available online.  I will address some of these letters in my next post, but I would like to turn your attention to a group of letters, Letters from Irish Emigrants and others, put in by Sir Robert Gore Booth Bart: [1846-1849].  Click here and scroll to the last group to read these letters.  Sir Robert owned an estate in Sligo.  These letters speak to the conditions and challenges faced by the Irish in the New World.

For more information on the Famine Irish in New Brunswick, read this essay by Dr. Stewart Donovan of St. Thomas University, In the Wake of Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick.

Just a couple more examples of the resources available online to help us better understand the Irish experience in America (and Canada, too!)

Resources:

Views of the Famine

New Brunswick Irish Portal

Irish Canadian Cultural Association

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