The Irish in America


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Leitrim Roots Festival 2013

September 20 -28, 2013 is a very special week-long celebration – The Leitrim Roots Festival. County Leitrim welcomed its Diaspora home for a visit long before the launch of The Gathering 2013. In fact, the Leitrim Roots Festival began in 2006, and Anthony Tighe was kind enough to tell us what the Festival is all about!

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Family and Emigration

While reading up on Irish emigration, I found an interesting article by County Fermanagh historian John Cunningham on the Cassidy family website.  In the article Mr. Cunningham considers the effects emigration has had on Ireland and the Irish people.  Click here to read the article, which is actually a lecture given by Mr. Cunningham.

Mr. Cunningham uses his own experiences to show how family members who stayed in Ireland felt about emigration.  He tackles the often complex and emotional issue of emigration in a straightforward manner with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.  I found the account of his mother’s visit to America particularly insightful, as well as the description of the parcels and letters from America.

As his mother learned firsthand, letters home to Ireland often didn’t tell the whole story of the emigrant’s experience in their new home.  Regardless of their accuracy, letters are one of the best resources for learning about your emigrant relative by providing tangible evidence as to where the relative lived, possibly where they worked, or names of spouse and children.  Consider yourself lucky if you have an emigrant letter!

My great-grandmother came to the United States in 1899, joining an older sister who had arrived six years earlier.  A sister and a brother remained in Ireland, and one sister has previously emigrated to Manchester, England.  Unfortunately, no letters survive (on the American side) from relatives at home, but there are a few postcards, greeting cards, and photographs that were sent to my great-grandmother and her sister.  The following photograph was included in an album belonging to a niece of my great-grandmother who lived in Montana, USA.

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family, Johnstown Co. Kildare

John and Catherine (Hill) Howe Family - Johnstown, Co. Kildare (courtesy of M. Jeffrey Harshman)

Among the few items belonging to my great-grandmother is a sweet little Christmas card from her sister Katie (Catherine, pictured above), as well as a torn and tattered photo postcard depicting a Whitsunday parade.  It is intriguing to see what pieces of someone’s life survive for later generations.  These bits and pieces have helped us learn a great deal about my great-grandmother’s life before she came to America.

So, if you don’t have a letter, all is not lost in your quest for information about your emigrant relative.  Letters can make the initial search easier, but other information can prove to be as useful.

I invite you to share your family’s emigrant stories by leaving a comment!  Let me know what clues you have, and I will help you begin your search for information on your relative.  If you think you don’t have any information to go on, but really want to learn about what may have happened to a relative, you should leave a comment, too.  We never know what we will find when we start looking!