Heritage Week: Dear Father and Mother

There are so many aspects of Heritage to celebrate in Ireland during this Heritage Week August 17th to 25th. So, where to begin? We are surrounded by heritage in the form of ancient  buildings, historic sites, splendid gardens, magnificent scenery, an extraordinary literary and musical tradition, fascinating museums and monuments that commemorate major events in our history. All of these can be experienced, commemorated, celebrated  here in hundreds of locations throughout the country.

There is another part of our legacy, less obvious, less visible,  and most certainly less well-known than it deserves to be, and which may well be overlooked during this week of celebration of  the richness and diversity of our culture and inheritance. It is because the greatest memory and the main monuments are not in our country at all,but  thousands of miles offshore, and far removed from our consciousness. Emigration has been a fact of  Irish life  in one form or another  through the ages. Of the millions who have left these shores – many in tragic circumstances, many not – most have gone on to live relatively ordinary lives in their new countries. There is a substantial number however, who went on to lead extraordinary lives  by being significant participants in both sides of the conflict that shaped the ‘greatest nation on earth’ – America. During the American Civil War  170,000 of our  Irish-born  emigrants played a major role in this conflict – they suffered and they died in their tens of thousands. Their sacrifice goes largely unrecognised  in the country of their birth, and they certainly do not spring to mind in Heritage Week.

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home  for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

This week when thinking about Heritage Week and how to mark it, I read an amazing story of an ordinary young  boy who left family and Ireland for America at 16 years of age.  Ed O’Riordan, a Tipperary Historian and Damian Shiels, author of Irish in the American Civil War have collaborated to bring the story of  a young emigrant William Hickey, to a wider audience, through a series of very moving letters that William wrote to his parents in Tipperary.  Imagine the feelings of the parents on seeing an envelope from America! William Hickey’s short life  in a foreign land  is very much a part of our legacy and this is an appropriate week  to acknowledge his life and the sacrifice of so many men, women and children who were born here and who changed the shape of the world often at a shocking  cost to themselves and their families. They surely are our ‘hidden heritage’.

A number of enthusiasts have set up a group to further the cause of  having a permanent memorial to these Irish emigrant. They hope too to develop  a tourist trail in Ireland of interest especially to overseas visitors, most especially those from USA who know more about these Irishmen that we do at home. To quote from their site, as President John F Kennedy said   ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers’. In this Heritage Week, we remember them.

The full text of the very moving story of  William Hickey, who at age 16 emigrated to America from his Tipperary home, can be seen here. The post includes a number of  letters from William to his parents. A few short years after he emigrated he lay dead in a field at Shiloh in Tennessee.

More information on the Irish American Civil War Trail can be seen here.

With thanks to The Irish in the American Civil War blog which can be accessed here.

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8 Comments

Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Culture, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History

8 responses to “Heritage Week: Dear Father and Mother

  1. I find it hard to imagine a sixteen year old leaving the beautiful countryside of Clogheen ~ a place I know very well ~ and finding himself in America. It’s great that this initiative has started and I have to say I agree with JFK about honouring and remembering.

  2. Nice tribute SV. It’s easy to forget that emigration was pretty much final in those days and was ‘Waked’ as if the emigrant was dead. It must have been a desperate thing for parents to see their children leave.

    • They were tough and sad times indeed – and remained so right up to about 50 years ago when emigrants especially to USA and Australia were often never seen again, and some lucky families received an occasional letter. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I am the patrilineal descendent of a famine immigrant. While I won’t leave any children in Ireland, the country I always felt to be home (it was never America), it pleases me to think of them hoping that one day their progeny might return. I did, and I will never leave. My dad has given me records of our family’s fight to survive in the US, too – including a man who lost a limb during the pioneer ‘wars’.

    • Thank you so much for telling me about your family history! It is wonderful to have such records and it would be great if you used your excellent writing skills to share them! I hope that ‘home’ has not disappointed you and thank you for visiting the post.

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