In 1863, Ireland was on the brink of famine. Poor harvests for three consecutive years had left many destitute, and disaster loomed. In response to the threat, relief committees that had previously been established to channel funds to assist the worst afflicted areas were reactivated. The large Irish population in the United States, many of whom were Famine victims themselves, were not to be found wanting in coming to the assistance of those at home.
Category Archives: Irish Australian
Two huge yellow gantry cranes dominate the Belfast skyline.These imposing structures,known as Samson and Goliath,stand 106 and 96 metres tall and are scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The yellow giants bearing the Harland and Wolff initials,rise above the city in testament to the fact that Belfast was,in the early 20th Century,the largest shipbuilding centre in the world.Employing up to 35,000 people, the Harland & Wolff yard on the River Lagan has been called the ‘Cape Canaveral of its time’,such were the creative feats of engineering carried out here in the construction of iron-hulled boats. Harland & Wolff enjoyed a reputation for having built some of the world’s finest ships,including ocean-going liners,cruisers, aircraft carriers and oil tankers. The list of ships is impressive and includes many well-known names – Titanic, Caledonia, HMS Belfast,(now a museum and moored on the River Thames in London, England) and the P&O Lines Canberra.
As the centenary of the launch and loss of the Titanic approaches,Belfast is to celebrate that long tradition of ship building excellence and to commemorate the Titanic with the opening of the Titanic Belfast building at the end of March 2012.
Located in the dry dock area next to Samson and Goliath, the Titanic Belfast building is a fabulous and dramatic structure. The building resembles 4 hulls of massive ships set around a glass atrium, each of which is clad with thousands of shimmering aluminium plates,resembling water and ice. From above the structure is reminiscent of the emblem of the White Star Line. The White Star Line and Harland & Wolff had a long-standing commercial arrangement, which resulted in some 70 White Star Line ships coming down the slipway in Belfast. All White Star Line ships had names ending in ‘-ic’ – Titanic, Britannic, Olympic, etc. It is reckoned that the White Star Line may have carried an astonishing 2 million emigrants from Europe to the United States and Canada.
This imposing 10 storey structure will house interactive exhibitions on the Belfast ship building heyday, the construction and luxurious fit-out of the Titanic,her ill-fated maiden voyage, and the discovery of the wreck on the sea bed some 25 years ago.
Titanic Belfast is a fitting tribute to some of the most innovative and complex engineering projects ever undertaken - A world-class visitor attraction, it will attract tens of thousands to the birthplace of some of the largest and most luxurious man-made objects ever built.
I can’t wait to see it !
Harland & Wolff
In the 1850s the Australian Gold Rush was in full swing with thousands clamouring for passage. From 1852 to 1857, 226,000 left Britain to seek their fortune – 60,000 of whom were Irish. It is estimated that in a single month in 1853, 32,000 people departed Liverpool for Australia’s gold fields. Large, fast ships therefore were urgently needed to meet demand on this route.
On October 4, 1853 thousands cheered as a new iron hulled ship slipped from her dry dock into the water for the first time, in Warrington on the River Mersey. The ship was named for the Tayleur family who owned the iron foundry that had previously built paddle steamers. (In the 1820s the Tayleur iron foundry in Warrington, England had produced sections for Telford’s famous Menai Straits Bridge, well known to tens of thousands of Irish emigrants travelling onwards from Holyhead in Anglesey, North Wales.)
The Tayleur, reckoned to be the biggest and fastest ship of her type, was chartered by the White Star line to ply the lucrative Liverpool to Melbourne route.
On January 19, 1854 the Tayleur departed Liverpool on her maiden voyage with up to 600 passengers plus crew on board. When sailing down the Mersey, the pilot noticed that the compass readings were slightly askew, but she continued on her way. Her route was to take her south along the west coast of Britain, but very shortly after departure she hit rough weather. On January 21 a squall developed and it proved almost impossible for the crew to steer the ship. Instead of travelling south, she had in fact been travelling due west and in the gale that blew up she found herself along the shores of Lambay Island, just 10 miles or so from Dublin, Ireland. Anchors were weighed but the lines snapped and she was dashed against the rocks. Some passengers managed to scramble ashore and climb the steep cliffs to safety but, in a short time, the Tayleur slipped under the waves with a loss of about 40o lives.
The Illustrated London News, on January 28, 1854 carried the following report:
”The most desperate struggles for life were made by the wretched passengers, great numbers of women jumped overboard, in the vain hope of reaching land; and the ropes were crowded by hundreds who, in their eagerness, terror, and confusion, frustrated each others efforts for self-preservation. Many of the females would get half way, and then become unable to proceed further; and, after clinging to the rope for a short time, would be forced from their hold by those who came after them. Three women only, out of 200, were saved. One of those had got part of the way across when her legs fell, and she hung for some time by her two hands over the foaming waves; her husband then came on the rope, and managed to assist her to the shore. Two men came on shore with children tied to their backs but of the whole who fell into the water not above five were saved. I saw one fine girl, who, after falling from the rope managed to get hold of another one, which was hanging from the side of the ship, and which she held on to for more than a quarter of an hour, the sea every moment dashing her against the side of the ship: but it was impossible for us to lend her any assistance. Someone got a spar out, by which several got on shore; but it soon broke; and now might be seen hundreds hanging on to the bulwarks of the ship, each struggling to get on shore. I saw one young woman hanging on the middle of the rope for some time by her two hands, but those pushing to get on shore soon sent her to her doom”.
Some 100 were buried on the island,others were buried where they were washed up on the mainland, but for many the sea was the last resting place.Of the 200 women on board, 100 were believed to be Irish. The style of dress that prevailed at that time - large billowing skirts – was considered to have been a contributory factor in the loss of so many females, together with the ferocity of the undercurrents and the high seas that bashed the ship off the rocks on Lambay.
A Board of Trade enquiry into the disaster found that several factors contributed to the disaster:
The iron hull had caused the compasses to read incorrectly and there were issues with the rigging and the sails that made it difficult to handle the ship in the high wind. The rudder was of a new design that had not been tested and there had been no sea trials carried out on this new type of ship – she had gone from being fitted out straight into service.
Donations flooded in for the survivors. The residue of the fund was set aside to be ’available at once for such shipwrecked strangers as may become future claimants on the generosity of the citizens of Dublin’ and so the Tayleur Fund Medal was inaugurated. The medal bears an engraving of the Tayleur and the inscription ‘TAYLEUR FUND FOR THE SUCCOUR OF SHIPWRECKED STRANGERS’. It was awarded to 44 people before the fund was wound up in 1913 and the residue donated to the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in exchange for a motorized lifeboat for the Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat Station.
The Tayleur was largely forgotten until the late 1950s when a sub aqua team went in search of the wreck. Local fishermen had reported that lobster hauled from a particular location had red undersides as though they had lived on a rusting wreck. The lead was followed and the wreck was located. In 1963 her bell was discovered and raised to the surface and is now in the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire.
Many artefacts such as these patterned jugs and dishes have been recovered. One of her two anchors is displayed in Rush Co Dublin, where regular commemorations take place.
The White Star Line which had chartered the Tayleur would later get into financial difficulties. In 1868 Ismay bought the trade name and the logo at a liquidation sale.Almost 60 years after the launch of the Tayleur – the biggest fastest ship of her time – registered in Liverpool and proudly flying The White Star flag on her maiden voyage – another ship, also registered in Liverpool, big, fast and unsinkable, would leave port flying The White Star flag on her maiden voyage and, like the Tayleur, just days later, would end up on the sea floor with heavy loss of life.
A list of passengers of the Tayleur can be seen here
A broken stove, a cracked pudding bowl, a rusting Jacob’s biscuit tin, assorted dusty kettles, tins, teapots and glassware scattered about the floor, itself buried under old newspapers and decades of debris.Vivid green paint peeling from the walls and a holy picture propped up below the open cupboard doors, a cupboard where once two of the good teapots and the decorated plate may have been proudly displayed, to be taken out when visitors called.
This is the startling image on the dust cover of a remarkable book of photographs of the interiors of abandoned houses in Ireland, beautifully photographed by David Creedon. David Creedon is a talented photographer who has already established a reputation as a photographic artist of international renown. Born in Cork, David has exhibited in many countries and is the winner of several prestigious prizes. He currently has work in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Having first heard him interviewed on radio in which he explained how he became enthralled by abandoned homes, I was thrilled to find his book under the tree on Christmas morning!
This large format book is lovely to look at, with over 70 original full-page colour photographs of kitchens and bedrooms, – once warm, lived-in private spaces – and of items such as clothing, boots, letters once cherished, intimate possessions. Each photograph occupies a full page with short, unobtrusive, explanatory text on the opposite page. This large picture format in a way accentuates the intrusion into the private lives of people in what was their own secure space, and also underlines the sadness of the crumbling remains of homes, where people once lived, laughed, loved and were loved.
On first reading, I went from page to page looking at the pictures and was struck by how familiar these places looked to me. I can remember relatives and neighbours living in similar welcoming kitchens, with heat radiating from either the open fire or the Stanley range (stove), the aluminium kettle always on the boil; the aluminium teapot always ready for the spoon of tea, the good china lovingly exhibited in the corner press (cupboard). I wondered what had happened to the occupants – had a last surviving member of a family passed away, or had an entire family emigrated? Some of the images however contain items that had come from abroad, letters, items of clothing, perhaps ‘sent home’ by an emigrant.
In the foreword, Dr Breda Grey contextualizes these pictures in an Ireland of 50 years ago, beset by emigration. Her work at the Irish Centre for Migration Studies at University College Cork in 1999- 2000 saw an oral history of people who stayed behind in Ireland collected, adding a further dimension to these abandoned homes. She states: ’Individual preferences with regard to staying or migrating were rarely openly articulated. To do so would be to break the communal silence, to challenge the collective denial and to name the pain caused by difficult familial dynamics of staying or going‘.
Readers will be struck by the number of religious artifacts in these pictures. Statues and framed pictures with their stylized images once had pride of place in these homes, and were probably a great source of comfort, or perhaps the only comfort to those who gazed on them. They have now fallen of f the walls and stand abandoned in these silent spaces.
This book will appeal at many levels: those interested in photographic art will delight in the photographic composition with page after page of technically pleasing images. The photography conditions were challenging - these old abandoned houses were often dark, having been overwhelmed by trees and bushes, with no additional means of lighting. One image in particular that of the Star Spangled banner with only 48 stars hanging next to a green dress required an exposure time of 6 minutes!
In these pictures the people are gone. Absent. With them have gone their memories, their stories, their joys and their sorrows. This book will not enlighten the reader about who these home owners were, or what became of them. It is part of the attraction of this beautiful book, that the observer must complete the story of what led to the abandonment of these once cherished objects and these homes. The spaces and artefacts of lives have been skillfully presented by David Creedon and will stand as a social historical record of mid -20th Century Ireland.
Ghosts of the Faithful Departed - A selection of images from this book can can be seen here at David Creedon’s website..
Breaking the Silence: Staying at home in an emigrant society . The UCC archive - read or listen.
Ghosts of the Faithful Departed is published by The Collins Press
In researching the Derryveagh Evictions for an earlier post, I happened on an exhibition entitled ‘Not Just Ned: A true story of the Irish in Australia‘, hosted by the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Australia has been a destination for the Irish diaspora for centuries. While the circumstances of the migrations have changed down the ages, Australia continues to absorb thousands of Irish emigrants.
Ned Kelly of the exhibition title, is regarded either as an outlaw or as a folk hero who defied the ruling class in colonial Australia. He perished at the end of a rope in 1880 at the age of 25. He was the son of an Irish convict father, John Kelly from Tipperary, who was sentenced to 7 years deportation either for stealing 2 pigs or for being a patriot, depending on which source appeals most, as his trial records have not survived from that time.
The transportation of convicts to Australia is something we in Ireland are familiar with – and why wouldn’t we be ?! Don’t we sing our anthem, ‘The Fields of Athenry’ till our hearts almost burst, at soccer internationals and at rugby matches, to remind ourselves and our foes about poor fictional ’Michael’ , transported to Botany Bay because he…….” stole Trevelyan’s corn, so the young might see the morn? ”. However, not all convicts were male. Children as young as 12, and women were also sent into exile, and in addition, many young children were transported with their mothers. The receiving authorities in Australia complained that the women and female child convicts were arriving unskilled and they were of no use to the settler population. In response a facility was set up in Dublin whereby females were upskilled in needlework, laundry, cooking and knitting , so enabling them to become valuable servants on arrival in Australia. In all some 30,000 Irish men and 9,000 Irish women were sentenced to transportation ’across the seas’.
Australia was hungry for people to help it grow as a nation, and Ireland could offer many wretched groups who were in dire circumstances. Between 1848 and 1850 11 shiploads of ‘Famine orphans’ were sent over to Sydney. These girls were mostly teenagers, aged 14 to 19 and most ended up in service. Many were indeed orphans and one wonders what their thoughts were, having lost their parents to hunger, then finding themselves on a voyage across the sea that lasted for some 3 months. As mentioned in an earlier post, the Donegal Relief Fund had been set up in Australia in 1858 for the assistance of people from Donegal who were in dire circumstances and many, including the younger members of the Derryveagh evicted families, left these shores for new opportunities in Australia in the years to 1862.
Voluntary emigration from Ireland increased in the middle of the 19th century when many went to make their fortune in the Australian Gold Rush. There was an added bonus that it also helped them escape the oppression of British rule at home. Assisted immigration schemes were then set up by the Australian government which resulted in a huge influx of settlers from all over the world, including Ireland. By the mid 1940′s it is estimated that a third of the population of Australia was Irish Australian.
Government assisted passages continued after World War 2 until the mid 20th Century and were offered as a means of providing a labour force for Australia’s emerging industries as well as increasing the population. This resulted in one of the largest mass migrations ever from Europe. The so-called ’ten pound poms’ were British subjects, including Irish born prior to 1949, who paid a fare of £10 per adult with children travelling free. Employment, housing and a good lifestyle were promised upon arrival.
In the 2006 Australian census, 51,256 stated that they were born in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million claimed some Irish ancestry.
Australia continues to be a magnet for great numbers of young Irish – whether as backpackers on a gap year, in search of the surf on Bondi Beach or regrettably, as economic migrants who are once again forced from these shores in search of a better life. While some are happy to go, many more would prefer to have options other than to have to go ‘across the seas’.
National Museum of Australia : Not Just Ned, a history of the Irish in Australia. See more here
The Fields of Athenry Lyrics
The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition: Edward (Ned) Kelly 1855- 1880. See more here
Sources in the National Archives for research into the transportation of Irish convicts to Australia (1791-1853) by Rena Lohan. National Archives of Ireland
Irish Famine Memorial website: Famine Orphan Girl Ships to New South Wales. irishfaminememorial.org
Irish in Australia essay by Richard Reid, Curator National Museum of Australia accessed here
The Ten Pound Poms article on Wikipedia accessed here
Wikipedia: The Irish Diaspora Census statistics
On April 9th 1861, the second day of the Derryveagh Evictions, the Deputy Sheriff and his 200 men, armed with battering rams and crowbars made their way through the townlands of Derryveagh. Their purpose was to clear the land of men, women and children to make way for the flocks of sheep that landlord John George Adair had imported from Scotland. Convinced that one of his stewards had been murdered by his tenants, and vexed that the murderers had not been identified by police, he set in train a legal process to evict all of them from his lands.
According to the official report, 37 Husbands, 35 Wives, 159 Children and 13 ‘Other Inmates’ were evicted – a total of 244 people. Of these, 31 people, representing 4 families, were readmitted into possession as tenants, and a further 28 people, representing 6 families, were readmitted into possession as caretakers. These numbers include children. Eventually however, only 3 of these families were permanently reinstated, the rest were removed in the months after the main evictions. In Derryveagh, on those 3 terrible days, 28 of the 46 houses were either levelled or had the roof removed.
Accounts of the evictions and the effects on the families concerned make for harrowing reading. The first house to be levelled was that of a 60-year-old widow, Hanna Ward (Award), her 6 daughters and one son. Eyewitness accounts tell of the wailing and deep distress as they were forced from their home. When the ‘crowbar brigade’ began to demolish the house, the family ”became frantic with despair, throwing themselves to the ground; their terrifying cries resounding along the mountains for many miles”. It was said that ”those who witnessed their agony will never forget the sight”. This scene was repeated over and over again during the following few days. It was reported that the scenes were so harrowing that the policemen carrying out the evictions were moved to tears. In one house, an elderly man was repeatedly told by the sheriff to leave the house, and “the old man in doing so, kissed the walls of his house and each member of his family did the same”. There was no regard for individual circumstances - no mercy was shown to Rose Dermott, an orphan, whose house was levelled just the same as those of 3 of her close neighbours, although a brother and sister who were both deaf and dumb had their house spared.
Such unimaginable terror was in itself bad enough, but the evicted families and their children had to find someplace to live. In the townland of Altnadogue for example, three Sweeney families with 18 children between them, were locked out of their homes. They moved to nearby Glendowan, away from Adair lands, and built sod houses for themselves. Hearing of the evictions, people in nearby Cloughaneely provided temporary shelter for some of the families. One family in Staghall, a man his wife and two children,were found to still be living in the ruins of their house some time later. The family had lived there for generations. A further group of five men were discovered huddled around a fire with no shelter as they were unwilling to move away. A month after the evictions, 14 families were still unaccounted for or were wandering through the ruins of their homes.
Six families found shelter with or near to, relatives and friends, but 13 families had to take refuge in the Workhouse in Letterkenny. In the Workhouse it was reported that the Derryveagh people sat in a huddle weeping, and were so distressed that they were unable to eat. The elderly John Doherty of Castletown died only days after being admitted to the Workhouse and Michael Bradley is said to have gone insane.
News of the evictions and the desperate plight of the dispossessed reached Irish people across the world. In Dublin, in France and in Australia money was collected. The Donegal Relief Committee assisted young people from Derryveagh in making new lives in Australia. On January 18th 1862, emotional and heart-rending scenes once again broke the hearts of the people of Derryveagh as parents and friends bade farewell to 68 young men, 70 young women and a young married couple with their 2 small children, as they left Derryveagh forever on the long journey to Australia, probably never to return.
Over the next few years, many mostly young people emigrated from this locality – they headed to America, to Australia, to New Zealand.
Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.
McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet
Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive