The Famine Diaspora. What became of them? Many who went to the United States of America fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Many suffered terrible wounds. Many died. In the USA Civil War veterans are remembered with pride and all things Civil War have enormous tourist potential. Isn’t it time that we Irish acknowledge the contribution our starving ancestors made to the formation of America? Isn’t it time that we Irish acknowledge the tourism potential in having memorials to this part of our very proud history? For an academic ‘take’ on it, read Damian’s recent blog post above.

Irish in the American Civil War

The Great Famine is an event seared into Irish national memory. Although the victims of the Great Hunger are rightfully remembered and commemorated, as is the physical fact that vast numbers of people were forced to leave, Ireland today largely leaves the memory of these emigrants at the dock, as they boarded ships to a new life far from home. Preserving the memory and experiences of emigrants once they arrived in their new countries has for the most part been left to their own descendants, despite the broader pride that Ireland takes in her global diaspora.

Perhaps the most stark example of this is the way Ireland views the American Civil War. At the commencement of that conflict 1.6 million Irish-born people lived in the United States, the vast majority having arrived as a direct consequence of the Famine. In New York City, which in 1860 had a population of 793,186, a…

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Filed under American Civil War, Celebrations in Ireland, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish_American

7 responses to “

  1. And not to forget that while the diaspora to Australia is so much smaller numerically than that to America, it probably had even more impact on our nation’s attitudes, culture, behaviour and populations. While there were Irish Protestant immigrants, the general fear was that the Irish Catholics would overtake the nation. When I’m in Ireland I can readily see where our cheeky comments etc come from.

  2. Following on, I agree that there seems to be comparatively little interest from the Irish side in what happened to their departed family members. The ones to the US a little more but not so much with the Australian/NZ. I can’t quite figure out whether there’s some sense of embarrassment that those family members had to leave to help out those at home, or if they feel the emigrants deserted them….or perhaps it’s just the passage of time and the vast difference. Not being judgmental here, just a bit mystified.

    • Pauleen – Thanks for both comments. I have often wondered about this myself. I have never yet met anyone who proudly said that their relative fought in The American Civil or indeed that a relative had to emigrate to Australia/New Zealand in olden days. I know of some of the latter who went on assisted passages in the 1960s, but these are different times and these families come home and are in contact with their families. I think that way back then in Famine years, many who emigrated were uneducated, probably unable to read or write. It was also a given that these people would not return. In my father’s family, an aunt went to USA in the early 1900s. There was contact in the early days by post, but this petered out eventually. In my mother’s family, her grandfather emigrated to USA when her mother was 1 year old, (leaving his wife and child) and was not heard from again. I have also heard of men being ‘persuaded’ to leave by vexed parish priests or families of girls who got into trouble! People left for many reasons. I think the feeling would be of sadness rather than embarrassment; perhaps in many cases just too painful to talk about, by the ‘left behind’.
      Thanks for visiting. Angela

  3. Maree Ganley

    My descendants from Donegal all in one family left in 1862 just the end of the Great Famine.Why would a whole flamily leave, never to return? Their lives here in Rockhampton Australia in 1862 were not easy and all died at a young age; depression was rife. They were the Kellys,Catherine, Mary Ann (my Gr,gr, Grandmother) , Margaret and Rose, their married brother James, his wife Sarah Kearney and Ann and James. they could not read or write. I am placing a permanent memorial on their graves this year to mark the sequacentenary of their arrival. Not forgotten.

    • Hi Maree. When I read this my instant reaction was – wasn’t it wonderful that they left en-masse – and that none were left behind broken-hearted, lonely and not knowing where the others had gone.
      BUT, I am so sad to see that they died young and suffered great sorrow – that is very understandable if they were involuntary travellers. I am from Donegal myself and know how hard it is to leave that place behind – and I was not going THAT far away! I wish I could send you some Donegal soil to put on their graves!
      Have you ever been back to Donegal to see where they came from?I wonder where they lived? 1862 was about the time of the Donegal Relief Fund – money was raised in Australia to pay for the passages of the destitute. Perhaps they had been evicted from their home? It was not uncommon for extended families to share a home in those days.
      You are probably familiar with the very excellent Donegal Genealogy Resources, the work of Lindel Buckley which offers great information on Donegal and its peoples parish by parish.
      I would love to hear more about your family and your plans to keep their memory alive.Thank you so much for your comment – it is good to know that people like you still care 150 years on. Regards Angela

      • Maree Ganley

        Greetings Angela, I have been to Donegal in 2008 after accessing the wonderful resources at Ramelton. As a result I wrote about 20 lettrers to Kellys around Laghy and Ballintra and Ballyshannon. In the Ballintra graveyard I found Kelly family members beside Broadbent (their mother’s maiden name) but no other connection. After 10 years of search every certificate possible I found this year the name of a town? Drumwawilly as a place of birth, Donegal; the first time anyone recorded any name except Donegal! I believe it is in the Catholic parish of Frosse, Diocese of Raphoe and once again nearing the south east of Donegal so we are still in the right area of Donegal I think. I have written to a Father McLoone for info. but no result. Kelly is not a common name in Donegal and neither is Broadbent (Brodbin), but their parents were Francis Kelly and Ann (Broadbent). They certainly seemed to have had assisted passage sailing on the Utopia from Plymouth in July 1862 sailing directly to Rockhampton. I am so relieved to share my search with someone else. I look to come back to Donegal in 2014.

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