Nobody ever left Ireland just to go to America. Pat Naughton left Ballinasloe to go to his cousin John in Roxbury, Boston. James McCurdy went from Rathlin to Lubec, Maine, for a job promised by his mother’s uncle. Father Bud Sullivan brought rakes of other Sullivans out from Allihies to work for Marcus Daly in the copper mines of Butte, Montana.
It’s an exaggeration, of course, to say there was absolutely no blind mass migration. In the hopeless years of the Famine and after, plenty of people fled, desperate to be anywhere but Ireland. And there have always been a few brave or reckless souls willing to throw themselves across the Atlantic just to see what happens.
But mass emigration, then as now, was almost always part of the accumulation of tens of thousands of individual and family decisions. Identifying and unravelling those decisions can bridge centuries and oceans and re-knit extended families. And the painstaking micro-study of migration clusters is the way to do that.
There are some excellent individual works – Bruce Elliott’s Irish Migrants in the Canadas, A New Approach, (2nd ed. McGill-Queen’s University Press 2002), which details 775 Protestant smallholder families who migrated from North Tipperary to the Ottawa Valley, is the founder of the genre and still a shining example. Peter Murphy’s Together in Exile (New Brunswick, 1990), a superb reconstruction of migration from Carlingford to Saint John, New Brunswick, is not far behind.
As far as I’m aware, though, no central guide exists to the clustering of Irish migrant origins and destinations. Genealogical anecdotes certainly abound, with dozens of unlikely pairings: Abbeydorney to Westbury;
Kilskeery to Charlestown, Mass.; Dungarvan to Yonkers. But there is nothing systematic. Ireland Reaching Out has begun a series of migration stories, but there’s a long way to go.
In any case, if you want to have a go for your own locality, there are now some excellent online tools.
The wonderful Steve Morse (stevemorse.org) allows precise reconstruction of Ellis Island origins and destinations – have a look at bit.ly/1tYA0Cq for the 2000 people from Athlone who passed through between 1892 and 1924.
For the mid-19th century, the Boston Pilot “Missing Friends” ads (infowanted.bc.edu) supply even more circumstantial detail.
And the Irish Emigration Database at www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/ is another excellent resource, even if heavily weighted towards Ulster.
The reason for bringing all this up is two upcoming conferences that I’ll be performing speaking at. The first is a free conference run by Galway County Council’s indefatigable Heritage Officer, Marie Mannion. Entitled ‘Emigration and Our Galway County Diaspora’, it takes place in the unique setting of the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival Marquee next Thursday September 8th. More information here.
The second conference is ‘The Diaspora of the Wild Atlantic Way’, organised by the Clare Roots Society and taking place in Treacy’s West County Hotel in Ennis over two full days, September 23rd and 24th. (Brochure here)
As ever, the Society is punching well above its weight, bidding to make this the pre-eminent genealogical conference in Ireland, bringing in heavyweight international speakers and applying its usual dedication and attention to detail.
I’m certainly looking forward to it.