Thursday, October 11, 2012

Famine in Ireland

I have not been posting much for awhile. I've recently returned from a family vacation and research trip to Ireland and am in Salt Lake City taking a wonderful Advanced Irish Research Methodology class from David Rencher through the British Institute. The course is terrific and there is so much to learn.

Most of my husband's father's line, solidly Irish with one renegade German, were famine era immigrants. Kellys, Hannas, Coyles, Rileys all came to Philadelphia in this time period. Only their Carroll line was here before.

Today I've been reading "The Destitution Survey: Reflections on the Famine in the Diocese of Elphin" edited by Rev. Raymond Browne published in 1997. The reports recounted are more than chilling. From 1845 to 1850, Ireland lost 20% of its people to death and immigration. In some areas, the totals were closer to 40%.

One of the most poignant parts of the book is a song by John Mannion written for the 150th anniversary of the Famine.

"One Hundred Fifty Candles"

Did you stay in Ireland?
Couldn't you leave your native ground?
Did you shelter in the hedge row
When they burned your cottage down?
Did they take you to the Workhouse
for to work and wait and die?
And in some unmarked graveyard
did they pile your bodies high?


We'll light 150 candles
for 150 years,
In every town and city
united in your tears.
We'll light 150 candles
for your suffering and pain,
with 150 candles
we'll light one Eternal Flame.

Or is it by the roadside
that your weary bones remain?
Did you try so hard to make it
but you efforts were in vain?
And as you lay there in the ditches
did your people pass you by;
they had not the strength to help you
or they would surely try.

Did you make it to the harbour,
get out on the sea,
live in filth and squalor
in the hope of being free:
And when you'd almost won your battle
with the ocean, foam and wave,
did the fever come and take you
to a watery grave?

Or were you one that made it
to the other side,
and spent your life-time mourning
for the ones you left behind:
And did the four wind take you
to the corners of the Earth,
with nothing left but memories
of the county of your birth?

I've found the immigration record for the Kelly family who arrived in Philadelphia on June 6, 1846 Lawrence and Susan with sons Samuel and Michael and daughters Susan, Margaret and Mary plus three boxes of belongings. I can't help but wonder how many people were in the family before the famine hit in 1845 or how many they left behind.

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