Besides, the Irishman had his first--floor grog shop where he could gather with his friends and display his sense of humor and social amiability, "shoulder-hitters" or not. Every such "Little Dublin" had social clubs that were usually given names that showed the Irishman was well aware of his status in the new country. There were, for example, a good number of clubs with the title of "The Far Downs."

Mass Migration

       The first sizable immigration to America came in 1816, when 9,000 Irish men and women made the crossing. In 1818, when the number doubled, vessels began to be chartered specifically for the purpose of transporting Irish immigrants. They came to be sorely needed, because by the year 1832 some 65,000 souls boarded them, heading for these shores.

       Often these Irish were debarked in Canada, either at New Brunswick or Quebec, since many of the first waves of Irish came on Canadian lumber ships, the owners of which saw in those Irish bodies a suitable return cargo. It was profitable for both parties -- the ship owners made money and the Irish found it an easy matter to enter the United States. It wasn't difficult to walk across the border, and the Canadian debarkees soon gave New England a Celtic look. In a few decades they would take control of the once Yankee stronghold.




Top Picture: Emigrant
Sailing packet about
to be towed out into
the Mersey, 1850

Picture at Left:
'Departure from home,'
a sentimentalized
engraving from Harper's
weekly, New York, 1858




       It should also be noted that the mass migration of Irish was more than welcomed by the English, both at home and in Ireland. They saw in that movement a lessening of the "Irish problem." One London newspaper ran an editorial headlined "Good Riddance," which went onto say that "the departing Irish were marauders whose lives were profitably spent in shooting Protestants from behind hedges." It went on to describe the emigrants with such choice words as "vermin," "snakes," "scum" and "demons of assassination."

       The emigration of the Irish, while steadily increasing after 1830, exploded during the years of the Great Famine. It began in 1845, when an unusually cold and wet winter, followed by a like spring, created the conditions for a blight of the potato crop throughout the land. Since the Irish diet consisted mainly of two foods, potatoes and fish, the failure of the potato crop left the inhabitants little choice but to emigrate.

       In 1847 a young English Quaker, who had gone to the city of Westport to aid the stricken Irish, wrote: "It is a strange and fearful sight, like what we read about in history books of beleaguered cities; its streets crowded with gaunt wanderers, sauntering to and fro with hopeless air and hunger-struck look, a mob starved and almost naked." The sensitive young Quaker was fortunate that he did not tour the Irish countryside, for the sights there would most certainly have done damage to his psyche, especially the thousands of green-mouthed human corpses who had been reduced to eating grass to still their pangs of hunger. If that weren't enough, .....





Illustrated London News, 1847.




the sight of men picking rotting flesh off the bones of their dead neighbors would surely have done it.

       Just a glance at the passage figures of the Irish fleeing the Famine reveals the sharp increase in emigration. In 1846, 92,484 boarded packets for America. In 1847, 196,224 followed. In 1848, the number dipped to 173,744, but rose sharply the next year, when 204,771 left their native soil. in 1850, the last of the years considered to be a part of the Famine, 206,110 men, women and children made the crossing. In addition to those who came to these shores, untold thousands of others made their way to Australia, New Zealand, various South American countries and even to England itself.

       One can get an idea of the hazards Of crossing the Atlantic, which were willingly faced by millions of Irishmen seeking freedom from want and oppression, from a letter written by one who had made just such a journey. In 1848 John Holland wrote:

Our ship was 10 weeks on the seas from Queenstown to Gros Isle, an island that lay below Quebec City, which is used as a quarantine center. Out of a total of 225 passengers, only 35 set foot on shore. The rest found their grave in the ocean, my two brothers among them. I have been told that 12,000 Irishmen have died at Gros Isle this year alone."

       While the mortality rate on John Holland's ship was well above average, deaths from disease, which spread lightning-like among the Irish in the fetid holds, often claimed half of those who boarded ships in English and Irish ports. The men, women and children in those holds were generally in a weakened condition to




begin with and they had no medical help aboard ship. Often, they did not even have the comforts of the dying, as priests were scarce and those at hand greatly overworked. There were simply not enough hours in a day to administer the last rites to the multitudes needing them.

       It was, of course, a case of survival of the fittest and the fittest were none too fit. A lifetime of deprivation, culminated by several years of actual starvation is not exactly the best preparation for a mid-19th Century sea voyage. That any of the nutritionally-deprived Irish survived those tight to ten-week crossings is testimony to the ongoing resourcefulness of the human body. Nor should the strength and attributes of the mind be discounted in any way, for the mental anguish expressed by the incessant keening over the loss of loved ones was only the tip of the Irish iceberg of sorrow.

       If it weren't for the intensely held faith of those suffering souls in steerage, not one of them would have been able to exist this side of madness. Despair, that black whore of the soul, was ever flitting about those in the holds, but their belief in the teachings of their Church held that seductress at bay. "Christ crucified," they chanted, "May our crown of thorns be enjoined with Yours." While certainly a lament, the ejaculation was also a rallying cry of sanity among the Irish voyagers.

       One of the principal reasons the Famine Irish preferred America to the British Dominion lands, aside from the fact that .....(continued page 43)




St. Patrick's Day Parade Forming in New York in 1858.