Emigration is nothing new in Ireland. It has been occurring for hundreds of years. St. Columkille (Columbia) had to leave Ireland in 562 A.D. and go to Iona in Scotland where he founded a famous Monastery from which Scotland was converted. He returned only once to Ireland but then had to be blindfolded so that he could not lay eyes on his native land.
Such has been the fate of thousands of Irish men and Irish women down through the centuries, with no hope of returning even blindfolded. Some of course went willingly such as the great saints of the 7thand 8th centuries – St. Columbanus, St. Gall, St. Fergus, St. Fursey and several other great men who left Ireland to spread Christian Faith. All over Europe which at the time had reverted to barbarism after the fall of the Roman Empire.
They returned the compliment to Europe for what Europe had done for Ireland through St. Patrick.
However, it was not until the early seventeenth century that the heart rendering, heart –breaking exodus of Irish people from their native land began. In 1607 the great Hugh O’Neill, Rúairi O’Donnell Maguire and later Donal O’Sullivan Beare with many of their followers had to leave Ireland, never to return.
But bad and all as that was, worse was to come. Some fifty years afterwards Cromwellian forces packed off little girls and their brothers to slave labour in Barbados and other Caribbean colonies and were never again heard of. The next great departure of Irishmen was in 1691 when after the defeat of Limerick, 7,000 Irish soldiers with 561 women and 260 children sailed away from Ireland to join the army of France and form the Irish Brigade.
Those Irish soldiers won fame and renown for France. Sarsfield when dying in the battlefield at Landen remarked “Oh that this were Ireland”. For the next hundred years hundreds of young Irishmen, “The Wild Geese” were smuggled away to join the armies of France and Austria.
Their most famous victory was at Fontenroy in 1745 when all seemed lost for France. The English and Dutch had broken through and King Louis was about to flee from the battlefield when the French General Saxe exclaimed:
“Not yet, my leige, the Irish troops remain”.
And Fontenoy would have been another Waterloo were not those Irish troops ready for revenge.
Another great victory was the defence of Cermona in 1702 in which Major O’Mahony of the Dunloe clan covered himself with glory.
Emigration however of the ordinary, did not take place in any big numbers until after the Great Famine in the 1850’s and 60’s. And then thousands left, whole families, father, mother and children, chiefly to the U.S.A. and that ulcer of emigration continued down to 1970 when the tide began to turn. We have little idea of the hardships those poor emigrants suffered, first on the long sea journey for which they had to provide their own food.
Potatoes and nothing else and then the trials and tribulations, especially for the women in trying to find employment, sometimes as indentured servants in the big houses of Virginia and Maryland.
However, from the United States statistics is shown that from 1860 onwards, emigrants were mostly single and more young women among them, their brothers left and usually the eldest daughter left on her off to earn the passage “for her young sisters or brothers”.
In 1866 The Irish Times reported:
“The Emigration Commissioner reported that 100,000 Irish emigrants left Liverpool alone for America in that year, which meant at least 100,000 from the whole country and added that the loss of 100,000 persons annually of strong active well-built men affords matter for serious consideration”. And another paper at the same time wrote
“Never in the world’s history has a n emigration been so continuous and never have emigrants continued so inseparably united, politically and socially to the country which they had left. The cry “Ireland for the Irish” is uttered as loudly on the shores of the Mississippi as on the shores of the Shannon”.
Irish workmen at home were very badly paid. In 1844 labours were paid only 6½ pence per day and even as late as 1939 was not greatly improved, being 2/- a day. It was said that the labourers building the wall around Beaufort Demesne had 2d. per day and tradesmen 6d.
Percy French understood the situation well when he spoke to the young Farrelly from Belmullet in Co. Mayo who answered quickly as to what he’d do to make a living.
He said: “In the Autumn I’ll be sailing to the West to try to make my fortune and send the money to the rest, so make me a picture of the place where I was born I’ll hang it up and look at it and not feel so forlorn”.
Many young girls and boys left our shores during those years up to 1919 or so. How heartrending were the scenes at our railway stations and then at Queenstown near Cobh at the final goodbyes never to meet again.
A very unusual aspect of Irish emigrants to America was that eventhough the vast majority of them were from rural areas, from the land, that none of them opted to go West to settle in he vast plains of America where land was easily available.
They preferred to settle in the eastern cities of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey etc. Eventhough they came from the country where people were so oppressed, still they were very conservative and many were not in favour of Negro Liberation and very few if any went to work in the virgin soil of America.
Emigration stopped for a period during the First World War and the Black & Tan War, namely 1914 – 1923 the floodgates opened again and I myself remember then seeing young men and girls leave from most houses in this Parish where there were any people of an age to emigrate.
There were five Galvin brothers, Gortbee, three Sheehan brothers and sister from Tír – a – Calltar, three Doyle brothers from Carnahone, two Connor brothers, Carnahone and Tim Breen, Cappaganeen. Fifteen young people from an area not 300 yards from one another, all left in 1923 – 24. The same could be said of some more areas in the Parish who left for U.S.A. from 1923 – 1928.
After the Wall Street crash in 1929 Irish Emigrants in England increased and from then until 1939 at the outbreak of World War II thousands of Irish boys and girls crossed the Irish Sea to seek employment in the Industrial cities of England, London, Birmingham, Coventry etc.
And again when the war over and rebuilding of the bombs towns of England, gave great employment and attracted still more Irishmen, especially to the building industry, where they seemed to fit in well and very many succeeded both financially and in gaining experience in house – building and water schemes.
In the late sixties and early seventies the tide seemed at last to take a turn for the first time in centuries. Emigration seemed to grind home to buy farms, to engage in business or to work in our factories and house building, which at that time were in a most thriving condition.
Regarding house building very few rural parishes could compare with ours in the number of new houses and farm buildings erected during the past 15 years. In the Board of Works road alone from Scully’s Cross to Johnny Kissane’s Shop, no fewer than 30 new house went up.
The road in the early planning days was to be kept as a “green belt” where no new houses were to be built. But through the efforts of our local County Councillor, Dan Kissane, the first resident of the Parish ever to be elected to the County Council, that planning idea was changed and once over where we had only rocks and bushes we now have many beautiful houses.
The development of the Mid Kerry Water Scheme gave an extra fillip to house – building all over the parish. So that today if any person who had been away for 30 to 40 years from home, would have difficulty in recognising his old home and surroundings. Things have improved so much, irrespective of what part of the parish he may be a native.
William Langford was our first County Councillor, followed by Dan Kissane later on.
We had many District Councillors including Jamsey Connor, Carnahone, J.J. Coffey, Thade Galvin, Gortbee, Mike Sullivan, Shanacloon, Denny Cremin, Dunloe, and Tom Connor. The Gap etc., etc.
District Councils are now abolished and County Councillors have taken over their place and reduced the number of councillors by half or more.