Early immigrants from Ireland were fishermen from Cork, Wexford and Waterford to the island of Newfoundland. This happened in 1536! The numbers were however very small.
Real Irish immigration to Canada only started late in the eighteenth century, After the independence of the United States, the government of “British North America” wanted to ensure their survival vis-a-vis its much bigger southern neighbor. It lifted any restrictions on Catholic immigration and even started offering free land to immigrants (with promises of 200 acres per family). This was helped by shipping companies looking for “cargo” for their journeys back from Europe, where they had delivered the foodstuffs that were the main export at that stage. Settlers fitted the bill nicely.
This turned out to be a big success, even before the Great Famine. The Famine did however, as in the United States, swell the numbers enormously.
Between 1825 and 1845, 60% of all immigrants to Canada were Irish, a total of approx. 600,000 people.
Most of them settled in Upper Canada (Ontario), Lower Canada (Quebec) and the maritime colonies of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Not all remained however, with many using Canada as a staging post on their way to the United States.
A large number of Irish Catholics arrived in Grosse Isle, an island in Quebec in the St. Lawrence River, which housed the immigration reception station. It would become a source of a tragedy. In 1847 over 80,000 people (of all nationalities) arrived here, more than double the number of the year before. 70% of these people were Irish. Many were sick after a long voyage on board of a so called “coffin ship”. These got this name, because it is thought that almost 1 out of every 6 passengers died during or immediately after the trip, mostly of typhus.
Before 1847, these sick were housed for a quarantine period in sheds. However, because of the huge influx of that year, the facility was overwhelmed and soon thousands of people carrying the disease started to arrive in Montreal, spreading it to the local population (including – it is said – the mayor of the city).
For this reason, so-called fever sheds were set up at Windmill Point. To care for, but especially isolate the sick. In 1847 and 1848 it is estimated that up to 6,000 Irish died here from “ship fever”. Their remains were discovered in 1859 by workers building the Victoria Bridge., who erected the Black Rock memorial in their honor. Its inscription reads:
Over 40 million Americans can claim Irish ancestry. Some know their family roots into detail, but many others only have some vague family stories or perhaps even only their name to remind them.
Emigration from Ireland started in earnest in the second half of the seventeenth century. It is thought that of the early colonial settlers around half came from the Irish province of Ulster while the other half came from the other three provinces of Ireland. Most of these were from families who had only a few generations before emigrated from Scotland and England to the new “plantations”. According to some sources, only 20,000 of the 250,000 people who emigrated from Ireland to the colonies (i.e. before independence) were Catholics.
These plantations were initiated by the English government as a scheme to tighten their grip on Ireland. Although first conquered centuries before, English power in Ireland was often threatened by a hostile population and its leaders. The plantation schemes simply were about replacing the population by more loyal subjects from England and later Scotland.
The first such schemes date from the middle of the sixteenth century but were not a success. The Ulster scheme, from the start of the seventeenth, attracted more “settlers”. Still, living among a hostile population did not turn out to be what the newcomers had dreamed about.
And then the new colonies of North America beckoned. Particular popular among these early Irish was New England, but groups also settled in the the Appalachian Mountain region.
Despite often appalling living conditions, Irish of old Irish ancestry did at this stage not emigrate in large numbers. Emigrating to another continent was not what it is now. It was a complete break from family, culture and language. And the possibility of death on the way. Not something that anyone would undertake without good reason.
Apart from this, emigration of Catholics to the colonies was actually outlawed by the English government. This only changed after independence when the colonies became the United States of America. In 1790, only a few years later, the USA’s Irish immigrant population numbered 447,000 and two-thirds originated from Ulster.
Catholic emigration only started to pick up after 1820. Part of the reason was the buoyant labour market in the USA, with plenty of work in in canal building, lumbering, and civil construction works in the Northeast.
However, as is well known, the pace really picked up as a result of the Great Famine. This famine was not caused by a food shortage. As a matter of fact, Ireland exported food, esp. grain, throughout the famine. The problem was that this grain was produced on large estates, owned by the English landlords, for export to England. Most Irish lived in abject poverty and survived almost completely on a very nutritious staple food: potatoes.
In the 1840’s there was however a recurring and increasingly severe failure of crops due to a potato decease, called blight. This disease caused the potato to rot before it could be harvested.
Massive numbers of Irish started to starve. At first there was no response from the English government, as they believed that they should not interfere with market forces. Only after a huge and worldwide outcry, and many private initiatives to give aid, did the English government belatedly start to help. But even then, it was based on a system where the Irish people were obliged to work for any assistance. This was the time that many desperate Irish emigrated, and also the time of the infamous coffin ships: by some estimated 1 out of every 6 passengers died during or shortly after the voyage.
Most of these immigrants arrived and stayed – at least initially – in the big cities of the Eastern United States.
The population of Ireland is thought to have numbered around 8 million before the Great Famine. This was almost halved by 1900. About a million people died between 1845 and 1849 as a direct result of the famine. The rest emigrated.
What is not always understood is that these people did not always emigrate during the famine. Many did, with the UK and the USA being the most popular destinations. As a result, Irish communities were formed in these countries. And once these were formed, it became much easier for next generations to follow, which they continued and continue to do.
It is estimated that eight million people emigrated between 1801 and 1921. That is equal to the entire population before the famine! The majority of these – then and now – were between 18 and 30 years old.
|Irish immigration to the United States (1820–2004)|
|Total : 4,787,580|
As mentioned, the big Eastern cities were the main destinations for the Irish. However, not all remained in these cities. Countless others were part of the westward expansion. of the United States. They were enticed by tales of gold, and by the increasing opportunities for work and land. Kansas City for example is one city that was built by Irish immigrants and a large number of its population today is of Irish descent.
The Irish were having a huge impact on America as a whole. In 1910, there were more people in New York City of Irish ancestry than Dublin’s whole population, and even today, many cities still retain a substantial Irish American community.
During the mid-1900s Irish immigration to the United States began to decrease. However, to this day, the United States is a popular destination for Irish people seeking a better life somewhere else.
Below you will find the 10 most popular Irish surnames, their crest and their meaning. If one of these is your family name, you are actually out of luck when it comes to family history research: there are so many Murphy’s, Kelly’s, O’Sullivan’s, etc. that is often very difficult to ascertain if a particular person in a genealogical record is your ancestor or just someone else with the same name! Your research will needs extra checks, additional proof, access to more sources, etc. Genealogy.ie is happy to assist.
Irish surname meaning "foreigner"; brought to to Ireland after Norman invasion. Most common in counties Mayo and Kilkenny.
Anglicized version of Irish personal name name Murchadh, which meant "sea-warrior" or "sea-battler"
Gaelic clan based in what is today County Cork and County Kerry. Before Anglo-Norman inviasion in County Tipperary.
Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Briain 'descendant of Brian', a personal name probably meaning 'eminence' or 'exalted one'.
Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh 'descendant of Ceallach' meaning 'bright-headed'
Anglicised from Irish 'Ó'Broin', meaning descendants of Bran, ("raven"). From Kildare, descendants of King of Leinster.
Anglicized form of Gaelic Mac Gobhann (Scottish) and Mac Gabhann (Irish) meaning 'son of the smith'.
Anglicised from Irish surname Ó Riain meaning "descendant of Rían", meaning "little king"
Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Conchobhair 'descendant of Conchobhar', meaning 'lover of hounds'.
Anglicization of Gaelic Ua Néill, meaning descendant of Niall. Niall couild mean "cloud", "passionate" or "champion".
This is an article we wrote giving a snapshot of a 19th Century primary school – the type of school your Irish ancestors would have gone to. It was published in an edited from in “Your Genealogy Today”, a North American genealogy magazine.
In the 1901 and 1911 Irish Census records a note would be made if your ancestors could read and write or not. Most could, so clearly they had enjoyed some form of education. However, most children would come from poor, rural families and would be expected to work from an early age. So, how could they also go to school? How did they pay for it? What were these schools like?
Looking at school records, especially when combined with other local records, can answer a lot of these questions and give a great snapshot of how your ancestors would have spent their schooldays. They would have been quite different than ours! Thankfully, there are records available on a lot of schools in the National Archives of Ireland, because most if not all schools would have requested subsidies from the Department of Education at various times of their existence. Schools were looking for these subsidies because, although they were mostly opened and run on the basis of private initiative, they wouldn’t have been able to survive without government assistance.
To illustrate what you would be able to find out, the rest of this article is looking at a typical school, St. Mary’s National School in Sandyford, now a suburb of Dublin, then a small village some distance outside the city.
As was often the case, the initiative to open this school was taken by a member of the church. The parish of Sandyford was formed in 1829. Fr. Patrick Smyth became parish priest of the new Sandyford Church (as well as the nearby Glencullen Church). He was a big supporter of providing education to the poor, as will become clear below. Local land owner Daniel McKay, who owned the “Moreen” estate, was prevailed upon to give land towards a new school. Several fundraising drives followed. The school finally opened on 25th January 1841. On the 4th February 1842, Reverend Patrick Smyth wrote a report for the application for aid for his new school. In it he gave us a good description of how the school looked like and how it was run. The school was located in the Taney parish, Balally townland and Barony of Rathdown. It had its own purpose-built building, which had been constructed by private donation. It was constructed from limestone and had a slate roof. It was 60 foot long and 35 foot wide. It had two separate rooms, one for male pupils (35 foot by 20 foot) and one for female pupils (30 foot by 20 foot). There were also 4 small apartments for the teachers. In the “male” room, there were 11 desks and in the “female” room 7 plus a large table. Each room was said to be able to accommodate from 100 to 120 pupils! The principal was Cornelius O’Driscoll, who also taught in the Glencullen school. He was only 20 years old, but was described as ‘trained’. He was assisted by Jane Reilly, also 20 and trained at the Kildare Place Society (see box). Rev. Smyth considered Jane “infinitely well qualified for her duty, both from the beautiful specimens of needlework she showed me as well as from the clear and efficient manner she displayed in the examination of her pupils.” The teachers were paid £8 per year. This was also funded by charity, from a legacy, which earned £17-10 interest per year. Pupils also had to pay, 9p per week. All pupils were “from the poorer classes”. At the start they had 84 male pupils and 93 female pupils on the books. Average attendance however was 55 and 70 respectively.School hours were from 10 AM to 2 PM in winter and until 3 PM in summer, 5 days per week. The main books used were for teaching arithmetic, grammar and geography. There was also daily religious instruction from 2.30-3 PM and all day on Fridays!
As you can see, the records are a veritable treasure trove of information. From them we learn that the school day would be relatively short, leaving time for children to help their families. Despite this, absenteeism was high, likely for the same reason. Only a few topics would be taught, with religion taking a very large place in the curriculum. Conditions would be basic. Pupils would only pay a very small amount towards their education, which was the reason why schools would be raising funds, rely on charity and asking for subsidies. The above will hopefully give you an idea of how a typical school day looked like in 1842 in St. Mary’s. Thankfully much has changed in this particular school that still goes strong today. Who knows what the records will tell you about your ancestors’ school?
Department of Education (1842) Application for Grant by Reverend Patrick Smyth, National Archives of Ireland, Document Reference ED1/28/94/2
(1837) ‘True Liberality’, Freeman’s Journal,21 August, p. .
(14th March 2014) Kildare Place Society, Available at: http://www.worldhistory.biz/…/42265-kildare-place-society.h… (Accessed: 26th February 2016).
Ask About Ireland () Learning Zone Primary Students 5th & 6th – 1828,Available at: http://www.askaboutireland.ie/…/looking-…/19th-century/1828/ (Accessed: 12th March 2017).
Myles Dungan (9th September 2016) On This Day – 9 September 1831 – Irish National Education,Available at: https://mylesdungan.com/tag/kildare-place-society/ (Accessed: 12th March 2017).
Picture: Caledon School, Co Tyrone. Built 1907. Taken 2017. Author’s Collection.
For one happy customer we found her parents and grandparents – who she had never known – at the age of 77! We are telling about it in the video below.
Fiona, her daughter, told us: “Mum is pouring over all the details…. I can see many conversations in the future, wonderful to find out your grandparents names at the age of 77! Thank you.”
Cobh, pronounced Cove and previously known as Queenstown, is near Cork in the South West of Ireland. It is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
First of all, it is a a very important port in the history of many Irish families. Of the 6 million Irish who left Ireland between 1848 and 1950, 2.5 million left from the port of Cobh. If you are doing your research, please note that Cobh was renamed Queenstown after the visit of Queen Victoria in 1849. It remained so until the early 1920s and the formation of the Irish Free State.
The port is also famous as the last port of call for the ill-fate Titanic. The tenders “Ireland” and “America” brought 123 passengers to the ship from Cobh . Seven lucky passengers disembarked at Cobh including Jesuit priest Father Francis Browne and the Odell Family. Their photographs, taken aboard, are now world famous. Of the 123 passengers, 79 perished. There is a fantastic museum (there is an admission fee) in Cobh telling their story, located in the original departure building. We have included a link to their website below.
Only a few years later, in 1915 1,198 people perished when the Lusitania was sunk off the Cork coast by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. Only 289 bodies were recovered. 169 were buried in the Old Church Cemetery just outside the town in three mass graves while only 20 were buried in individual plots.
Dominating the town is the Roman Catholic Saint Colman’s Cathedral that is perched on the hillside. It is a magnificent neo-Gothic building that took 47 years to build, starting in 1868. For many Irish emigrants, it was the last bit of Ireland they would ever see. (Click on photo to see a larger picture).
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We were commissioned to find an old photo of “J.F. Hudson”, former Captain (1932) of the Royal Dublin Golf Club. They had tried without success and were left with a blank space in the Club Photo gallery of Past Captains. www.Genealogy.ie rose to the challenge as our short video below will explain and his photo is now proudly on the wall.
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