Ulster American Folk Park

Written by William Stites on May 24th, 2009

Irish emigration was born out of the Irish search for a better and more prosperous life.  Younger children wanted an individual lifestyle with material comfort, independent from their parents and away from landowners.  For others, emigration provided hope because of widespread financial difficulties. For example, when Ulster encountered a depression — certain industries declined, and the average Irishman’s farm size decreased– pre-famine emigration sped up as Irishmen envisioned a freer life in America.  Catholics and Presbyterians also sought out freedom to practice their religion without persecution.  In schools, children learned about Ireland, but were also informed about America (both its history and geography) as a dream.

Liverpool became the main port in the 1820’s due to its key role in trans-Atlantic trade. People who’d never previously left their hometown traveled to Liverpool and other ports. Once at the port towns, the travelers encountered difficulties.  At the ports, some of the ships were delayed and people were forced to become indentured servants under contracts to pay for their way.  “Coffin ships”–or “solitary floating prison[s]”, as Hugh Campbell termed them–were another obstacle for traveling.   A single disease (typhus, for example) on a ship could easily spread to all of the other passengers in the general vicinity. Cramped, dirty quarters, foul smells and constant boredom made the journey ever more unpleasant. And on some ships that carried livestock for trade purposes, cattle received shelter during rough storms while passengers did not. Passengers not only faced temporary physical hardships, though: they also dealt with the knowledge that they would never return home.

Emigration soon became more appealing with the invention of a steam boat.  The voyage was reduced from 5 to 6 weeks to 10 to 12 days with a wider range and higher quality of amenities available.  Some people who made their way to America were not very fortunate and remained impoverished. It was difficult for the majority of immigrants — who arrived in America without contacts or money — to succeed.  After coming to a strange land with new things never before encountered, these emigrants were forced to find a cheap and convenient place to live. Many Irish immigrants, lured to America by the promise of their own farmland, traveled to the west in Conestoga wagons where farmland was cheap and abundant. Irish immigrants forged diverse pathways, however–John Joseph Hughes became the first Archbishop of New York, while Hugh and Robert Campbell became entreprenuers who played a part in the Treaty of Laramie. Irish immigrants also distinguished themselves in the political arenas (most notably, in New York’s Tammany Hall).

One particularly successful family we learned of were the Mellons.  While the Mellons were finding success in Ireland, they wished to become landowners who did not have to pay rent.  Thomas Mellon veered from the traditional path of being a farmer and learned etiquette.  He became a lawyer, a judge, and eventually founded a small, but thriving bank.  The family made a living from farming and were able to build a two-story house when they came to America.

Written by Group B – Shannon, Mike, Danielle, Jenny, Miriam, Chris & Dan


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kaan says:

    The Irish clearly faced a great number of obstacles during emigration. The most shocking thing that I learned here is that the cattle received shelter before the traveling Irish did. To leave your country by means of a “coffin ship”, only to arrive in an unknown place with no form of care seems almost like a lose – lose situation. However, to these Irish it must have been much worse back home.

    It puts in to perspective how bad a persons situation really must be for them to have to emigrate in such conditions. Not just leaving your home land but leaving it for a place that is unknown and unwelcoming. For the Irish, the famine was probably a time of much displacement.

  2. brian lambkin says:

    Brian Lambkin and Patrick Fitzgerald at the Centre for Migration Studies enjoyed very much the lively discussion with your group yesterday afternoon and look forward to following your progress.

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