Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Emigration in the 19th century

One of the features of Blogger, this is the blogging tool I use to write these internet musings, is that I can see where my readers are based. I don't know who is reading my blog but I do know where in the world they are located. Obviously, most of my readership is in Ireland. After that the U.S. is the principal location for my readers. But my pageview figures for Australia are growing daily. This tells me something about emigration patterns then and now.

An interesting aside is that I seem to have a loyal following in Russia with an average of 5 views per day. I'd love to know the identity of these people and what, if any,  their Listowel connection is.

Now back to emigration to the U.S.

Emigrants usually left from Queenstown, now Cobh.

It was the custom to hold an american wake for the departing emigrants. This account is from Maggie Land Blanck

The American Wake
There were mixed feelings in Ireland about immigration. On the one hand it offered greater opportunity to the sons and daughters who would not have been able to marry and have families in Ireland and who would go off to seek their fortunes in a new world. On the other hand it meant that they would never see their parents again.
The words of the Irish immigration song The Shores of Americay indicate this clearly:
It's not for the love of gold I go, and it's not for the love of fame,
But fortune might smile on me , and I might win a name.
But yet it is for gold I go, o'er the deep and raging foam,
To build a home for my own true love on the shores of Americay.
And if I die in a foreign land, from my home and friends far away,
No kind mother's tears will flow o'er my grave on the shores of Americay.

Because the trip was so long and difficult there was little chance that the emigrant would return to Ireland. This was equated on the part of the family left in Ireland as being as good as dead and a custom arose to hold a wake for the departing emigrant.
The custom of sitting up all night with the dead until the burial the next morning (called "waking" or "watching") was an ancient practice in Ireland. Irish wakes were a mixture of sadness and gaiety, often combined with drinking.
It is not know when the "American Wake" came into being, but it was practiced at least as early an 1830. It became more popular as immigration increased and was particularly popular in the west of Ireland. To the Gaelic speakers in Mayo it was known as the "feast of departure".
The emigrant made the rounds of friends and neighbors in the week preceding his departure to let them know he/she was leaving and to extend an informal invitation to the "wake". The "wake" started in the evening before the emigrant was to depart and lasted until the early hours of the next morning.
In the early days the wakes were sober affairs since many people did not have money to serve refreshments. They were occasions to give advice to the emigrant and to ask him/her to give messages to loved ones and family members already in America. As time went on the wakes took on more of a party atmosphere with food, drink, dancing, and music. In some cases the entire expense for the "American wake" was sent from America along with the sailing ticket by relatives already in America.
The night was a mixture of gaiety and sadness. There were bouts of crying and keening (caoine meaning to wail or lament). Sad ballads about the difficulties of departing and the hard life of the immigrant were sung.
When morning came the emigrant said good bye to his parents. A "convoy" of his friends and acquaintances accompanied him to a particular crossroads or to the train station if one was near.
American wakes often ranked in importance only slightly lower than births, marriages, and deaths.
There was an additional factor deeply rooted in Irish folklore that contributed to the correlation of going to "Americay", which lay to the west, and to death. According to ancient voyage tales, the land of the dead lay in the mythical isles of the west. Western travelers were believed fated to an early demise. Western rooms were traditionally reserved for older parents who had already relinquished control of farms to their sons, in other words the most likely to be the next to die.
Ironically, Tir no nOg, the   western "Land of the Young", was the place from which no one returned except to wither and die.

Conditions on board were fairly horrific for this long journey. There are accounts of singing and dancing but there was also much hardship and sickness.

The Crossing
Before the 1850's immigrants from Europe came by sailing ships. The length of the crossings varied according to the winds, tides, and other factors. The estimates for crossings under sail range anywhere from four to twenty-four weeks with an average trip of 8 weeks.
Later ships, still under sail but fitted with paddle wheels and steam engines, took about six weeks.
Steamships started crossing the Atlantic in 1850. The length of a voyage from Bremen to New York by steamer took about seventeen days. By the mid-1860's most immigrants were coming by steamer. However, up until the 1870's many people still traveled by sail. Steam ships up until WWI took 2 to 3 weeks. By 1920 the trip across the ocean took one to two weeks.
The overwhelming majority of immigrants traveled in steerage where there was no lighting and passenger were packed in as tightly as space would allow. Steerage passengers had to provide their own bedding. Each passenger got a berth that was 18 inches wide by 6 feet long. The berths were often in tiers up to four rows high. Frequently they were poorly build and rickety. Men and women who were strangers to each other before the start of the journey were berthed together. In 1852 a new law required that men be berthed separately.
The trip was not a dry one. Water seeped into the steerage through holes that were supposed to be for ventilation. Most passengers were sea sick the first few days out and only in rough weather afterwards. It was impossible to come on deck in bad weather. The hatches would be battened down and passengers in steerage would have to remain below in the dark and rocking ship. There was on average one toilet for every hundred passengers. Frequently the toilet was on deck, where they could not be reached in rough weather. Because of the close quarters in which they lived, passengers often suffered from illnesses like trench mouth, body ulcers, and lice. Conditions were frightful. Immigrant ships were recognized by the smell.
Early ships were often called "coffin ships" because of the frightful conditions and the numbers of people who died during the crossings. In 1847, 1,879 immigrants died on the voyage to New York. Eventually government supervision of sanitation regulations improved conditions.
While French and British shipping companies made their passengers cook their own meals, German shipping companies provided meals for their steerage passengers. The menu: Sunday---salt meat, meal pudding and prunes. Monday--- salt bacon, pea soup and potatoes. Tuesday---salt meat, rice and prunes. Wednesday---smoked bacon, sauerkraut, and potatoes. Thursday---salt meat, potatoes and bean soup. Friday---Herring, meal and prunes. Saturday---salt bacon, pea soup and potatoes.

(This account comes again from Maggie Land Blanck who has done an enormous amount of research on the topic.)

Each immigrant passed single file through the registry department. The name, age, class, nativity, destination, occupation, amount of money, were checked. In addition questions were asked that applied to the new law. (The new law was meant to weed out "undesirables" like criminals , the very old and the destitute) Anyone suspected of answering falsely was sent to a separate area for further questioning and verification.

Hard times indeed!

In 1869 a total of 258,989 people entered the United States through Castle Gardens. This included:
1.99,605 Germans
2.66,204 Irish
3.41,090 English
4.23,453 Swedes (90% of whom went west to farm)
5.2,870 French
6.5 Greeks
7.5 Chinese from the Celestial Empire
8.23 Africans
9.4 Australians
10.         7 people from Turkey
11.         2 people from Jerusalem
The 1871 Harpers Weekly article says that many of the older people arriving from Ireland could not understand or speak anything but Irish.


Make yourself  cup of tea. Set aside 25 minutes. Watch this;

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ellis Island

Today, as promised, Joanne Dillon's account of her recent trip to Ellis Island. She also shares with us her parents story in brief.

A Visit to Ellis Island: Island of Tears, Island of Hope
Joanne Dillon
Brooklyn Heights, New York

            At Ellis Island in New York Harbor, the names of more than 700,000 immigrants to the United States, representing almost every nationality on earth, are inscribed on the Immigrant Wall of Honor. Among them are the names of my parents — James Dillon from Dromerin and Theresa “Tess” Dillon from Gurtcreen.
            Their names have been there since the early 1990s, when they were inscribed as a tribute to the sacrifices they made and the life they built together in America.
            My father James “Jim” Dillon left Listowel in 1927 when he was just 20. My mother Tess followed two years later in October 1929, when she was only 19. Despite the same last name, they weren’t yet married — just neighbors who lived down the road from one another, outside of Listowel. Their marriage would come a few years later in the Bronx, New York —their new home.
            Throughout his life, my father rarely spoke of his childhood, his journey to America, or his early experiences in New York. My mother, however, was not at all reticent and often shared stories of the old country with me.
She spoke always of the sadness of leaving behind her parents, Johanna Lynch and Patrick Dillon, her many brothers and sisters, and her childhood friend Kitty Connor. She recounted the days of seasickness she suffered on the voyage across the Atlantic on the S.S. America. And she talked often about the difficulty of finding work in New York during those first years of the Great Depression.
But she also told tales of happier times: of my grandmother Johanna singing while she worked around the cottage in Gurtcreen; of her brothers Paddy, Jimmy and Willy, who tickled her feet with feathers during the nightly family recitation of the Rosary; of her father Patrick, who built many pieces of furniture in their cottage; of going to the dances at Bedford Hall with her sisters; and of herself sneaking out of school on warm summer days to pick berries on the banks of the River Feale.
These stories made Ireland seem magical to me. It was a life very different from mine growing up in the Bronx in the 1950s and ‘60s. Would I ever know what my parents’ lives had really been like?
One part of their experience — their arrivals in America — was recently brought vividly to life at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York Harbor. On a blustery, cold January morning, I joined other members of the New York-based, Irish-British Genealogy group for a tour. Despite the frigid temperatures and the brisk winds whipping the waters of the harbor, it was a trip worth taking!
From the baggage room where the immigrants had to leave their bundles, an enthusiastic Park Ranger guided us up the marble staircase to the Main Hall. We were given a detailed description of the processes all new arrivals experienced from the time the immigration center first opened in 1892 until 1954, when it ceased operations. Our guide explained the seven-second medical assessment that helped give the Island its notoriety as the Island of Tears, Island of Hope, and he recounted in great detail the legal documentation process.
Twelve million immigrants — four million of them from Ireland — entered the United States through Ellis Island during its 62 years as an immigration center. At its peak, roughly 5,000 people a day passed through its Main Hall, in a process that took about five hours.
Today, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum honors all immigrants to America — the famous and the not so famous. Its Immigrant Wall of Honor allows families to recognize relatives who came to America in search of religious freedom, economic opportunities, political freedom, or for other reasons.
Whether your relatives passed through Ellis Island or entered the U.S.A. through another port, if you are ever in New York City, take the ferry from Battery Park and visit the Immigration Museum, where you can learn about this important part of both the American and Irish experiences.
As for Jim and Tess, after passing through U.S. Customs they made their respective ways to the Bronx, where they married in 1934. There, they raised four daughters (myself being the youngest). After working as a motorman for the New York City subway system for 43 years, Jim retired in 1972. He passed away in 1983 at age 76. Tess retired from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1975. She died in 1996 at age 86. Today, their names can be found on the Ellis Island Immigrant Wall of Honor, Section 113.

For information on the Immigrant Wall of Honor, visit the website of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. at

Photos Attached:
On the S.S. America. Tess Dillon and her older sister Mary are pictured here with many other immigrants on their voyage to New York City, October 1929. Tess is in the fourth row from the bottom, behind and to the left of the man with the hat.  Mary is in the sixth row, to the left of the beam and of the woman wearing the cloche hat.
Jim Dillon. Jim as a young man before he left Ireland for America in the 1920s.
Joanne Dillon. Jim and Tess’ youngest daughter, at the Immigrant Wall of Honor, January 2012.
Section 113, Immigrant Wall of Honor.  My father’s name, James Dillon, is prominent in this photo; Tess’ name is much lower on the panel.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum Today.  The main building where all immigrants began the process of becoming Americans.



I believe that you could write a social history of our town by documenting all the signs and notices. So here is an account of what is going on in town in late Feb. 2012 as told by posters in shop windows.


Very sad to read this;

The death has occurred of Finola LEANE of The Square, Listowel, Kerry

Reposing at Lystol Lodge Nursing Home, Listowel this Tuesday evening. Removal at 6.30pm to St. Mary's Church, Listowel arriving at 7pm. Requiem Mass tomorrow, Wednesday, at 11.30am. Burial afterwards in St. Michael's Cemetery, Listowel.

Date published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Date of death: Sunday, February 26, 2012

Monday, 27 February 2012

Jonathan Sexton, Chalk Sunday and Mai Stack

Firstly a big round of applause for Jonathan Sexton who played such a big part in Ireland's victory over Italy on Saturday. Yes, Mr. Sexton has a strong Listowel connection. Everyone in Listowel is enormously proud of him. First among these is his gran and second his godfather who cannot resist constantly praising him in his Saturday articles.


Yesterday was Chalk Sunday, the first Sunday in Lent. My information here is coming from Kevin Danaher's The Year in Ireland. (I will put it away now - for a bit anyway.)

In the villages of rural Munster in the latter part of the 19th century it was customary to mark the coats of unfortunate men who had derelicted their social duty by remaining unmarried throughout Shrove with stripes and squiggles of chalk. Young boys were encouraged to join in the "sport" and would jump out on the unsuspecting bachelor and ruin his good coat.

Sometimes this Sunday was called Pus Sunday, apparently because those who had not married had " a pus on them" with disappointment. A pus is Irish slang for a scowl.


I'm returning now to our day of memories in Greaney's Spar. North Kerry people brought us treasured photos to share. They are online at 

I intend using some of them to enhance this blog as well. But firstly I am going to include here some of the people who helped us by bringing precious memorabilia and some of the NKRO people who worked hard on the day.

Ger Greaney, chairman of NKRO, Brenda Sexton who shared photos of her famous family and James Kenny

Maria Leahy, NKRO, Eilis Wren bringing Writers' Week photos, Grace Kelly, NKRO, Mary Cogan and James Kenny, NKRO
Back: Ger Greaney, Damien Stack, Jimmy Deenihan and Robert Pierse 

local man with a photo of a famous ancestor.

These are just some of the photos taken on the day, Feb 11 2012.


While I was there with my camera I took some photos of a lovely local lady, Mai Stack. Mai has dedicated a good part of her life to fundraising. On this Saturday it was The Mater Hospital, but that is only one of Mai's many good causes. She is a local legend.

Canon Declan O'Connor
Jackie Stack

Julie Gleeson
Robert Pierse and Damien Stack

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Visitors and signs of an economic upturn

I met Barry MacAuliffe and his daughter, Niamh at The Seanchaí. They were visiting family in Listowel during Niamh's mid-term break from school.

Thursday last in Church St.


James Lynch of Knockanure in the 1950s. 
John Corcoran sent us this lovely photo of his grandfather.

I grew up on a small farm in North Cork and I remember a hay rake just like this one and I can see in my mind's eye my father working in the meadow. This was actually a big advance from the previous wooden hay rake that I also remember my father working. That implement was called a "Tumbling Paddy". It was made locally by a carpenter/joiner. It was a huge wooden rake pulled by a horse. My father walked behind the horse and machine. He draped the reins over his head so that his hands were free to guide the shafts while the horse pulled the rake to gather the hay. When the rake was full of hay, my father took the reins, held the horse and tipped the rake over so that the hay tumbled out in a big mound ready for making into a wynnd later on in the day.

The machine in our photo wiggled and jiggled over the stubble gathering the hay as it went. At just the right moment the driver released a lever beside him, leaving the gathered hay behind.This machine made haymaking a lot easier for everyone involved and it is my recollection that everyone was involved when work needed to be done in the meadow.

I'm going to include here some of Una Hayes lovely pictures of haymaking in Ballygrennan in the 1970s and 80s.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A resourceful town clerk

 Billy McSweeney sent the following story to give you a chuckle this fine morning. 

I was told a story by my Uncle Timmy Gleeson some years ago.
His father, E.J. (Ned) Gleeson was the Listowel Town Clerk in the early 1900’s. One could imagine that this was not a particularly onerous job at that time and those of us who have plenty of time to spare well know the tendency to let things pile up. ‘Sure it won’t take long to catch up’.
Ned wasn’t careless however. The ‘Boots’ at the Listowel Arms Hotel at the time was John Murphy, father to ‘The Dummy’ Murphy, the tailor in Convent Lane who some of the older readers may remember. Now, Ned had John primed to come and tell him whenever somebody ‘important’ arrived on the evening train – especially if such a person could possibly be a Local Government Inspector.
One evening John arrived up to Gleeson’s pub in William Street – now Jumbo’s Fast Food Emporium. He told Ned that a gentleman had arrived that evening that had the stamp of being a dreaded Local Government Inspector. This created a large problem for Ned as the Books were at this time so far behind that even if he worked all night he wouldn’t get them up to date.
Never one to be fazed, Ned got up early the following morning and went to work. He took with him a jute sack which he wetted and stuffed up the chimney and proceeded to set and light the fire beneath. Naturally, the whole room filled with smoke. At 9.00am sharp there was a commanding knock at the door which Ned answered, opening the door with a handkerchief covering his mouth and nose. The gentleman introduced himself as expected and asked Ned what was going on with the smoke.
“I have been asking the Bord of Works to clean the chimney for weeks”, offered Ned.
“It is intolerable to have to work in these conditions and I can only apologize to you, sir”
The Inspector then huffed up and said that he was not prepared to spend any time in these conditions. “You can tell the Bord of Works that I will be back here in two weeks and if this chimney is not cleaned by then I will make an official complaint and somebody will have to answer for it”
“Good day, Mr Gleeson”
“Thank you, sir” answered a delighted Ned.

Billy McSweeney


This photograph from 1991 was sent to me by Noreen Brennan. It will give a few former residents of Cherrytree Drive something to smile at. Weren't they sweet?


Joanne Dillon, a New York lady with a strong North Kerry connection shared with us this link to a really interesting article about the genealogy group of which Joanne is a member. Invaluable information for anyone in the U.S. who is researching their Irish or indeed British ancestry.

Joanne has also sent me an account of her trip to Ellis island to share with you. I will include that next week when we have settled into Lent and I have put aside for a while my copy of Kevin Danaher's fascinating The Year in Ireland.

Another link for those researching in the U.S.

Finally for those of you who live in the U.K. or Ireland, who love words and numbers and who are free to watch afternoon T.V. there is an Irish contestant on Countdown who is amazing. Peter Lee's lightning fast conundrum solving has to be seen to be believed.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Listowel Community Centre, Hair and Hats

While I was out and about on Sunday I called in to the Community Centre and they had these newspaper cuttings on a noticeboard on the wall. They date from 1985/86 when the centre was opened.

On my way home I noticed that this shop

is drawing our attention to the fact that it is trading in Listowel for 100 years.

At the corner of Courthouse Road is this lovely studio shop.

I took the photograph through the window of Aoife Hannon's millinery studio.
 There is a long tradition of millinery in Listowel. Before my time, two generations of the Nailor family made hats for North Kerry ladies. 
Now Aoife is carrying on the tradition with her stylish and eye catching creations.


If you want to become a wedding photographer take a look at this,


Tonight on TG4 the programme, Cé a chónaigh i mo Theachsa comes from Glin Castle. Manchan Magan made the programme with the late knight shortly before his death.

And don't forget the big night in Dublin tomorrow night.

Dublin in the 1980's: lovely photographs

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In 18th and 19th century Ireland Lent was the most dreadful of hard times. Very strict rules of fasting and abstinence were observed. All animal products were forbidden. This left people with a diet of unleavened oatcakes and potatoes. Those who lived near the coast could eat fish.

There was a belief abroad that the brent goose who lived more on sea than on land was more fish than fowl and so could be eaten during Lent. Kevin Danaher says that a certain well known hotel in Tralee made a point of serving brent goose during Lent "mainly for the benefit of the clergy". Apparently the General Latern Council in 1215 had forbidden this practice but news of this did not seem to reach the west of Ireland.

No merrymaking was allowed during Lent. Musical instruments were put away, packs of cards were sometimes burned and new ones bought for Easter and there was no visiting friends.

Lent in Ireland was a bleak and hungry time indeed.

But that was then and this is now. Life goes on for these 40 days pretty much as it does for the rest of the year. Any efforts made to mortify the flesh are very tame in comparison with what our ancestors had to endure.


Sunday last February 19 2012 was a fine sunny day in Listowel. I took a walk through the Garden of Europe and on into Childrers' Park.

My companion on my walk obligingly posed beside some daffodils in the Cows' Lawn.

A rugby match was in full swing nearby.

The conditions were fairly primitive but the players seemed to be enjoying the contest.

We walked up Bridge Road to the church. And I photographed the Divine Mercy shrine for you. It has been completed to match the corresponding shrine to Padre Pio. I must say that I was very impressed with the workmanship. The craftsman who fashioned both shrines is, I am told, very shy and wants no kudos from me or anyone else.


And now for something random for  fashion lovers; a good news story for Irish dress designer, Orla Kiely

Today the Duchess of Cambridge put her love into practice on her first public engagement as royal patron of The Art Room, which encourages confidence in disadvantaged children.
Wearing the now sold-out Birdie jacquard shirt dress by designer Orla Kiely with brown opaque tights and brown suede ankle boots, Kate, 30, was greeted on her arrival in Oxford by dozens of children waving flags and holding flowers during a short walkabout.


If you are lucky enough to own some Kerry shares it looks like you are in the money.