The bulk of Irish people left their rural communities in a wave of mass emigration in the wake of the Great Famine (1845-1850), or died from disease and hunger as a result of extreme poverty. An Gorta Mór changed the landscape of the community forever. What is striking about the journeys you will read here is the variety in age and ability of those who traveled. For those who were single or newly married with young families the voyage to start a new life held a great deal of promise. Increasingly though our research has brought to light the profiles of older people, those aged over fifty who had to make a choice to either stay in Ireland alone after the death of a spouse or join their children in a new land. These latter journeys are particularly poignant as the leaving of Ireland reflected the loss of entire families and indeed generations.
Departing for New York was a difficult and emotional journey. From a rural existence which centred on family, farming and prayer, to life in a country that had embraced all the advances of the industrial revolution and was developing at a furious pace.
Records show that the vast majority of people who passed through Ellis Island never returned to Ireland, and many never saw their families again.
The stories researched as part of Epic Journeys are highlighted in this exhibition, reflecting the lives of those emigrants and their descendants. The prevailing sense of place, and connection to Ireland, has never been forgotten. This project creates a tangible connection to our past and will evolve and grow as others add to it. There is no better way to acknowledge our ancestors than to pause and reflect on their lives and experiences.
People on both sides of the Atlantic have been involved in researching the stories that make up the Epic Journeys exhibition. This has included meticulous research using genealogical and local history resources.
The research is based on two main sources of information. The first is the work of Tom McDowell which lists over 900 people who left the parish of Tulla, passing through the Ellis Island Immigration Station (available at Clare County Library). The second is the Ellis Island Passenger Manifests, which when cross-referenced with the aforementioned source, allows us to develop 71 individual or family stories as part of the pilot study. Further information was sourced from contact made with descendants and through local knowledge and research.
Ireland Reaching Out volunteers who have taken part in this expanded research include Jane Halloran and Tulla XO Volunteers, Tim Lee and Bourney XO Volunteers, Carmel O'Callaghan, Bailieborough XO, Gerard Naughton, Lackagh XO and Anne Marie Healy, Mallow XO. Their hard work and dedication to their local parish is reflected in the individual stories you will read here.
These journeys are representative of the hundreds of paths taken from townlands and parishes all over Ireland and will be added to as and when descendants become aware of the research and seek to add their own stories here.
Clare County Library
Ellis Island Liberty Foundation Passenger Manifests
US Library of Congress - Prints and Photographs Division
National Library of Ireland
Interactive Tour of Ellis Island
Ask About Ireland
Irish Newspaper Archives
Cobh Heritage Centre
Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA)
Ellis Island Epic Journeys has been made possible by the continued support of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Ireland Reaching Out would like to thank the following for their commitment and contribution to this project:
The Heritage Council
Barbara Scanlon and the Kansas City Irish Center
The Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation
Ireland Reaching Out would especially like to thank the descendants of those who made the journey to Ellis Island so many years ago – for sharing their family’s story with us.