Pre-Famine Migration - Ireland to British North America

Posted by Jane Lyons to the newsgroup soc.genealogy.ireland
Another old book review - it should be of interest to those who wonder why
their Ancestors left Ireland prior to the famine times, and of particular
interest to those whose ancestors came from Waterford, Cork, Wexford,

IRISH SETTLEMENTS IN EASTERN CANADA. by John J. Mannion, University of
Toronto Press, 1974, 219pp. Paperback

When we consider the Irish abroad our first thoughts, almost invariably, are
of the mid-nineteenth century emigration to the United States of America,
the panic-stricken flight of cottiers and landless labourers from the Famine
to the navvy gangs of New York, Boston and Chicago, the coalmines and
ironworks of Pennsylvania, and the slums and back streets of a hundred
American cities. We should, however, remember that there were other
emigrations, of even more significance in the study of the Irish abroad. Dr
Mannion's study of the Irish in Canada is concerned with one of these - the
early nineteenth century exodus of farmers from Ireland to the opening
territories of the British dominions overseas. This was no frantic rush of
starving refugees, but a considered and calculated movement of adventurous
people seeking their fortune in new lands. They came mainly from the south
and south-east of Ireland and were mainly farmers' sons who had no prospect
of getting farms of their own in Ireland. They were usually influenced by
the various inducements to settle in the new lands, such as assisted
passage, bounties, grants or cheap purchase of land. Most of them had a
little cash capital. Many of them, on the advice of the authorities, brought
with them utensils, implements, furniture and household and farmyard gear.
Often in the new lands they settled in groups, or went to places where
friends were already settled. Often, too, there were emigrant craftsmen -
carpenters, blacksmiths and the like, to serve the needs of these growing
communities in the same way as in their old home. Thus were established in
many places in Canada and in Australia islands of Irishry which preserved in
their daily lives much of the tradition, both practical and fanciful, of
their homeland.

Dr Mannion has studied three such groups in different parts of Eastern
Canada. These are, first, an area near Peterborough, Ontario, where about
three hundred families, mainly from north-east county Cork, settled. 
(The Peter Robinson Settlers)... see also Peter Robinson settlers in 1823
A census here in 1825 records 238 farmers, 53 artisans and only 16 labourers.
The second area is Miramichi, New Brunswick, where over 150 Irish families
were established by 1850 but where, as Dr Mannion records, 'genealogical
evidence suggests that the majority of household heads had arrived in
Miramichi as single adult males, and had married girls who came as child
members of nuclear Irish families or the daughters of earlier Irish
immigrants born in Miramichi.' The third area is the Avalon peninsula of
Newfoundland, where the fishing trade had long and close connections with
the south-east of Ireland, especially with the port of Waterford, and where
the Irish settlers were mainly fishermen or fishing settlement workers who
succeeded in getting areas of land and becoming farmers. These people, as we
might expect, came mostly from counties Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford, east
Cork, south Tipperary - in general the hinterland of the port of Waterford.
In this work, Dr Mannion investigates how far the life pattern of his chosen
areas shows the retention of elements and traits derived from Ireland, or
how far these have been modified in the new environment or discarded in
favour of local or newly produced appliances and methods. His examples range
over settlement patterns, dwelling houses and other buildings, agricultural
methods, implements, furniture and household goods in considerable and
illuminating detail.

The author's investigations of a very wide and very complex theme are too
varied, and, indeed, too significant to be summarised in a short review.
Sufficient to say that this is a pioneer work of the highest importance, the
opening of a gate into a hitherto neglected area of research. How seriously
neglected is shown by the first section of the bibliography to Dr Mannion's
book, which lists works on 'European ethnic group settlement in rural North
America'; of 296 titles only 8 refer to Irish settlement and 6 of these to
the "Scotch-Irish".

There are, however, other elements of the Irishness of these settlements. Dr
Mannion confines himself to an examination of the physical manifestations of
culture, only hinting at the existence of Irish elements of speech, of
belief and custom, of balladry and oral narrative, of music and dancing.
Even to walk down Water Street, the main thoroughfare of St. John's,
Newfoundland, with ears alert to catch accents and expressions which might
well be those of New Ross or Carrick-on-Suir, will show that there is an
Irish tradition. To visit farms and fishing villages, where language is
larded with words like grafán and sugán, crúibín and taoibhín, ainniseóir
and bastún, where old beliefs and customs still flourish, where Tacky the
Lantern flits through the woods and the Bean Sí wails for impending death,
is to discover a new world of Irish tradition which, sooner rather than
later, must be studied by Irish scholars. That this has not been done
already may seem surprising, but we must remember that Irish folklore and
folk life were given academic status in Ireland as late as 1972 and that our
first-ever graduates in this discipline came in 1975, so that however dim
the past may have been the future in these studies undoubtedly looks bright,
not least in the study of the Irish abroad. Meanwhile, Dr Mannion is to be
congratulated upon this book, which not only is in itself a valuable
contribution to knowledge, but also firmly lifts the curtain upon a wide
range of subjects for study.

Back to Bytown or Bust - History and Genealogy in the Ottawa area