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    Monday, July 27th, 2009

    A number of monuments to emigration exist in Ireland; one or two of these are well-known, while many of the rest of them have more of a local appeal.

    Let me know if you know of any others to add to this list, either in Ireland or around the world.

    Larne, Co. Antrim – “Emigrants to America?

    This memorial depicts a family emigrating in 1717, and their appearance is in marked contrast to the more common depictions of famine-era emigrants. They are well-dressed and relatively prosperous-looking; the woman is carrying a Bible and the boy is carrying his shoes. Their positioning, in which they look forward into the distance, suggests a sense of possibility and even pride.  The figures appear to be a literate, reasonably well-off family looking forward to the future.

    The inscription on the monument reads:

    This memorial, unveiled on 16th May 1992 by Professor Bobby Moss PhD of South Carolina, is dedicated to the memory of those first Ulster emigrants who sailed from Larne in May 1717 upon the “Friends Goodwill” bound for Boston. They were to be the first of many.”

    “There is no other race in the United States that can produce a roll of honour so long and so shining with distinction. And who shall deny our claim to have done more, much more than any others to make the United States”.

    Two related monuments:

    These are closely linked memorials that tell different stories.

    • “Coffin Ship” places the emphasis on death and suffering tied in with the departure -skeletons form the structure of the ship, and the figures are lying down. It is significant that this monument is in Ireland, where the Famine’s toll of suffering and death was acute.
    • “Arrival” emphasises the successful completion of the journey- the figures are upright, and some of them are leaving the boat. Additionally, these are fully-fleshed out buildings and the figures on the boat have individual features. The sculpture’s location in New York and its more positive tone reflects the fact that for those who made the journey, there was the possibility of a new life. It also reflects the different meaning of the famine for the two countries: While for Ireland, the Famine was synonymous with despair, emigration and death; in the New World, however, discourse about Famine emigration, while acknowledging many of its tragic aspects, also reflects the fact that the large-scale migration was a starting point for much of Irish-American history.

    Famine Monuments, Ireland and Canada – Rowan Gillespie

    Famine Monument, Dublin

    Ireland Park, Toronto

    The Toronto memorial is unusual in that it focuses on the mindset of the immediate arrivals.

    Falcarragh, Co. Donegal – The Bridge of Tears and monument stone

    The translation of text on the stone: “Friends and relations of the person who was emigrating would come this far. Here they separated. This is the Bridge of Tears.?

    Derry –”The Emigrants” Eamon O’Doherty’s sculpture at Waterloo Place

    This monument depicts a couple departing with their children and two grandparents saying farewell. Two of the figures in the departing family look backward at the grandparents, while two look forward, toward the port.

    The sculptor is showing the relationship between the emigrants’ past and future and the people left behind. The depiction of two figures looking back and two looking forward highlights both the pain of departure and the possibilities inherent in migration.  The boy has a musical instrument, and the young girl is carrying a book;  both of these signify the culture they will bring with them to their new land.

    The clothing and the figures are highly stylised, so it seems  that the sculptor is trying to represent the idea of emigration itself rather than commemorate a particular set of emigrants.

    Sligo Famine Memorial

    See it on Flickr.

    This sculpture shows the vulnerability of the Famine emigrants – yet the figures are also demonstrating tenderness and concern for each other. In contrast to the family at Larne, they are focused inward – emigration is not for them a matter of looking forward to a bright future.  The young girl is pointing out toward the harbour, and ultimately to her future in America.

    Annie Moore

    Annie Moore with her brothers, Cobh – Images on Flickr

    Annie Moore at Ellis Island, New York  – Images on Flickr

    Annie Moore was the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island in New York, which was opened on January 1, 1892. She and her brothers were joining her parents, who had emigrated in 1888.

    Kiltimagh – “I’ll send you the fare” – Sally McKenna, 2006

    The plaque on the ground reads,

    “This sculpture is dedicated by Bill Durkan to the memory of the young men and women who emigrated from Kiltimagh, Bohola and the surrounding areas during the 1950s.”

    Many young men and women emigrated alone in the 1950s. This is an extremely poignant depiction of emigration: the figure is almost ghost-like in its positioning on the footpath of a town street, as he trudges along, accompanied by no one. The small suitcase seems to highlight his vulnerability, heightening the notion that he may be ill-prepared for such a life-changing journey.  The lack of pedestal gives  a greater sense of immediacy or intimacy to the figure.

    This is a monument to the ordinary, unheralded emigrant, yet it is also very specific in its reference to a particular place and time. It is unusual in memorialising such a recent migration; many of those it is meant to memorialise are still alive.

    Cork Listening Posts

    Cork City Council

    The Listening Posts are an innovative use of oral history. The repeating voices of the posts are like ghostly presences inhabiting the quays.

    This monument is different from the others in its visual minimalism, as it would be impossible to tell from the appearance of the sculpture what it is meant to memorialise.

    Other monuments and memorials:

    • Irish Memorial, Philadelphia – Flickr
    • Famine monument, Cambridge, Massachusetts – Flickr
    • New Basin Canal Irish Memorial, New Orleans, Louisiana – Flickr
    • Famine memorial – Sydney, Australia – Flickr
    • New Basin Canal Irish Memorial – Flickr
    • Irish Veteran Memorial Project – website
    • Shot at Dawn Memorial – Flickr

    International – monuments crated by other nations to commemorate various migrations

    • Emigration Stone – Cromarty, Scotland – Flickr
    • Emigration monument, Hanko, Finland – Flickr
    • Monleone, Cicagna, Italy – Flickr
    • Emigrant’s Monument, Feltre – Flickr
    • Garden of Exile – Berlin Flickr, web, Flickr, Youtube
    • Monument of mass emigration, The Three Changjiang River Gorges, China – Flickr
    • Chinese coolie, Singapore – Flickr
    • Lampedusa, Italy – monument to migrants who died at sea trying to reach Europe – web article, Flickr
    • Migrant children, Fremantle, Australia – Flickr, more Flickr

    UNESCO – Migration and World Heritage Sites

    Surfing film highlights Irish role in origins of sport

    Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

    The role of Irish-American George Freeth in establishing the modern sport of surf-boarding is explored in a film now playing in movie theatres. Waveriders tells the story of Freeth, who had a Hawaiian mother and an Irish father. He brought the sport of surfing from Hawaii, where it had nearly been eliminated by missionaries, to California, where he initiated a revival of the sport. Freeth also set up the first lifeguard unit in California and introduced the sport of water polo to the state.

    The film, which won the audience award at the Dublin International Film Festival, also highlights the role of Irish-Americans in establishing the sport in Ireland.

    Related sites:

    Film highlights Irish immigration to English town

    Monday, March 30th, 2009

    Two filmmakers in South Tyneside, England, have made a documentary about the impact of immigration into the town of Jarrow.

    Director Gary Wilkinson and playwright Tom Kelly created “Little Ireland” using archive material, photographs and interviews with descendants of Irish immigrants.

    The 40-minute film has been an instant success at home, selling out two screenings in South Shields earlier this month.

    The pair are now trying to interest Irish film festivals, and have sent out copies to film festivals in Dublin, Belfast, Waterford and Cork.
    The film is available from the South Shields Central Library for £10.

    See related web pages:

    Will Irish-language fashions appeal to emigrants?

    Monday, March 9th, 2009

    Will an upturn in emigration change Irish fashion?  Two English-born, Galway-based sisters believe that it may, according to an article in the Sunday Business Post.

    Theresa and Mary McGovern have launched a website featuring t-shirts with slogans in Irish. The pair moved to Ireland as children when their Cavan-born parents made the move home. Mary had worked in London for eight years before moving to Galway, where she and her sister opened a boutique called Pagan. They began designing t-shirts and hoodies with Irish language slogans, and have now decided to take their business global through a website at, which launches on Tuesday.

    The pair believe that the clothing line’s celebration of a uniquely Irish style may give them an edge in today’s economic climate. “We hope to grow through the recession with our online business. We think emigration will make people more aware and proud of their cultural identity,” Theresa told the newspaper.

    She added, “Our customers have found it a conversation-starter as far away as Tokyo, New York and Sydney.”

    Related websites:

    Exhibition on Irish men’s experience in Britain to tour Spain and US

    Monday, March 9th, 2009

    An art exhibition exploring the experience of male Irish immigrants to Britain in the 20th Century is premiering at PM Gallery in West London this month before it goes on an international tour.

    The Quiet Men is the work of five artists drawing on their own lives to depict the London-Irish experience: Bernard Canavan, Daniel Carmody, John Duffin, Dermot Holland and Brian Whelan.

    From the gallery’s press release:

    Each featured artist is an immigrant, or child of immigrants, from Ireland. This immigrant status informs the work, which observes the margins of society and is full of stories, humour and tragedy. The church and pub appear, as do the launderette, bus and train. The theme of the journey is often present in the songs, toasts, poems and prayers of the immigrant and the artists do not stray far from the vehicles that brought them to the city and might take them away again.

    Exhibition curator and featured artist Brian Whelan says,

    ‘Irish music, literature, poetry and dance are celebrated all over the world. However, when asked to bring to mind Irish paintings, sculpture or architecture or to name an artist, many will have difficulty as very few have been celebrated outside Ireland. One reason for this may be that a people that experienced famine, war, economic hardship and mass immigration, carried only their portable culture with them in their heads, hearts and suitcases. Poems and songs have few requirements short of a good memory or the ability to carry a tune, whereas painting, sculpture and architecture are less portable and need peace, prosperity and time in order to flourish.’

    The exhibition will run from 11 March to 18 April at the PM Gallery, before it goes to Spain, Philadelphia and Chicago.

    Complementing the exhibition is a photographic exhibition, “Irish Londoners 1950-1975”, which chronicles the lives of the London Irish after the Second World War. The photographs are from the Paddy Fahey Collection at Bernt Archive.
    See more information at the PM Gallery’s website.

    Emigrant writer inhabits “Ireland of the mind”, says poet

    Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

    Irish-born, British-based poet David Wheatley has been featured in The Age, an Australian publication, speaking about his poetic life. The occasion was his winning of The Vincent Buckley Prize, which commemorates the late professor of English at the University of Melbourne; the prize allows alternate Irish and Australian winners to spend time in the other country.

    David Wheatley, who currently lives and teaches in Hull, says that he has recently in his poetry been drawn to themes of movement and migration.

    “Irish poetry may seem a lot more globalised today than in the 1970s, but emigration and diaspora have always been at the centre of Irish identity anyway. Vincent Buckley is a good example. To someone of my generation, his book Memory Ireland is, at first glance, a strange and even shocking kind of document.

    He visits Ireland during the IRA hunger strikes of the 1980s, and can’t understand why Irish poets aren’t writing poems in praise of the hunger strikers. I remember this striking me as incredibly out of touch with political reality.”

    But having lived out of Ireland myself for almost a decade I can now appreciate better how the emigrant writer inhabits an Ireland of the mind, for better or worse, and it can be too easy and smug not to take that into account.”

    But although the emigrant writer inhabits an Ireland of the mind, he refuses to be limited in his consideration of the world around him:

    A lot of Irish writers, particularly the ones who live in the US, leave home only to have a kind of born-again discovery of their Irishness,” he says. “I’d like to think I’m more interested in discovering the places I go to in their own right, and hereby authorise anyone in Australia who finds me in a state of born-again Irishness to put me on the first banana boat home.”

    Read the entire article on The Age website.

    Read more about the Vincent Buckley Prize.

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