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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

    Primary documents

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    Archives of the Irish experience throughout the world can be found in destination countries, and some of these are online. These are useful for scholars but are also fun for just browsing around – there’s a host of gems here!


    Archive of the Irish in Britain


    Archives of Irish America – Includes several exhibitions, including an oral history project called “New York Stories?.

    Library of Congress Memory Project: Immigration


    The Shamrock and the Maple Leaf – an exhibition of Irish-Canadian documentary materials held by Library and Archives Canada

    Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience

    The Ships List – Comprehensive set of documents related to ships and the immigrant experience around the world.


    Australia: Convict Transportation database

    More on Irish convicts at Irish Convicts Transported to Australia

    Leaving from Liverpool – an excellent educational site highlighting the experience of migration to Australia through the port of Liverpool.

    Latin America

    Society for Irish Latin-American Studies

    Oral histories

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    There has been a wonderful trend in recent years of collecting emigrants’ oral histories. Many of those contributing their memories are elderly, and these books, films and websites are an invaluable record of the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people, many of whom have extraordinary stories. Know of any other oral history projects? Drop me a line or fill in the comment box…


    Irish Oral History Archivea reference archive and resource for the contemporary and historical spoken narratives of Irish people at home and abroad, especially as they relate to the story of emigration. Luton Irish Forum – a variety of individuals detail their moves to England

    I Only Came Over For a Couple of Years… 2005 – Interviews with Irish elders in England who arrived between the 1930s and 1960s. (Half-hour documentary, £7 plus postage and packaging)

    Irish Elders Now project

    Dunne, Catherine. An Unconsidered People: The Irish in London. Dublin: New Island, 2003 – a book detailing the experience of older emigrants.


    A story to be told: Personal Reflections on the Irish emigrant experience in Canada (book)

    Memories of the Past: Reflections from Ottawa’s Irish Drop-In group – a collection of memories and recipes

    United States

    Archives of Irish America – Interviews with a range of notable people in the New York Irish community, discussing their life history and sense of identity.

    When Mem’ry Brings Us Back Again – the stories of 35 people who moved to New York between 1927- 1964. Available as both book and DVD.

    An Irish (American) Story (film, 1997) – The 96-year-old grandmother of the filmmaker recalls her emigration as a 17-year-old in 1911.

    The Gathering: Collected Oral Histories of the Irish in Montana – Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, this project is based in the University of Montana.

    Irish Dance in Arizona – Tracing the history of Irish dance in the American southwest since 1942.

    Crossroads Irish Oral History Project Archives of the San Francisco Bay Area – Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the project looks at the Irish and Irish-American communities of the San Francisco Bay area.

    Molloy College – documenting the Irish of Long Island and the greater New York area.

    University of Notre Dame – Director of Notre Dame’s Department of Anthropology Deb Rotman is working on a developing an online archive of Irish-American oral histories.


    The National Library of Australia – has a number of Irish-related recordings in its oral history catalog.

    New Zealand

    National Library of New Zealand – has several oral history collections; contact them for Irish-related materials.

    Global and Irish-based

    GAA Oral History Project – recording what the GAA has meant to the Irish people, in their own words.

    Breaking the Silence: Staying at home in an emigrant society – examines the impact of emigration on those who stayed through 78 oral narratives and 12 text contributions.

    Returning to Ireland

    Narratives of Migration and Return – Stories of returning emigrants

    Coming Home: “Stories of young men and women who left Ireland and, after many years in exile, closed the circle of emigration by coming home again? – produced by the Safe Home project – also see their True Lives page.

    Emigration-related heritage centers

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    There are several heritage centres around Ireland with an emigration-related theme. Here are a few:

    Jeannie Johnston

    On-board museum highlighting the ship’s 16 voyages to America, in which the ship never lost any of its 2,500 passengers. Purchased as a cargo ship in 1848 by a Tralee merchant, it was used to transport emigrants over the next seven years.

    Cobh Heritage Centre, Cork

    Museum tells the story of the port of Cobh, the single most important point of embarkation and the 2.5 million people who departed there between 1848 and 1950.

    Ulster-American Folk Park, Tyrone

    Open-air, living-history museum telling the story of emigration from Ulster to America in the 18th and 19th centuries.

    Dunbrody Emigrant Ship, Wexford:

    Replica of three-masted barque built in Quebec that carried emigrants to New World from 1845 to 1870.

    For more information on emigration-related cultural institutions around the world, see UNESCO’s Migration Institution’s website.

    New books published: “After the Flood” on post-war Irish America, “Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and its Diaspora”

    Friday, July 17th, 2009

    Two books published this week will surely be of interest to scholars of the Irish diaspora.

    “After the Flood: Irish America 1945-1960”, edited by James Silas Rogers and Matthew J. O’Brien, takes a fresh look at the Irish-American experience during the post-war period. The publishers say:

    The essays in this volume examine diverse aspects of the Irish-American community during the postwar years and cover both the immigrant community within the US – which witnessed a surge in immigration from Ireland – and the subsequent expressions of an Irish identity among later generation ethnics. Essays consider both social and political history, such as ethnic anti-communism and American responses to Partition, and significant representations of Irish life in popular culture, such as The Last Hurrah (1956) or The Quiet Man (1952). The study shows that the Irish-American community was lively and, in many ways, dissimilar from “mainstream” American life in this period. The supposedly deracinated descendants of earlier immigrants were nonetheless well aware that the larger culture perceived something distinctive about being Irish, and throughout this period they actively sought to define – often in deflected ways – just what that distinctiveness could mean.

    “The Musical Traditions of Northern Ireland and its Diaspora: Community and Conflict” is as much about the North’s cultural dynamics as it is about the music itself. From the publishers:

    For at least two centuries, and arguably much longer, Ireland has exerted an important influence on the development of the traditional, popular and art musics of other regions, and in particular those of Britain and the United States. During the past decade or so, the traditional musics of the so-called Celtic regions have become a focus of international interest. The phenomenal success of shows such as Riverdance (which appeared in 1995, spawned from a 1994 Eurovision Song Contest interval act) brought Irish music and dance to a global audience and played a part in the further commoditization of Irish culture, including traditional music.

    However, there has up to now been relatively little serious musicological study of the traditional music of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland remains a divided community in which traditional culture, in all its manifestations, is widely understood as a marker of religious affiliation and ethnic identity. Since the outbreak of the most recent ‘troubles’ around 1968, the borders between the communities have often been marked by music. For example, many in the Catholic, nationalist community, regard the music of Orange flute bands and Lambeg drums as a source of intimidation. Equally many in the Protestant community have distanced themselves from Irish music as coming from a different ethnic tradition, and some have rejected tunes, styles and even instruments because of their association with the Catholic community and the Irish Republic. Of course, during the same period many other Protestants and Catholics have continued to perform in an apolitical context and often together, what in earlier times would simply have been regarded as folk or country music.

    With the increasing espousal of a discrete Ulster Scots tradition since the signing of the Belfast (or ‘Good Friday’) Agreement in 1998, the characteristics of the traditional music performed in Northern Ireland, and the place of Protestant musicians within popular Irish culture, clearly require a more thoroughgoing analysis. David Cooper’s book provides such analysis, as well as ethnographic and ethnomusicological studies of a group of traditional musicians from County Antrim. In particular, the book offers a consideration of the cultural dynamics of Northern Ireland with respect to traditional music.

    For more information:

    NY Irish centre gets government green light

    Monday, June 22nd, 2009

    An Irish centre that would encompass arts, cultural and business matters in New York City will go ahead, according to an article in the Irish Echo. The center has been a matter of discussion for many years, with Gabriel Byrne spearheading the publicity drive.

    The Irish goverment’s commitment to the centre was confirmed by Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen. He said the government would give 170,000 to the centre for an initial planning phase; the centre will ultimately cost as much as $30 million. Cullen noted that the planning process would take a number of years and that by the time it was ready to build he hoped that an upbeat economy would ease funding.

    The newspaper quoted from its interview with Gabriel Byrne last summer, in which Byrne described his vision for the centre:

    “A new center would encourage not just the importation of current Irish culture, and diverse current Irish culture, but would encourage the development of a unique Irish American cultural voice, this while we would have the place to do it which is also a business center, where people from Ireland could come in and do business, where Irish people could get together socially,” was how Byrne described the proposed center.

    “Of course it’s a sensitive time economically to be asking for money. But this is the best time to invest, not just in this notion of an Irish identity and culture, but in the brand of Ireland.

    “It just needs a commitment from the Irish government to support this. The government are behind it, in theory. It just needs that final push to make it happen. You really have to envision it as a temple on the hill. We would have to make a place of welcome, not just for Irish Americans. It would reach out to all cultures, a place of light and welcome,” Byrne said at the time.

    Read the article in the Irish Echo: Center’s a go

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