The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration

The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration

The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration

The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration

Synopsis

Many thousands of Irish peasants fled from the country in the terrible famine winter of 1847-48, following the road to the ports and the Liverpool ferries to make the dangerous passage across the Atlantic. The human toll of "Black '47," the worst year of the famine, is notorious, but the lives of the emigrants themselves have remained largely hidden, untold because of their previous obscurity and deep poverty. In The End of Hidden Ireland, Scally brings their lives to light. Focusing on the townland of Ballykilcline in Roscommon, Scally offers a richly detailed portrait of Irish rural life on the eve of the catastrophe. From their internal lives and values, to their violent conflict with the English Crown, from rent strikes to the potato blight, he takes the emigrants on each stage of their journey out of Ireland to New York. Along the way, he offers rare insights into the character and mentality of the immigrants as they arrived in America in their millions during the famine years. Hailed as a distinguished work of social history, this book also is a tale of adventure and human survival, one that does justice to a tragic generation with sympathy but without sentiment.

Excerpt

Of all the changes experienced by European peoples in the nineteenth century, none was more profound or more widely felt than migration. Whether it was merely a few miles from village to town or a journey across great oceans, its effects were usually irreversible, distancing minds as well as bodies from the past. in the century before 1914 alone, some forty million individuals crossed the Atlantic, the greatest movement of peoples since the dawn of civilization and an event comparable in its human effects to any of the great wars or revolutions of the modern era. While Irish emigrants did not make up the largest part of this movement, no other country lost a larger part of its population to it or was altered more profoundly by the loss. Nearly a million had already left Ireland before 1845 and in the terrible decade that followed the country sent out a quarter of those remaining, more than two million emigrants. Added to those who died of the hunger and its companion diseases, the slightly more than eight million people of old Ireland were reduced by almost half. Thereafter, tens of thousands followed every year, until the ritual of mourning the departed in the "American wake" became as familiar a part of life as burying the dead.

The narrative that follows describes a minute part of this historic movement. It is based mainly on the experience of the townland of Ballykilcline, a community of small farmers and laborers living on an obscure estate in the Irish midlands near the provincial market town of Strokestown, County Roscommon. Such a community as Ballykilcline was known as a baile in the Irish language and so it was called by its people, becoming the common prefix "bally" in English maps and surveys. But by the nineteenth century the general usage in English, both for the community and the surveyed unit of land in which it lived, was the "townland." Hence, this Roscommon community was known as the townland of Ballykilcline.

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