Irish Immigrant Ancestors: Who, What, When, Where and Why?
The 1798 Rebellion
As discussed in the fourth post regarding the pressures of perpetual conflict coupled with the suppression of rights and persecution by the English monarchy, the resulting Irish rebellions aided in pushing its citizens out of their country. After the Rebellion of 1798 the European continent, Australia, and the United States became the primary destinations of Irish refuges. Australia and the Caribbean colonies continued to be dumping grounds for widows and orphans, prisoners, and indentured servants. Emigrants fled to Irish relatives who had already emigrated and may have had some resources to help new arrivals. In spite of the hardships, they bragged up the freedom and economic opportunities in their new lands – unattainable back home,.
In Ireland, the 1798 rebellion was instigated by the Society of United Irishmen.[i] After the Confederate War, no longer were there powerful Lords, Chieftains, or “princes” among the Irish who had risen up. The traditional leaders were gone. In 1607 the English were successful in exiling Ireland’s strongest Earls, Hugh O’Neill and Rory O’Donnell, and ninety of their warrior supporters. Called the “Flight of the Earls,” they fled to the continent, seeking help from Spain to make a “come-back” that never happened. The aristocrats among those who fled eventually blended into western Europe from France to Rome.
Early on, the Catholic Bishops often played up to or attempted to placate the English in order to “win favor.” They were duped, too forgiving, and they caused the Irish Parliament to be dissolved, leaving the Irish completed without voice.
The Earls had left behind the poor, the Catholic clergy they had previously “propped up,” and struggling merchants. In their absence, the leaders were not the romantic Irish “nobility” or aristocrats with great power and wealth and often in the pockets of their “enemies”. It was their powerless sons and daughters and elderly parents, though the Irish peasant seldom lived past 40-some years. By the 1600’s most of the immense wealth among the native Irish, including the Maguire clan, had been expropriated or encroached on so that the previously rich and powerful Irish could no longer support their lifestyles.
It is interesting to note that due to primogeniture tradition (in which the first-born is the “rightful” inheritor of his father’s property) the youngest Protestant sons left behind also rebelled and “threw in” with the Catholic rebels. Those who had been loyalists turned. That was particularly true in the 1641 rebellion. The Butler son, who had been loyal to the monarchy and short-changed by his father, generously made the Butler Castle the headquarters of the Irish Rebellion.
In the 1798 Rebellion, the French fought in Ireland against the British and with the United Irishmen. Inspired by the French Revolution, Theobald Wolfe Tone became a United Irishmen leader who had met with Napoleon Bonaparte in seeking help in throwing out British governance in Ireland. Tone thoroughly believed that the Protestants and Catholics had to unite. Unfortunately, he was caught and sentenced to death. He was to be hanged, but died in prison (possibly of suicide, but under “unusual circumstances”), becoming a martyr. The irony is that Tone was a Protestant born in France whose family fled to England for religious freedom from Catholicism! He was, however “in tune” with revolutionaries, so his studies at Trinity University in Dublin no-doubt fired his enthusiasm.
As did all the others, the 1798 Rebellion ended in disaster. The native Irish had no government, no money, and no power through their church. It was the 1798 rebellion that ushered in the diaspora of the 1800’s that “hemorrhaged” ambitious and starving Irishmen. What was referred to as “waves” of immigrants was the seven-digit numbers of refuges about the globe.
Irish Immigrants from the Rebellion of 1798
In the local history, Pioneer Irish of Onondaga (About 1776-1847) by Theresa Bannan, the first chapter about the town of Salina discusses a family of Elizabeth Cronley Toole whose refugee grandfather was marked for death due to his participation in the 1798 Rebellion. He escaped with Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, Esq.; a Dr. McNevin, after whom Toole named a son; a Mr. Caldwell; and others [ii] All three men were professionals who were somewhat typical of Irish leadership that could have created an amazing Ireland. The result of these immigrants’ “second chance” was the establishment of the Irish Immigrant Society as well as successful businesses and thriving families of New York. We are lucky to have gotten them. As lawyers, doctors and other professionals, they used their skills and positions in the community to support the incoming immigrants.
Bannan’s book is a substantial account of Irish families who would not have been listed in the 1790 U.S Census of New York State. Onondaga is a county located in the center of the state where Syracuse is located, and where numbers of my own DNA Quigley clan from Tipperary settled via Nova Scotia –most of whom were professionals.. This was this limb of the family from which the noted Archbishop James Quigley sprouted.
The Onondaga book contains histories of families in twenty-two towns and has an excellent index containing about 3,072 names. Ms. Bannan saves a little space for “yarns” she heard in the process of gathering her information, which makes it more enriching.
From local histories like this, it is satisfying to hear about the successes these families were able to achieve after living their whole lives under oppression and persecution. Just getting proper and consistent nutrition must have been a tremendous improvement in their lives.
Of course, the fact that they finally had money in their pockets did not mean that the new immigrants left their families back home holding the bag. Their generosity and attention to the real issues provided conservatives of the day their ignorant rants against immigrants who were becoming more noticeable due to their numbers. An example is the following newspaper article that represents the “tome” for all times. The articles express many of the same ignorant arguments we hear today that were proven, in time, to be wrong.
An 1856 article from the Sunberry American (PA) states: “The provincial journals are daily announcing the return of numbers to the old country, all with money in their pockets.” Then it turns a little ugly with: “…….we ought not to undertake the difficulty of the task thus suddenly thrown upon our trans-Atlantic cousins. The Irish carried with them not only their rage, their dirt, their diseases, but, what was more serious, their unthrifty and slovenly habits, their turbulence, their love of combination on every pretense, and all that sets them at war with civilized society.”
Yet, the reported then weakens her own argument with: “It cannot be said that the immigration has been disastrous when railways have been carried into the heart of that vast continent, and new cities, ports, and even universities, have been raised out of the wilderness by the labor of Irish men, and when it is contested that without the Celt, nothing could have been done.” [iii] How can one condemn immigrants then go on to acknowledge the contributions they made?
Nevertheless, there is no question that the United States gives starving and enterprising immigrants entirely new lives that improve the lives of us all. This happens today, regardless of the stupidity of some of the people who report negative nonsense against those who ultimately uplift us.
From an article by Andrew O’Hehir, editor of Solon, I love this statement that describes the English policies:
“Ireland was the original colonized nation and was subjected to a near-genocidal conquest centuries before the Holocaust. It was where the policies of the British Empire were road-tested for use in India and Africa, and where a subject population stripped of property and political rights was then blamed for its own poverty.”
The flip side.
All of what I am accounting seems to make the Irish immigrant someone who was all good, justified in what was perceived to be “slovenly habits,” deserving, and highly above reproach. I wish that were true. Unfortunately, there was a reality. Many Irish arrived here debilitated by a country that had been devastated. Malnourished, depressed, uneducated, and sometimes broken, it took time for the common Irishman to establish and assimilate. They did so against a tide pf prejudice. Our politics helped them to develop a fervent racism. The church couldn’t keep them all from going to the bars to associate –which was part of their tradition. When I look among some of today’s descendants especially among greedy and power-seeking politicians, I find hypocrisy. It seems many forget where they’ve come from. [iv]
In my next post: I will continue the discussion on Irish immigration before the Potato Famine, will provide immigration data, and will introduce An Gorta Mór.
[i] McNamara, Robert. ThoughtCO. “Society of United Irishmen.” Updated 06 March 2017. https://www.thoughtco.com/society-of-united-irishmen-3956481 Accessed 19 June, 2019.
[ii] Bannan, Theresa. Pioneer Irish of Onondaga (About 1776-1847). New York: Alpha Editions, 2019. Pp 20 -22. Book originally published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911.
[iii] Sunberry American. Sunbury, Pennsylvania, “Return of the Irish to Ireland—Their Conduct and Fortune in America.” Reprinted from the London Times, December 29, 1856.
[iv] Andrew O’Hehir. “How did my fellow Irish-Americans get so disgusting?” Posted March 15, 2014 9:00 p.m. Salon.com. https://www.salon.com/2014/03/15/how_did_irish_americans_get_so_disgusting/ Accessed 25 August 2020.