Irish Immigrant Ancestors: Who, What, When, Where and Why?
Review of my previous post: The reader was informed about Irish immigrants in the Thirteen Colonies and from where the Irish immigrants in the southern colonies came. I defined an indentured servant and explained conditions under which they lived.
It is my opinion that the greatest pressure that brought the increased numbers of Irish to America from the mid sixteen to the nineteen-hundreds was the unrelenting governance policies of the English. It started with the monarchs before 1300, but the Kings Henry, ancestors of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I set a pattern of brutality in their unsuccessful attempts to eradicate all Irish Catholics from Ireland. By the time Oliver Cromwell began his propaganda-riddled military campaign over Ireland shortly after the 1641 Irish Rebellion, the Irish had been nearly driven completely out of Ulster and Dublin (an English-designated area called the Pale). Eventually, less than 5% of the native Irish of Ulster owned their own land, the rest having been stolen and handed over to English in a system called plantations.
From 1625 – 1649, King Charles I, a Catholic Scot Stuart, had brought hope to the Irish. It was during his reign that the Irish (Catholic) Rebellion began in 1641 and the Confederate Wars were ushered in. The Irish Rebellion was initiated by the sons of chieftains and the sons of less powerful families after Irish “earls” were driven out of Ireland. Those left behind had tasked themselves to carry on the burden. Leaders included Felim O’Neill, sons of the Maguire, McMahon, Barry clans and others. Their first target was reclaiming Dublin, but they were sabotaged. Frustration and failure immediately led to uprisings among the Ulster Catholics who “took charge” on their own. There were attacks and counter offenses between the tenants and Scottish and English colonizers.
During this time, Charles was distracted by the English Civil War, in which General Cromwell proved highly successful against the King. Cromwell achieved his goal when he finally disrupted the Stuart royal succession by killing Charles I in 1649. This allowed Cromwell and English parliament to finish their work of Irish Catholic extinction in Ireland. A fervent Puritan, Cromwell was fueled by massive anti-Catholic misinformation about supposed mutilations of Protestants. Cromwell dominated the English government and entered Ireland shortly after the execution. He spent less than a year in Ireland but was the only “conqueror” of Ireland who almost brought total destruction to the Irish. He massacred ~ 3,500 Irish in Drogheda, destroyed monasteries (of which there was nearly one in each township), expelled Catholic priests then hanged those who had not yet left, and formed a large Irish Protestant Army that smashed the newly-formed Catholic Irish Army with cannons and cavalry.
The Penal Laws.
Cromwell’s policies against the Irish evolved into a set of “Penal Laws” (Laws designed to brutally punish Catholics). The laws were similar to the legislation that Hitler enforced against the Jews. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/antisemitic-legislation-1933-1939
The Penal Laws were passed between 1695 and 1707.[i] They were ushered into being in 1690 when William of Orange (King William) who, through the Battle of the Boyne, won control over the Catholic King James II in what is now called UK. Catholic clergy were banned.[ii] Hundreds just “disappeared”.
Not unlike the degradation of the Jews in the Holocaust, Catholics could not buy land, vote, practice law, own a business (though they could remain physicians), or marry Protestants. They were also forced to pay tithes to the Anglican church, called the Church of Ireland. Clergy were removed and the nicer Catholic churches were actually converted into Protestant Church of England style buildings. (See picture.)
With English rule, Catholics were squeezed and purged from every direction: religiously, financially, socially, and personally. This is the period when descendants of the old Irish aristocracy began to emigrate. A descendant of the powerful Bourke family came to Virginia very early on. Numerous family members had fought in the Rebellion with the Catholics and were vulnerable. Those who wanted to preserve wealth came here once they realized that staying would result in losing everything.
Persons with professions and with enough resources to start over came in increased numbers in the 1700’s. This included teachers, lawyers, newspaper editors, writers, philosophers, and doctors. Catholic monks fled into the mountains and onto islands of Ireland, but most priests went to the continent. In American newspaper articles these earlier immigrants were not generally disparaged as were the poorer, starving, and uneducated who came later (especially in the mid-1800’s). However, sentiments of the reformation still stoked Protestant hatred of Catholics for many centuries here and in the UK.
Like Puritans and the Anabaptists, the Irish sought religious freedom—especially when they were also hungry. All expelled by Cromwell were Catholic. If they were not killed or expelled, and they did not convert to the Protestant Anglican Church of Ireland, they paid for it in many ways. There were few options to avoid the problem. Those with some wealth did better than others.
My McManus ancestors from County Down were linen merchants. To retain their merchant status and property, like others, they joined the Church of Ireland as required. It is what Marianne Elliott in her book (see my first post) says the mother of the family called the “religion of convenience.” The McManus family in Newry, Down, still attended Catholic Mass and quietly had their children baptized in their Catholic Parish of Clonallon. However, they paid tithes to the Church of Ireland and attended the required number of religious services per year to retain their membership. They were “passive resistant” as were the people of India in their struggle for independence against England.
When succeeding generations emigrated to the United States during the potato famine, the McManus family left from County Cork on the opposite, southern end of Ireland from Newry. While there they paid for civil baptisms for their children. It is believed that their children could then inherit their parents’ property because, if anything happened to the parents, the children would be “covered” because of their baptisms in the civil ceremony whereas, their Catholic baptisms were of no legal value. They jumped hoops as necessary, but neither did they openly rebel nor “spiritually” convert.
Loss of land.
The English Plantationers (my word) and later, the Scots freeholders (Scots who owned enough land to vote) had been charged with the task of turning Ireland into a “grocery store” for crowded England. England was running out of farmland so they began to press and subjugate Ireland into a Protestant British colony. Consequently, the Irish were becoming that submerged end of the iceberg mentioned in Karl Bottingheimer’s book. (See my first post.)
Over time, the Irish had been driven from their land or forced by law to divide their property into four parcels, three of which they had to sell. They then paid rent on parcels which they might have previously owned and needed for grazing cattle, etc. They were not large farmers. They were subsistence farmers who lived in family groups, dependent on their land to stay alive. In the seventeenth century those who had owned more than a few acres of land nearly disappeared. Only a handful of Irish Catholics of Ulster owned land by the time the 1700’s arrived.[iii]
Side Note: Before he died, my father admonished my mother to “never sell the farm.” I think most Irish from my generation whose parents were farmers of any size would still understand the intensity of the cultural need to possess a place where the family could be self-sustained. In the 1950’s he would remind us that we could live through a “famine” with our land and livestock. That word “famine” was well engrained into my father’s Irish psyche. In Mary Quigley’s Da, you will learn that my father’s mother experienced hunger on her childhood farm, so the first generation of Irish children born in America were acquainted with the fear of starving as well as their parents.
An intense movie entitled The Field was available on YouTube, but now it might have to be streamed. I highly recommend seeing it if you want to pick up on the Irish immigrant passion about their land that was taken. Richard Harris received an Oscar nomination for his role as the farmer. John Hurt is also in it.
As I wrote in Mary Quigley’s Da, I felt the pain my failing great grandfather felt in Missouri at the impending loss of their farm. It was, for his Irish family, one of the shameful consequences of his circumstances, but not the worst. Unfortunately, he found the wrong way out.
The Druids were an interesting and somewhat mysterious association of priests and priestesses who were Celts and influenced every aspect of the Irish culture.[iv] They migrated to Ireland and Northern England sometime in B.C. and were an oral culture, so the only writing that reveals their history was written by the Romans (Julius Caesar) who despised them. They were highly religious and were considered the most intellectual and learned culture on earth. They studied for twenty years before arriving at the highest level of Brehon law. They practiced medicine that is still practiced today. They had hospitals and universities, and it is believed that the native Irish are their descendants. Many of the Druid traditions were present when St. Patrick proselytized for the new Christianity in Ireland. In the 400’s he saw and commented positively on many of the Druid traditions, though his aim was to redirect the old magic, myth, and legends into Catholicism.
The Irish and the Catholic Church prized education next to faith and family, so they, like the Scots were literate and developed unique writing skills very early. The Book of Kells (c.800 AD), believed to have originated on the Isle of Iona (Scotland), but taken to the Abbey of Kells (Meath) is an example. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells It reveals the genealogy of Christ.
If you have read How the Irish Saved Civilization,[v]you have a sense of how important literacy and reading books have been to the Irish. They rebelled against the book banning during the growth of Protestantism/the Reformation, lamenting the loss of knowledge. Therefore, Irish monks carried important books of literature, science, mathematics, poetry, history, and religion into Ireland where they copied, preserved, and often buried them. For centuries, the Irish protected knowledge and documents from Reformation and Viking assaults. They were persistent in this regard.
By the 1720’s, Irish Children attended what was called “hedge schools.” It was said that they hid in hedges and then dashed off into barns and private homes. The Presbyterian Scots, who also highly prized education, did likewise as their schools were also shut down in Ireland by Cromwell. In the hedge school Irish children could learn Latin, Greek, Hebrew, English, science, math, poetry and writing. They had favorite folk stories in small paper books. The smartest boys were sent to London, Salamanca, Rome and other places on the continent to study further. They became priests and higher-level clergy and some returned to Ireland and continued to provide an exceptional hedge-school education to those whose parents could afford to let them attend. I do not know about the girls going abroad to universities. Because they could not become priests, I doubt that they did. However, after 1800, there were eventually plenty of Irish nuns who were highly educated, most having careers as teachers or nurses.
English schools in Ireland provided religious indoctrination and taught trades. The Irish considered English schools inferior—far below the standard of the illegal Irish and Scottish schools. Only Irish who had converted to the Anglican faith could send their children to the English school, but they did not necessarily do so. A child who left an English school wouldn’t necessarily know how to read (outside of memorizing scriptures), write, or do math, but if they stayed long enough, they could become apprenticed to leatherworkers, tailors, coopers and other tradesmen.
The Penal Laws eventually closed Scottish Presbyterian churches as well as schools. The Presbyterian clergy could not officiate over weddings or funerals. Their marriages were not recognized. Surely, the Scottish Presbyterians would have seen no future for themselves in Ireland, and would have had great empathy for their Irish Catholic tenants and neighbors.
This evolved amidst a Scottish Enlightenment led by David Hume, a world renowned philosopher, historian, economist, scientist, and writer who wrote a six-volume history of England and “A Treatise of Human Nature.” As the Scots in Ireland were being treated with draconian behaviors, Hume was in Scotland developing his essays on human understanding through the philosophies of skepticism, naturalism, and empiricism. He was an intellectual peer associated with Adam Smith, architect, who was the builder of a new Galway through newly introduced concepts of architecture. The Scots were being admired around the world by scientists and great thinkers like Immanuel Kant (German philosopher and a leader among Enlightenment thinkers around the world.) While my own family of Scotts and their peers were “moving and shaking” with the literati, and changing the world, England was busy extinguishing Irish Catholics and their sympathizers.
Side Note: One of my Scott ancestors, the 18-year-old Duke of Buccleuch was one of the wealthiest persons in Scotland. As was the tradition, he paid Adam Smith (Scott’s tutor) to escort him through Europe for a year. The first assignment Smith gave to the young Duke was to read Hume’s history of England. The Duke was quiet and shy, but took to the works of Hume. In the process, he gave Adam Smith the money that was necessary for him to write his famous Inquiry into the “Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.”[vi]
In London, a young architect named Bullfinch studied with Smith. It was Smith’s ideas incorporating Greek revival and Federal style that Bullfinch took to George Washington to use at Monticello. I do not know if the Duke of Buccleuch was in touch with his cousin, Dr. Moses Scott, who was a good friend and fellow soldier of George Washington when they were young men. However, Col. Joseph Warren, son of Moses, eventually owned Buccleuch Mansion, today a museum. It was a house of family, entertainment, and discourse for American leaders of the day, including George Washington and Scott’s fellows at Princeton.
The Scottish elite were looking toward the events of the American Revolution and inspiring the Scots-Irish of Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas in building a new nation with Scottish ideas. The Declaration of Independence from England came out of a group of Scots-Irish from Mecklenburg County in North Carolina in 1775. It was a Scots-Irish enlightenment document that would change the world’s political thinking through an eventual rewrite of America’s Declaration of Independence by Jefferson.
Side Note: Jefferson sat in the home of one of my 4th great granduncles (Samuel Finley, President of Princeton University) and discussed with Jefferson the words “pursuit of happiness” from a Scottish Covenanter’s point of view. Washington hated Finley’s austere, cold house and returned to his beautiful home to finish his work, but not without that “tutorial” by a Scots-Irish in regard to language and how it related to Presbyterian thought.
Where is this common-sense idea, today, of developing brilliant new ideas to solve age-old problems? It seems completely missing in Conservative thought. They go back to ideas that didn’t work the first time or may have been immoral (e.g. purposefully suppressing the vote by people of color). Our Scots-Irish immigrants believed that the cause of Revolution is when people or civilizations move forward and their government doesn’t move with them.
Food depravation and hunger.
“For much of Ireland’s history, much of the population lived on the knife-edge of hunger.”[vii]
Regardless of its stunning beauty, Ireland is an island and, like every other place on earth, not geologically designed for over-population. It started out as forested land and bogs that are situated near small areas of arable land that are generally valleys below mountains. Each of these small plantable areas was a lordship, “kingdom”, or the special domain of a chieftain. Most of the family heads within the land parcels took up warring as a way of life. There was fierce competition over land and when they fought, they raided each other’s cattle, stole each other’s women, and rarely found peace among themselves. When they did, it didn’t last long because there was a lot of “throwing in” within allies. Thus, a village or townland might find itself in the way of a new bully.
Cattle were their wealth. Therefore, they were only eaten on special occasions or for the “elite” of the clan, for example, the bard or lawyer. Cows were, however, milked. The basic diet for the average person was oatcakes, milk, curds, butter, and cheese. It was said by the English that the Irish ingested milk fifty different ways.
People in the tillable regions ate some breads, soups made from cereals, peas, and beans. The potato did not arrive until 1610, but they were not essential to the diet until the mid-1700’s. From B.C. days through the 1700’s, winter was referred to as the “hungry time” because it arrived every year. Once the grain harvest was gone there was very little food until the next harvest. It also made it easier for a warrior to starve out his victims. When the Irish were on the verge of starving, they “bled” their cattle and mixed it with milk.
There were seven different Irish famines that killed thousands.[viii] Records from 400 tell of a famine that affected all of Western Europe. In 1315 there was a famine (cause unknown) which was labeled The Great Famine. A 1600 volcanic eruption blocked the sun and caused a famine in which no crops grew. In 1816 there was also a Year Without Summer in Ireland. Unfortunately, there are examples of manmade famines that were thought to be unique to Ireland:
- From 1582 -83 The Earl of Desmond used crop destruction and foodstuffs destruction as a war tactic. Cattle raids and burning corn fields, however, this same tactic had been used from the time of Brian Boru, high king of Ireland from 1002-1014. It was common to surround a town or castle, isolated by moats or high stone walls, and starve those within.
- In 1600’s, High O’Neill waged guerilla warfare against the English and their allies who were local lords or Gallowglasses. He ruined food to starve them off the island. It did not work, but it killed a lot of people. (Gallowglasses were Scottish mercenaries hired by chieftains. They settled in the farthest northern region of Ireland and were sometimes solicited for help by the monarchy.)
By the time The Great Hunger, aka the Potato Famine arrived, 40% of the Irish were dependent on charity for nutrition, as they didn’t have enough land or other resources to feed themselves. Of course, the policy and laws imposed by the English forced the Irish into their condition in the 1800’s.
War and conflict.
In addition to wars and attacks on the Irish caused by Irish Kings, Chieftains, Barons, and Lords; by invading Northmen plundering silver and gold; and by Reformation-fueled, competing English and Scottish colonists, the Irish occasionally decided they weren’t going to take “it” anymore. The following is a list of Irish Uprisings in the Modern era.[ix]
1543 Silken Thomas Rebellion (Dublin) – organized by the FitzGeralds of Kildare
1569-73 and 1579-83 Desmond Rebellions – organized by the FitzGeralds of Desmond
(This guerilla saga of eight years ruined food crops and killed cattle on which families were obviously dependent in the counties of Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford, Limerick, Cork and Kerry.)
1594-1603 Nine Years’ War -organized by Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell and their clans.
1641 The Irish Rebellion – organized by Phelim O’Neill, Rory O’Moore, Connor Maguire, and Hugh Óg MacMahon
1642-52 Irish Confederate Wars (aka Eleven Years War) – organized by Irish Confederate Confederation
1798 Irish Rebellion of 1798 – organized by the Society of United Irishmen
1799-1803 Michael Dwyer’s Guerilla Campaign (County Wicklow)– Society of United Irishmen
1803 Irish Rebellion of 1803 – Society of United Irishmen
1848 Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 – Young Ireland
(Not only were the Irish in the throes of famine, but they were in a rebellion.)
1867 Fenian Rising – Fenian Brotherhood
(From 1866-85) the Fenian Brotherhood carried out “raids” in Canada and Great Britain.)
1882-83 The Invincibles’ Assassinations – Irish National Invincibles
(Assassinations were carried out in Dublin and Cape Town So. Africa)
Remember, this does not include the battles, invasions, raids, and monastery/Catholic church sackings implemented by the English or Scottish lords or freeholders and territorial land barons who carried on their own campaigns (for example Hamilton, a Scottish baron, who destroyed the monastery in Sligo in the 1600’s).[x]
Example of a typical conflict between Irish factions incited by the English:
In 1599, the English Earl of Essex sent 17,000 troops to squash a rebellion in west Roscommon led by Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell. The battle started at Colloney Castle where O’Donnell met his enemy, Sir Donough O’Connor. O’Conner was being egged on by the English to battle O’Neill to recapture lost land near Sligo. The English promised O’Connor assistance, but 17,000 English would be there to finally capture O’Neill. O’Donnell’s surprise at the castle was to send in 2,000 Irish rebels who would starve O’Connor out. The Irish, however, eventually attacked the English at Curlew Pass, near Boyle. The English were ill prepared and surprised by the Irish—who had been well-fed before the battle, and the Irish “won”. However, this English warfare against chieftains continued for nine years.
Perspective is also gained by realizing that all the above battles happened on an island slightly larger than the western half of Washington State. None of these uprisings by themselves worked to liberate the Irish Catholics. However, through the accumulative effect of rarely giving in to the enemy, Ireland finally gained its independence in 1927, with the concession of losing the most fertile land of Ulster to the United Kingdom. Thus, tiny Ireland was severed into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, the Irish anger is still alive and well in some citizens.
[ii] John J. Burns Library’s Blog, “The Penal Laws in Ireland,” From John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College. Posted on October 22, 2018.https://johnjburnslibrary.wordpress.com/2018/10/22/the-penal-laws-in-ireland/#:~:text=The%20Penal%20Laws%20were%20established%20in%20Ireland%20in,throughout%20the%201690s%20and%20the%20early%2018th%20century. Accessed 17 July 2020.
[iii] Elliott, Marianne. The Catholics of Ulster. Chapter 4, “The Loss of the Land: Plantation and Confiscation in Seventeenth-Century Ulster.” New York: The Penguin Press, 2000.
[iv] Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1994.
[v] Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. New York: Random House, 1995.
[vi] Herman, Arthur. How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The true story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. New York: Broadway Books, 2021.
[vii] Dorney, John. The Irish Story, “War and Famine in Ireland, 1580-1700.” https://www.theirishstory.com/2012/01/03/war-and-famine-in-ireland-1580-1700/#.YpExsezMKSI Accessed 17 March 2022.
[ix] List of Irish Uprisings. https://www.liquisearch.com/list_of_irish_uprisings Accessed 12 October 2020.
[x] Hayes-McCoy, G.A. Irish Battles: A Military History of Ireland. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1969.