In Search of the 1490: Tracking Irish Famine Immigration in British North America

Mark G. McGowan, University of Toronto

In 1847, Major Denis Mahon, the landlord of the Strokestown Estate in County Roscommon, Ireland, decided that the most efficient way to relieve the stress placed upon his tenants by the potato famine was to ship hundreds of them to Canada. That summer approximately 1,490 tenants from the estate travelled 155 kilometres by foot from Strokestown to Dublin, then boarded ferries to Liverpool, at which point they set sail for Canada on board four chartered vessels (Erin’s Queen, John Munn, Naomi, Virginius). It is estimated that half of the migrants died either on route or in the quarantine stations at Grosse Ile and Montreal. Researchers at Maynooth University in Ireland have compiled a data base derived from the records of the Strokestown Estate, which offers a portrait of those who left Ireland in 1847, but little more. This project examines what happened to those 274 families as they crossed the Atlantic, sojourned in quarantine stations, and eventually journeyed to the interior of the continent. By use of Canadian archives and the routinely generated records of the period (census, tax assessments, orphanage records, Church records, emigrant agents’ papers, travel vouchers, canal records) and contemporary newspapers, this study reconstructs the story of the Strokestown migrants as they created new lives for themselves in North America. It is a story that underscores emigrant agency in the manner in which they found work, built homes, and, in some cases, attempt to recreate their former lives, but in a new setting.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 99. How the Famine Irish Immigrants Adapted to Mid-19th Century North America