In this episode we build a small part of the story of Irish immigration to the US and Canada through letters to and from Ireland and through women’s stories of their lives as they told them to family and friends. It’s a story of sadness, love, yearning for home, death, humor, and, ultimately for some, success.
- Mary McLean Walsh’s arrival in Quebec from Ireland in 1832 at the age of 16. She and her family land in the middle of an epidemic. The consequences are harrowing.
- Margaret McCarty’s letter home from New York City to her family in Ireland in 1850 when Margaret was 23. She writes about immigrants clustering in the big cities on the east coast and depressing wages. She recommends that her parents come if they can and gives guidance on what to bring on the journey, including cash to fund leaving the east coast and going into the interior of the country.
- Letters between Elizabeth and James Christey in 1846. He was in Minnesota building their homestead while she was in New York waiting with their children. She was 28 at the time.
- A letter from Michael and Mary Rush in Ireland to Mary’s parents in Quebec dated September 6, 1846. Michael and Mary are begging Mary’s parents to send money to get them out of Ireland. They are starving.
- A passionate letter from Hannah Curtis in Ireland to her brother John in Philadelphia begging and demanding that he keep his promise to get her and her family out of Ireland. The letter is dated April 21, 1847. Her anger is palpable.
- A sad, desperate letter from Mrs. Nolan in Ireland to her son Pat in Providence, RI. The letter is dated October 8, 1850. Mrs. Nolan and her younger son are starving. They pawned the furniture and moved out of their home with the expectation that money was coming to fund their flight to America. It has not arrived.
- A short, funny note from Celia Grimes in Flushing, NY to her family back in Ireland. The letter is dated June 12, 1869.
- A sad letter from Cathy Greene in Brooklyn to her mother in Ireland. She misses home and is filled with fear about her family. The letter is dated August 1, 1884.
- The story of Ann, an Irish cook. It recounts her 50+ years in the US, including the trip from Ireland, her years of working as a domestic servant and her family’s success in the US. Ann’s story was published in 1906 in an anthology titled, The Life Stories of Undistinguished Americans as Told by Themselves. The publisher was Hamilton Holt, the editor of the liberal New York newspaper, The Independent.
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