In 1827, a family from a county about which no songs are sung, left Ireland for a better life. Their departure predated the Great Famine by 20 years. What had compelled a father to pay £3 10′ per person passage for “four persons above 12 and four children under 12″ to cross the Atlantic to a unknown wilderness?
That small sept of immigrants were Protestants, and Ireland was an English territory. Yet when that man and his descendants completed Canadian census after census for nearly a hundred years, they declared they were of the Irish race, never English.
That is until one descendant was adopted by a kind woman named Campbell, causing his branch of that Irish family to believe their roots were in Scotland. Recently the truth was uncovered and our identity revisited – a very personal version of Who do You Think You are?
Last Saturday, in the Local History room of my public library I believe I found the answer to the puzzle. Our forefather was 65 years old when he left Ireland. That is equivalent to about 80 years of age these days. When his son Martin – from whom we are descended – was born the Napoleonic War was raging. When the war ended the price 0f grain plummeted, farm rents remained high.
Conditions worsened. Factories closed. Surplus crops were left to rot. Unemployment was rampant. Ireland’s population density was the highest in Europe. Rioting was an everyday occurence. By 1821, only six counties in Ireland had a solvent bank. Nothing was too big to fail.
In 1827, my ancestors were among the 20,000 Irish emigrants who emigrated to North America. Stripped of religion and politics – age old Irish bones of contention – their motivation was simple and universal – survival.
If he had remained in his homeland, I would be facing the same troubles: failing banks, devaluation of real estate and joblessness. For in the 21st century Irish prosperity is, once again, short-lived. This time, however, there are no frontiers to welcome the determined. On this St. Patrick’s Day then, I remember that there but for fortune go I.