Monday, March 1, 2010

Ireland in 1830-1850

I visited Kilcumnin in 1984, with my grandmother, my family, and my aunt (my mom's sister) and her family. It was rustic and lovely.

I wonder what this town looked like when Anne was a girl. Ireland is a rainy country; today, County Mayo likely gets 250 days of rain a year, I guess it is safe to assume it rained a lot.

Kerby Miller explains that the Irish were communal in nature, with homes clustered near each other in family groups; farm land was divided amongst family members - meaning that each farm got smaller as the generations grew up. Nearly three fourths of the farms in County Mayo were less than six acres in size. My grandmother suggested that the Hoey farm was small given the taxes Nicholas paid.

The Irish along the Atlantic performed mainly subsistence farming; farmers grew what they needed to live and feed their families. Pigs were raised for money and I sense that farm animals roamed freely across land.

In the early nineteenth century, when Britain was busy with its own growing population, Ireland's economy enjoyed a customer -- the British had a need for Irish materials - textiles and oats. I am not sure how much prosperity Kilcumnin enjoyed in these years, but let's deduce it enjoyed some. The contrast the Famine brought must have been painful for the parents -- and add to that the reality that Nicholas lost his wife, Anne's mother, just before the Famine hit. The pain of those years must have been palpable.

I gather from my reading that when the potato famine hit, it hit the western areas of Ireland hard. Charity workers from Britain who came to Ireland to help during the late 1840s reported that one in four people they saw were near death. Stories of children digging in the dirt for food -- meaning turnip roots -- are common.

I can't decide what Anne took from Ireland - in terms of her visual or sensory memories. Miller's comments on the Irish immigrant to America and their feelings about the famine are so well said I quote ... the "Great Famine seared is survivors with vivid, imperishable memories." Did Anne have that feeling? Was she old enough to grasp the despair? Was she hungry many nights in Ireland? Did she remember those days as she grew older?

Or did Anne reflect back on her childhood and remember the beauty of Kilcumnin? Did she remember living near neighbors, possibly cousins, and sharing the work of farming with them ? Did she remember the proximity of the water, the abundance of rain, and hold her memories of home dear?

Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America,
by Kerby A. Miller (1985)
Miller's book is intelligent - I am having to reread things over and over !
It is also compassionate, with a humane view of the Irish and what their lives were like.

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