Over the next few weeks, we will go into all the details of emigration from Kerry in the 1800s. Who emigrated? Where did they mostly emigrate to? What ports did they sail from? What were the travel costs involved? Do we know the ages of the emigrants? Lists of names of those who travelled.
From the start of the nineteenth century, the population of Ireland rapidly increased, trebling between 1785 and 1841. From the early 1800s the landlords promoted the ‘clearance system’ so that they could consolidate their land holdings into extensive farms. Agents and landlords were starting to enforce the banning of sub-division of land which had been endemic particularly in Kerry. By 1835, tillage had also been abandoned in favour of pasture. If labourers could get work, the wages were miserably low. This lack of employment resulted, as Jeremiah King wrote in his History of Kerry, ‘During the first half of the nineteenth century, distress was the constant condition of the people of Kerry’.
Who then emigrated? Generally it was the strong, the able bodied who could not see a future for themselves, living hand to mouth, in miserable cabins and cottages. Mostly these would be considered as farm labourers, badly educated, possessing no skills but who were lucky enough to get passage money from relatives who had emigrated before them, generally to Canada or America. Young hardworking women travelled to get jobs as house or farm servants in the same countries. As well as these younger single people, entire families of a more comfortable class of farmers, left to start a new life where they felt there would be better opportunities for their children. These would have been tenant farmers, who sold up or were assisted to emigrate to enable their landlords to clear out unprofitable holdings.
In 1822, the British Government undertook an experimental emigration scheme to populate Upper Canada. This decision, as all decisions taken by the government had its own reasoning. Following the loss of the United States as a colony, the British were nervous of invasion into Canada from south of the border. Unable to maintain expensive garrisons of soldiers, they reckoned that having ‘loyal’ British subjects as settlers was a solution. The first such scheme was the Peter Robinson scheme when 200 people from Kerry, mostly from Ballylongford, Ballydonoghue, Listowel and Newtownsandes as well as Sneem and Cahirciveen, emigrated to Renfrew County in Eastern Ontario. These government sponsored emigrants were offered free passage and 70 acres of land at a rent of 2d (twopence) an acre to be paid every six months. This was a very successful scheme and much chain migration followed on from it. Our next blog will be devoted to the first emigrants on this scheme.
After the American War of Independence, the British authorities were anxious to supply colonies like Australia and New Zealand with a hard working labouring class, who could initially work as labourers, shepherds and drovers, going on to purchase and develop huge bush stations for themselves.
Bibliography: Jeremiah King, County Kerry Past and Present, (Cork 1986), Carol Bennet McCuaig, The Kerry Chain, (Ontario 2003),Kelly, Lucid O’Sullivan, Blennerville, Gateway to Tralee’s Past, (Tralee 1989).