kerry-girls-kenmare-plaqueOn Thursday 6th October I had the pleasure of meeting up with Noni Rush in Tralee. Noni Rush, is a great great granddaughter of Margaret O’Sulivan (Cooper) one of the twenty five Kenmare girls who left Kenmare Workhouse in early December 1849 for a new life in Australia, as part of the Earl Grey Orphan Scheme.    Sailing on the John Knox they arrived in Port Jackson (Sydney) on 29th April 1850.

I chronicled Margaret’s life in Australia in The Kerry Girls: Emigration & the Earl Grey Scheme (p.102-108).   I found that Margaret was in fact not an orphan, her father Cornelius had died, but we are unsure if her mother was dead at the time of her departure.  Margaret had an eventful life in Australia, marrying initially an ex-convict also called Sullivan, within six months of arrival. Edward Sullivan and Margaret parted company sometime after their children Edward and Eileen were born in the 1850s and from 1860 onwards she lived with James Cosgrove, also an ex-convict.  This was a happy marriage, James seems to have been a decent man and treated her well.  James’ ‘crime’ that warranted  transportation is another story but you will have to read about that in the book.  Margaret’s children and grandchildren let happy and success lives in her adopted country so overall it was a ‘good story’.

Kay & Noni Rush in Tralee Local History Library

Kay & Noni Rush in Tralee Local History Library

I met Noni in the Local History Archives of Kerry County Library in Tralee and Michael Lynch, County Archivist was good enough to make available the Minute Books of the Board of Guardians of Kenmare Workhouse so that Noni was able to get a true flavour of the life and times of the unfortunate people who were forced to seek shelter there during Ireland and Kerry’s greatest catastrophe..

Noni is home in New South Wales now and she sent me her photos and some of the impressions of her visit:

I really loved my visit to Ireland and most of all the Irish people who are so delightfully warm and friendly with a great sense of humour.

Staying in Kenmare for the week was fantastic – it’s such a beautiful town, very busy with lots to do – my walk up to the old Fever Hospital which stood to the east of the workhouse  was memorable as this must have been the very road taken by Margaret, and possibly other members of her family, to reach the workhouse – it was very quiet and drizzly – a very old wall with waist high holes in it stood just over the road from the fever hospital building which is now a private residence – a wall such as this was described in the book “All Roads Lead to Kenmare”, by Stanley Goddard,  but he said it was on the other side of town – it was a wall where people lined up to be fed in the famine years, the food being passed through the holes in the wall – this wall looked eerily like the description in the book – maybe it was used for the same purpose

Over the bridge on the other side of town was the cemetery which had a memorial famine plot and a plaque with a description of how the famine affected the Kenmare region – the last square is about Mary Anne Connor who sailed on the John Knox with Margaret


Kenmare Famine Cemetery