Famine and Emigration in Co. Kerry
Jeanie Johnston Apology for the Famine

Famine and Emigration

Pre-Famine Life

Pre-famine percentage of the population in regards to literacy
and poor (4th class) housing in Kerry circa 1841:

60% Lowest class housing
23% Literate

Excerpt from a description of his tour in Ireland
by Gustave de Beaumont (1830s):

"Imagine four walls of dried mud (which the rain, as it falls, easily restores to its primitive condition) having for its roof a little straw or some sods, for its chimney a hole cut in the roof, or very frequently the door through which alone the smoke finds an issue. A single apartment contains father, mother, children and sometimes a grandfather and a grandmother; there is no furniture in the wretched hovel; a single bed of straw serves the entire family.

Five or six half-naked children may be seen crouched near a miserable fire, the ashes of which cover a few potatoes, the sole nourishment of the family. In the midst of all lies a dirty pig, the only thriving inhabitant of the place, for he lives in filth. The presence of a pig in an Irish hovel may at first seem an indication of misery; on the contrary, it is a sign of comparative comfort. Indigence is still more extreme in a hovel where no pig is found... I have just described the dwelling of the Irish farmer or agricultural labourer."

From a witness to the Poor Inquiry 1835-6:

"When they have dug the potatoes from the pits, they still have to collect fuel, and to wash them and boil them; in fact, between setting potatoes, digging potatoes, washing potatoes and boiling potatoes, they have hardly time to attend to anything else. They can never be clean or diligent at other matters until the nature of their food be changed." (www.local.ie) - Famine


Famine Years - 1845-50 (The Great Starvation)

Potato Famine Kerry
Lord Ventry - landowner, Corkaquiny Barony (Dingle Peninsula)
Dingle Hospital During the Famine
Why wasn't fishing a solution during the famine years?

The overall impacts of the Famine included:

*the decline of the Irish language and customs (in 1835, the number of native Irish speakers was estimated at four million -- in 1851, only 2 million spoke Irish as their first language) *the devastation of the landless laborer class and small tenant farmer.
*a treeless landscape in many parts of Ireland.
*the shells of homes that were rendered uninhabitable after the landlords evicted their tenants.
*a massive decrease in farms of 15 acres and less. The 1841 census showed that 45% of land holdings were less than five acres.
*Irish emigrants scattered around the globe.

Today there are over 5 million people in Ireland, while it is estimated there are upwards of 70 million people of Irish descent throughout the world.

The British Government on the Famine:

"The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson,that calamity must not be too much mitigated.... The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people"
Sir Charles Trevelyan head of famine relief
Famine of death

Trevelyan decides the following: 22 Poor Law Unions in the west and south-west are to receive assistance from "national funds"; able-bodied men are to receive relief only within the workhouses, in order to discourage applicants. The aged, infirm, widows and children are to be turned out of the workhouses and given aid in the form of cooked food only. This will prove impossible to implement, not least because the vast majority of Poor Law Unions are in debt.

£1 is keeping one person for 34 weeks, and Edward Twistleton, the Chief Poor Law Commissioner, recommends not making this public for fear of the Government being accused of "slowly murdering the peasantry by the scantiness of our relief". Trevelyan believes that "natural causes" must be allowed to operate.

Edward Twistleton resigns as Chief Poor Law Commissioner and Alfred Power, a well-to-do solicitor, succeeds him. Twistleton is said to be resigning because "the destitution here is so horrible, and the indifference of the House of Commons (British Government) to it so manifest, that he is an unfit agent of a policy that must be one of extermination."

Lord George Hill, a landlord who had attempted without success to consolidate his estates prior to 1845 says:

"The Irish people have profited much by the Famine, the lesson was severe; but so deep-rooted were they in old prejudices and old ways, that no teacher could have induced them to make the changes which this visitation of Divine Providence has brought about, both in their habits of life and in their mode of agriculture." Local Ireland (www.local.ie)- Famine

1846 London, Parliament:

The Westminster Parliament was fiercely divided by the crisis. The radical MP Daniel O'Connell (Kerry born) told the Commons: "The people are not to blame! It is your business to mitigate it as well as you can. Famine is coming, fever is coming and this House should place in the hands of the government power to stay the evil."

Sir Charles Trevelyan, head of the Treasury, vehemently opposed calls for state aid, asserting that: "If the Irish once find out that there are any circumstances in which they can get free government grants, we shall have a system of mendicancy such as the world never knew." Charles E. Trevelyan, who served under both Peel and Russell at the Treasury, and had prime responsibility for famine relief in Ireland,  was clear about God's role: "The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated"


Emigration and the Decline in Population in Kerry: 1841-1851

Famine Emigration: "For many the only alternative to disease and starvation, and the only option to eviction from their tenant lands, was emigration. The Passenger Act of 1847 was passed and it granted each emigrant 10 cubic feet and a supply of food and water. Realistically captains didn't obey this act and many people starved or died of disease in cramped quarters aboard the emigrant ships. An estimated one and one-half million Irish emigrated from 1845 to 1851, upwards of 30-45% dying in the "coffin ships" on their journey or shortly after their arrival in their new home. In 1846, the ship fare from Ireland to Quebec was about 6 pounds for a man, his wife, and 4 children. The fare to NY was about 21 pounds. (source: Magnus Magnusson, 1978. Landlord or Tenant?" (A View of Irish History).

Kerry suffered a drop in population of 19% between 1841 and 1851. In 1845-1848 the peak years of the Great Famine, Kerry lost about 30% of its population to death and emigration, with an excess mortality rate of +15%. Most of the emigration from the county took place in the later decades of the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century; in the 125 years from 1841 to 1966, the population fell by 58%. Emigration from Kerry began on a large scale circa 1845, then mainly to the east coast of the USA. Later emigration tended towards UK with a peak in 1940-60 period. Places to which people went include Springfield, Mass., Boston, Birmingham, London. Deportation to Australia and Tasmania in 1840-1900 period accounts for most of those of Irish extraction there.

Ever wonder why your ancestors immigrated to Canada?:

"The British Passenger Acts attempted to deflect immigration from the British Isles to Canada rather than the United States by making it much more expensive to travel to the latter. Instead of the four or five pounds a fare to New York would cost in those years, the rate to the Canadian Maritime Provinces was sometimes as low as fifteen shillings (there were twenty shillings to the pound). In addition, Canada-bound ships left from every seaport in Ireland and were both much more convenient for Irish immigrants and much cheaper than making the twelve - to fourteen-hour crossing of the Irish Sea to Liverpool, the chief port of the immigrant trade proper. But there were few economic opportunities in Canada and the curious combination of patterns of trade and anti-American British legislation produced what Marcus Lee Hansen called "the second colonization of New England," a colonization that was largely Irish. Immigrants quickly discovered that they could get cheap transportation south from Canadian ports or, if they lacked money as was often the case, they could walk. This became well known to both captains and emigrants. When the master of the ship Ocean, sailing from Galway to New Brunswick in 1835 advertised for immigrant passengers, he pointed this out, adding (with a bit of Blarney) that "those living on that line of road being very kind to Strangers as they pass." Although the road led to Boston, many Irish found work and settled along the way, and Hansen pointed out that one can trace the Irish migration route by the pioneer Catholic churches established in Maine in those years." Coming to America by Roger Daniels

There were no deep water ports in Ireland. So where did the Irish board the boats? Well, some sailed from Tralee, Cork City, and Cobh even before 1862. By that time a railroad had been completed from Tralee to Cobh, so few left from Tralee anymore, most went to Cobh or Cork to start their journey. Making Cork the last port of call put the ships in warmer and more gentle waters and were on the English route from Plymouth to the new world. Many of the people that "went from Cork" actually went from Cobh. Sailing out of Cobh/Cove, the Port of Cork, the large ships would anchor at sea and they would ferry the "topping off passengers" out to the ship. Ships also left from Limerick to Canada, taking people and bringing back lumber.

The only main ports of departure from Ireland were (1) going to Liverpool, mostly families from the northern counties did that (2) Cobh/Queenstown, mostly from the southern ports and (3) some northern people also went to Glasgow. In much earlier years there were also departures from other  ports such as Larne. The major ports for the years of 1846-1851 were Dublin, Newery, Galway, Cork, Limerick, Belfast, Londonderry, Waterford, Liverpool and Silgo.

Kerry Census 1841: 293,880
Estimated Census 1851: 238,000
1841 -1851 Populaton Decrease: 19%
Estimated Deaths 1845-1850: 32,000

From 1856 through 1910, the following ten counties in Ireland had the highest rate of emigration:

1. Kerry
2. Cork
3. Clare
4. Longford
5. Leitrim
6. Galway
7. Limerick
8. Mayo
9. Tipperary
10. Cavan

Learn more at these links:

In the Penal Days
Local Ireland - Famine
Irish Famine / Genocide Committee
Irish Holocaust
From: Ireland History in Maps


Contempoary Thoughts:

1995 Ireland

Cherishing the Irish Diaspora - by President of Ireland Mary Robinson

1996 New York

The Republican George Pataki signed into law a bill making it obligatory for all the schoolchildren in the state to be taught about the famine alongside the Holocaust and the slave trade in America. At the signing ceremony in Albany, Mr Pataki claimed the lessons would show students "the great Irish hunger was not the result of a massive failure of the Irish potato crop but, rather, was the result of a deliberate campaign by the British to deny the Irish people the food they needed to survive".

1997 England

Prime Minister Tony Blair "Apology":

"The Famine was a defining event in the history of Ireland and of Britain. It has left deep scars. That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event. It is also right that we should pay tribute to ways in which the Irish people have triumphed in the face of this catastrophe. Britain in particular has benefited immeasurably from the skills and talents of Irish people, not only in areas such as music, the arts and the caring professions but across the whole specturm of our political, economic and social life.  Let us therefore today not only remember those who died but also celebrate the resilience and courage of those men and women who were able to forge another life outside Ireland, and the rich culture and vitality they brought with them. Britain, the U.S. and many Commonwealth countries are richer for their presence."

Mr Blair's message to the Irish people was read out by Gabriel Byrne, the actor, at a concert in the village of Milltown, Co Cork, where thousands had gathered for the event that marked the culmination of three years of commemorations. The apology came in a letter to the organisers of a weekend festival in County Cork to commemorate the famine in Ireland and its subsequent effect on society and politics. They had contacted Mr Blair asking if he would send a message of support.

Mary Robinson, the Irish president, lit an emigrants' candle in honour of "the Irish spirit" worldwide. She said: "Commemorating the famine is a moral act of remembrance and honour by our generation here in Ireland and by people who cherish their Irishness throughout the world."

A video link-up was used to show President Clinton also lighting a candle. He said the famine was the "greatest-ever tragedy" in Irish history. "The famine transformed Ireland and America and linked us for ever," he said. "Out of the horrible tragedy emerged a blessing for our nation - the men, women and children who crossed the ocean to make a new life in America."

1998 United States

President Clinton declares March 1998:
Irish-American Heritage Month


Jeanie Johnston

Famine Ship out of Tralee


Further information for :
Commemorative Jeanie Johnston stamp

Jeanie Johnston

- "A Remarkable Tall Ship is Rebuilt in Ireland"

The Jeanie Johnston (1847-58) was the most famous of the Irish 19th century emigrant ships. She was built in Quebec in 1847 and bought shortly afterwards by the Donovan family of Tralee, County Kerry in the South West of Ireland. During and immediately after the Great Famine (1845-50) she brought Irish emigrants, fleeing the famine, to various cities in the United States and Canada. Despite the somewhat crowded conditions by to-days standards, the Jeanie Johnston was a reliable and trusted vessel and never lost a passenger or crewmember to disease or the sea. Now this remarkable tall ship has been rebuilt in Blennerville near Tralee, County Kerry as a powerful symbol of North-South and transAtlantic co-operation."

During the years that it sailed out of Tralee the Jeanie Johnston had a regular pattern leaving every April with passengers for Quebec and returning in July with timber; leaving again in August and returning later in the winter with timber via Liverpool, Cardiff or Cork. In April 1853, 65 tenants from the Earl of Kenmare's estate in Killarney emigrated on the Jeanie Johnston.

On average the length of the journey between Tralee and Quebec on the Jeanie Johnston was 46.75 days. The fare was £3.10shillings.

The average number of passengers that the ship carried was 200.

Passenger Ship Jeanie Johnston
-A portion of the passenger list Tralee to Quebec, 18 Apr 1854:

Name/Townland Name/Townland

Edmond Connor/ Ballyheigue
Bridget Connor/ Ballyheigue
Pat Connor/ Ballyheigue
Margaret Connor/ Ballyehigue
John Griffin/ Ballyheigue
Denis Murphy/ Tralee
Lucy Doran/ Tralee
Catherine Hanafin/ Oakpark
John Crowley/ Spa
Maurice Pendergast/ Killarney
Martin Coffey/ Tralee
John Coffey/ Tralee
Johanna Coffey/ Tralee
Johanna Commane/ Tralee
Ellen Noonan/ Ballymequin
Mary Noonan/ Ballymequin
Thomas Noonan/ Ballymequin

Robert Graham/ Cahercullen
Ellen Curther/ Cahercullen
Catherine Curther/ Cahercullen
Ellen Kelly/ Cahercullen
Anne Rutcherson/ Tralee
Frank Fitzgerald/ Currans
William Shea/ Lack
Ellen O'Brien/ Tralee
John Doran/ Tralee
Edmond Barry/ Lisanconly
Jane Casey/ Ballyheigue
Maurice Healy/ Keel
Bridget Commane/ Keel
Dan Commane/ Keel
Michael Connor/ Keel
Mary McCarthy/ Tralee

Contributed by Robert E. Commins


Project Jeanie Johnston Web Site
Jeanie Johnston Emmigrant Ship History


The Jeanie Johnston Mermorial Committee,
Ashe Memorial Hall,
Denny Street,Tralee,
County Kerry, Ireland

The "Jeanie Johnston" Visitor Shipyard
Blennerville, Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland
tel. 066-712-8888; fax 066-718-1888; e-mail: kerry2@iol.ie

Other Ships that departed Tralee for New York:

23 Jun 1852, "Gipsey"
26 May 1852 "New Bruswick" shiplist
28 Sep 1852, "Irvine"
25 May 1857, "Colonist"
24 Jul 1859, "Baltic"
14 Jul 1852, "Bark Intrinsic"
21 Jul 1852, "Bark Duncan Ritchie"
7 May 1851, "Toronto"
18 Sep 1857, 4 May 1857 and 2 May 1853, "Lady Russell"
18 Sep 1856, "Wm Rathbone"
10 Jun 1851, "Stambone"
5 May 1849, "Heather Bell"
28 Oct 1852, "The Duke"
15 Jun 1849, "Moses John"
12 Nov 1851, "Anne"
22 May 1854, "Lesmahagow"


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