Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Emigrants from East County Clare

Since all those who are, or wish to be, of Irish descent have just celebrated St Patrick’s Day it seems appropriate that my topic this month is my Irish migration research. While I have Irish ancestors from Clare, Kildare, Offaly, Wicklow and Wexford, this project broadens the research lens.

This project focuses on the emigrants from East County Clare to Australia in the mid-late 19th century, from the Famine era to pre-1900. How have I defined East Clare? Well it is a little subjective, but I’ve used the baronies of Tulla Upper and Tulla Lower, and visually on the map, the area to the east of Ennis. It’s worth remembering too, that the people from parishes in the south-east corner, were part of the Limerick Union so when looking at workhouses, for example, one needs to look at the Limerick Workhouse rather than a Clare one.

While the emphasis is on Australia, it doesn’t mean I have no interest in the emigrants to North America (USA and Canada) but there’s only so much you can focus on without becoming completely befuddled. What I believe from my research is that the emigrants were not as powerless as we sometimes tend to think. Perhaps not during the Famine when survival and just finding a new life were the main goals, but certainly outside that horrific time.
Research by Pauleen Cass 2006. Data is sourced from Irish Census consolidated stats.
It shows quite clearly the impact of the Famine, and subsequent migration, on the parish of Kilseily where Broadford is situated.

For the period 1848-1870, Australia has generally excellent immigration records often (but not always) revealing parents’ names, whether alive or dead, literacy and whether they had relations in the colony. What it omits to mention is just how often each ship carried friends and neighbours from the same place, and it’s all too easy for a novice researcher to not realise that a brother/sister may also have been on board, because adult single men and women were listed separately from each other and the family groups.

Of course, inevitably, the very person you’re looking for may not be among those listed anywhere. This was the case with my Mary O’Brien (later Kunkel) whose immigration I’ve been pursuing for decades, and for whom I’ve only recently found a tentative result

The bonus of this is that it sent me down many paths trying to find anything about those who emigrated from the same place, Broadford, in the east of County Clare. This kicked off my East Clare project trying to learn more about them and whether they were typical of their age peers at home, or if there were differences.

One of the greatest (nigh impossible?) challenges of studying migration history is finding why people left their home place. You have the obvious impetus like the Famine (An Gorta Mór) but why did some siblings depart for Australia, others for North America, and yet others remain at home. Mostly it seems it was the older “children” who made the move, and Irish women were atypical of migration in general in that they were often the migration leaders. They would go ahead then bring relatives out in what is called chain migration.

© Copyright 2014 Pauleen Cass. Analysis of data from personal database drawn from Australian immigration records.

So your ancestors came to Australia? Or North America? Please don’t assume that all of the family who emigrated went to the same place. I’ve seen many cases where some of the siblings go to Boston or New York while others came to Australia (or New Zealand). Why would they choose a place so very far from their homeland? Well, the Australian colonies were offering generous government subsidies to attract workers to the colony, especially young women due to the gender imbalance. I have also concluded that the emigrants were more than capable of deciding that one lifestyle suited them better than another eg the opportunity to own their own land and farm in Australia vs a more urban lifestyle in an American city.  

I’ve also seen instances where one child in a family is born in the States and another in Liverpool before the family emigrated to Australia – an example of stage migration. There are cases where parents are already living in the USA, or Scotland, yet the young family chooses Australia as their destination. People are complex and quite capable of making decisions in their own interest when it comes to migration as to all else.

It’s likely that I’ll be back on this hobby-horse in posts to come, but today I also wanted to let you know about a new blog I’ve started (blatant self-promotion?). It’s called East Clare Emigrants and I’m hoping it will provide a locus for researchers with ancestors who came from the eastern half of Clare.

I just had to buy one of these badges
...jealousy got the better of me.
My posts on the blog will predominantly draw on stories and obituaries from our wonderful digitised newspaper site, Trove. It’s now possible to uncover the emigrants’ life stories in a way which would have been impossible until just a few years ago. We could find our own ancestors, or those for whom we had specific dates of death, but had no hope of this kind of general search. No wonder Trove is top of the pops for Aussie researchers and it really is a world-leader with its facilities. I particularly love how these obituaries give us a sense of their lives post-migration. No doubt a sanitised or glorified version, as obituaries tend to be, but offering a human depth to the story.

But will it help those from around the world? Well yes, I think it will because I’ve already come across some obits with references back to family in Ireland or the States.

I’d also be happy to include guest posts from those who have East Clare emigrants in their ancestry, wherever they ended up. So if your ancestors fit the bill, please get in touch via my email, or  have a look at some of the posts. There’s been a time-delay as I regroup after the cruise but hopefully I’ll be posting at least one a week, and often two.

© Copyright 2014 Pauleen Cass


  1. Great post! I like your concept of having a blog where others may be interested in the emigration of East Clare. This is the type of study I would like to do for New Bern, NC to the New England areas such as Massachusetts of African Americans.

  2. Thanks Yvette, it seems we have too many bright ideas about things to do but then have to squeeze out the time for them. I think the blog is a good forum for bringing the information to one place. Good luck with your own project!

  3. A very informative post, with a lovely illustration to draw the reader in. Good luck with your East Clare collaboration blog - a great idea.

  4. Great post. I too love Trove, and I am very jealous of your little Badge.

  5. Thanks Sue and Diane, sorry I missed your comments earlier. yes, Trove is amazing - there's a treat almost every day. It's proving to be amazing for the East Clare project.


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