New Famine book sheds light on the history of emigration

New Famine book sheds light on the history of emigration

AS HUNDREDS of thousands of Irish people leave Ireland after Christmas at home, a Maynooth  University historian has traced Irish emigration back to its founding days in a new book.

Dr Ciarán Reilly’s latest publication, Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine, examines the period of mass emigration from Ireland, focusing on the small Co. Roscommon town of Strokestown.

After combing through the mounds of documents on the Great Irish Famine in Strokestown Park House, Ciarán has emerged with a book that has been commended by the likes of former Irish President Mary McAleese.

It has taken over 50,000 documents and four years to complete.

Finishing it, the historian says, is both a personal and professional landmark.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to be now bringing the fruits of this research to the wider public. I have felt rather privileged to have been given access to this remarkable collection of Famine documents and to have been the first historian to look through them,” he said.

The path to Britain is a well-trodden one for the Irish but never so much as during the Famine. Perhaps surprisingly for some, many Irish people had travelled across the water on a seasonal basis for work before times got tough.

“Many had already well-established networks in Britain and chose these locations to settle,” Ciarán explains. “For example, in the pre-Famine years Strokestown natives had travelled for seasonal work in places like Manchester, Derby and Leeds and so returned to these towns to settle when the Famine struck in the 1840s.”

While things have not come full circle for the rural town, Strokestown is seeing a new wave of emigrantion as Ireland emerges from the dark days of recession.

“It’s something that I have been very conscious of when talking about emigration in the locality. Frequently I am reminded that so many young people are leaving the area, departing for Britain, Australia and elsewhere,” said Ciarán.

“This current wave of emigration makes people reflect on their past and how emigration affected communities. However, they are heartened to hear the stories of how the Famine emigrants made new lives for themselves, some very successful, and so hope that those leaving now will do likewise.”

Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine is available from Amazon or Waterstones