EXHIBITION: Crossing the Atlantic

There were many privately funded emigration schemes like that of Vere Foster’s who promoted and financed emigration during the two great periods of Irish agricultural depression and unrest: 1849-1857 and 1880-1887. He claimed to have assisted 42,615 emigrants.

There was also a government assisted emigration scheme, a scheme that the Nationalist MP Stephen Gwynn described in 1883 as “the Government’s cure for Irish troubles…that meant paying five pounds a head to any person to quit the country. There was no test of fitness, the old, the infirm, the imbecile, went along with the healthy boys and girls and the families of young children, going out they knew not where, many of them clad in garments thrown at them from a slop shop and without a penny to their names when they landed. I had enough sense to know that no civilized state would deal so with those whom it really felt to be of its household.”

Vere Foster, noted Irish educator and philanthropist of the time, believed that the only immediate remedy to Ireland’s troubles was emigration. He provided guidance on work and wages in America and Canada; he often paid the passages of emigrants out of his own pocket, and when his own money ran out, he borrowed from his brother. He opened subscription lists, encouraging contributions to his Irish Female Emigration Scheme. His first-hand account of the conditions which emigrants endured as they travelled to the new world led to changes in the laws.

Quayside at Cobh under St. Colman’s spire, she waited at the pier, black Mayo dirt moored into her shoes, daughter of a remnant of clachan and rundale, cottier and meitheal, and the big ships made the imaginable on postcards distributed at the crossroads in the townlands, on signs posted in market villages: Dominion, Cunard, White Star Line –“Splendid Accomodation” For the exile, for the deorí: “There is nothing for you here.”

Daniel Tobin The Narrows (2005)