When Irish girls were leaving home, they were going to a place that was well-known to them, a place where there was a network of family and friends. The young emigrant in Máirtín Ó Cadháin’s story “The Year 1912” thinks, as she gets ready to go to America: “Brightcity [Galway] was the farthest from home she had been, but she had been nurtured on American lore from infancy. South Boston, Norwood, Butte, Minnesota, California plucked chords in her imagination more distinctly than did Dublin, Belfast, Wexford, or even places only a few miles out in the plain beyond Brightcity. Life and her ideas of it had been shaped and defined by the fame of America, the wealth of America, the amusements of America, the agonizing longing to go to America.” Trans. Eoghan ÓTuairisc
That “agonizing longing” to go to America was informed by the enabling myth of “gold in the streets.” America as a land of unlimited opportunity compensated the economic depression and social limitations at home. The remittances, the pre-paid tickets and the photographs sustained that image of America, even when letters home described a more realistic picture of American life and the hardships endured.
Thousands Are Sailing
You brave Irish people, wherever you be
Come stand here a moment and listen to me.
Your sons and your daughters are sailing away
And thousands are sailing for Amerikay.
So good luck to the heroes and safe may they land.
They are leaving old Ireland for a far distant strand.
They are leaving old Ireland no longer to stay,
And thousands are sailing to Amerikay.