above are not part of this website
& Other Irish Immigrants
Information relating to the Irish
Famine Refugees who immigrated to America will be added to this page periodically.
(Also refer to back issues of the Harney Update
150 YEARS AGO
IRISH FAMINE REFUGEES
Taken from Irish Famine Refugees in New England, by Rev. Martin P. Harney, S.J. and old
family letters from the collection of Edward F. Harney, Billerica, MA. - Edited by Linda
Part 1 of a series.
One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1847, the steamer Hibernia, sailed into Boston Harbor.
It brought dreadful news of the Famine in Ireland, and started the great tide of Irish
immigration to America.
The potato blight began in 1845. Within days, the fields which had been filled with
healthy green plants, withered, and below them the potatoes turned black with rot. In
1846, the plants emerged green with promise as the people watched anxiously over their
potato patches. But before long the entire crop was lost to the blight for a second total
failure. The scythe of the grim reaper began cutting its cruel swath through the humble
cottiers, the small farmers, the unemployed servants and the little shop-keepers.
When the blight continued in 1847, it brought with it an increase of cholera, famine-fever
and other deadly epidemics to extract an even heavier toll of lives among the emaciated,
starving populace of Ireland. Hundreds died by the roadsides, in the fields, or at the
overcrowded work-houses. What a dark and terrible picture does Ireland of the Famine days
Help for the starving Irish began to arrive from America, Europe and even far-off
Australia. Philadelphia sent eight vessels with provisions. Mississippi and Alabama
contributed large quantities of Indian corn. Railroads and shipping companies carried
relief packages free. And the United States government, though it was engaged in the
Mexican War, set aside two warships, the Macedonia and the Jamestown, to transport the
relief supplies to starving Ireland.
The Harney family in America also helped their Irish friends and relations. They set aside
small sums of money to pay for passage, and those that were able provided food and
The following letter, describes some of the efforts to help the starving Irish escape to
America. Note: Info in brackets  added. Some spelling has been corrected to
make it easier to read, but care was taken not to change the meaning.
"... is just back from burying the children.
Theys 3 and 20 of them dead now the past fortnite. Ye'll be knowin of O'Holeran and the
Doyle families any day now. Morris would have bring the tidings. Macky and O'Connor got 27
on Wednesday last and Tierney took 4 and 10 to Kinsale [Co. Cork] to Donal H. [Harney],
and we sent 6 more in the tinkers cart to John and Mike S. at Cobh [Co. Cork]. We has not
the way to carry many other now because they is too sick to walk any distance for certin.
Any way theboots is wore off of them what has thim and thim with out is foot bludy. Ye
can't be comin to get them in a cart can ye? We has the watch out for majustrats men or
sheriff's peeple and there are women at the bog lanes to cry out to us. We has the better
part of a keg of sprat an morsel of smelt an some of them apples from the Yankees that
Willy H. [Harney] brung up to us. Pady Dardis brung a liver and lites of a ram what they
downfalled on help from the hounds. Casey and Hicky come up with some cock and 2 duck and
some of the lads caught some doves. If ye could find some flint or matchers fer fire makin
we have need of thim also. A bate of the injin corn [Indian corn from America] could help
to make the stretch of the food we have here and potion for the flux. We has not a boot
... The dead were put in the bog near the stone to rest with a prayer to their heads. In a
week we'd buried 4 and 30 and 4 more on Wednesday. ... many of those with us now aren't
able to get further. Their eyes are dead in their head and they have the flu so they cry
with the pain. Bannon and Dasey have come with us this day and have brought nine more with
scurvy. Father Michael and the other monks from Kille or Callan ... [The rest of the letter is missing].
Excerpt from another letter, written shortly after the death of Irish leader Dan O'Connell
Steve Clancy of the Bantry crowd came up on Tuesday
last and brought us the food and tea from America. T'will keep us going for some week
We has less than ninety left now at the late meals yesterday. The people in them other
countrys has been very helpful the last two year with the getting of us out and the
getting us in there...
Since the tithing law is now been repealed we have not the need as before for the money
but we are still in need of the food and clothing for the young ones but not so bad as it
Best wishes from Waterfords camp
[Note: Because all game (birds, deer, etc) was considered the property of the English
landlords, the starving Irish were arrested when caught trying to provide food for
themselves. That's why there is a reference to the sheriff in the above letter.]
- Reprinted from Harney Update Family Newletter,
Letter from Will Harney, dated April 1846, describing the
List 1 -for a list of immigrants.
Old Harney letters
Return to: INDEX to Harney web pages
Return to: IRISH Harney web page index
E-mail me at:
This page last updated 26 Mar 2008
Advertisements below are not
part of this website