Immigrants from Mayo, Sligo
Faced a Tough Life in America
By Joseph X. Flannery
With Mayor Jim Connors in Ireland, I am reminded of my own Irish roots what I have been exploring only in the past few years.
My ancestors came from Ireland in the 1850s and not one of them - nor their offspring - ever wrote down and family history. Thus, I am left with a cold trail.
One of the few things I have learned with certainty is that all of my ancestors came from Mayo and Sligo, the poorest counties of Ireland.
Connors is now in Mayo, making Ballina a "sister city" of Scranton. While Sister Cities International grew out of a 1956 White House Conference and now includes 807 U.S. cities 1,354 foreign cities, the Scranton - Ballina linkage is the first involving an Irish City.
Ballina was a good place to start because it was the home area of thousands of immigrants wooed to this area by dreams of freedom and jobs.
Unfortunately, they found a new type tyranny - unbridled capitalism - that treated them as cruelly as their previous British landlords.
The area of Mayo and Sligo was productive when agents for those area mining and railroad firms sought cheap labor,starting around abt.1828 and acceleration in the decades that followed.
The land of Mayo and Sligo was not very good for farming and the best of it was owned by the British landlords.Irish farmers could never get ahead. No matter how good a year they had,the bulk of the crop was taken from them and they subsisted on what was left.When a famine began in 1846, caused by fungus that killed potato crops,the decision was often to leave their island and survive,or stay and die.
The Irish spread to many lands but none received as many as America. Even this area needed cheap labor,times were very bad in Mayo and Sligo. That's why the vast majority of Irish-Americans in this area today are from that region of Ireland.
I waited too long to begin my search for my Irish roots. My sources were a few relatives of my parents' generation. They repeated the stories that had been passed to them about ancestors.
In recent years, I've made two trips to Ireland and visited Mayo and Sligo both times. I looked in the area's telephone book and found many of those family names of my ancestors,I also learned much more about the history of that traditionally poor region.
Several factors dominated the history of Mayo and Sligo. One is that the wind-swept,rocky & hilly land was not conducive to easy farming. Whatever the ground gave up was yielded grudgingly. Another is that Mayo and Sligo were geographically the furthest removed from England. Thus,people seeking to cling to their own language, their religion and their own island were often chased that far by British troops but, - because distance diluted British might - they managed to escape. Thus, it was always a hotbed of rebellion. Finally, that area was the part of Ireland closest to America, making all the more acceptable,an invitation to migrate.
It is quite possible that my ancestors passed through the town of Ballina en route to the boats that took them to America. But such details of the towns of their origin, the ships that carried them across the ocean and the exact date of their journeys were never recorded by them or their offspring.
Thus,I still don't know the towns from which the Flannerys, the Gilhools, the Reaps and the MAHADYS left to come here. (One intriguing story told to me by a now deceased aunt is that one of her ancestors came with a baby who slept most of the journey on the homemade straw-filled mattress. Another tale involved an ancestor who arrived in America on the day President Lincoln was assassinated.)
Most of my male ancestors worked in the mines. An uncle who died just a few years ago tended mules in the mine at the age of 11. Another much less fortunate ancestor was killed in a rock-fall and his body was deposited on the porch of his home - that being the extent of humanism of those mining companies of that era. My father's father was luckier. He injured his leg in a mine accident and limped for the rest of his life.
The Irish, like most other people coming to America, sought to shed their Old World ties as quickly as possible. That may be one reason they didn't bother to record anything about when or why they came from Ireland. Or,then again,maybe it was more basic. Most probably did not know how to write.
In any case, I am left with any unanswered questions. But, despite this ignorance, I'm happy over Connors' mission I do feel a kinship with Ballina.
----------- Submitted by Walt Sullivan - "NetGroup" Member --------------
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