Irish Roots

August 23rd, 2010

John Grenham

Writing about records of Irish migration to Canada last week brought to mind a story that only re-emerged two decades ago. It concerns Fr. Patrick Moynagh, parish priest of Donagh parish in north Monaghan from 1815 to 1860. From about 1830 until 1841, he became deeply involved in encouraging the emigration of needy parishioners, not just from his own parish, but from the whole of McKenna country, including Clontibret, Tydavnet, Tyholland and Errigal Truagh. The encouragement went well beyond moral support: he personally paid the fares of a large number of migrants. This was far from the indiscriminate clearance-style emigration assistance practiced by some self-interested landlords. Fr. Moynagh's involvement began only after he was satisfied of the success of an early scheme helping Monaghan families in Glasgow to emigrate, and like that scheme, all of his assistance was directed at furthering migration to Prince Edward Island. He went so far as to purchase agricultural lots in the island to provide homesteads and communities for the emigrants to settle into. Once the community had taken root, emigration acquired its own momentum through family and personal connections, and in the twenty years up to 1850 more than 4,000 families left. Many escaped the Famine who would otherwise have died.

The story of Fr. Moynagh had faded over 150 years and was only revived in the late 1980s. It has now been thoroughly commemorated - Co. Monaghan is twinned with Prince Edward Island - and is documented in Brendan O'Grady's Exiles and Islanders: the Irish settlers of Prince Edward Island (McGill-Queen's Studies in Ethnic History, 2004).

The more general moral, if one is needed, is that, like politics, all migration is local. With the exception of the desperate Famine exodus, people traveled from one particular place to another particular place, usually for very individual reasons.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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