Harney & Irish Immigrants

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& Other Irish Immigrants

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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 newsletter).


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 Harney MacDonald

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 present!

Help Arrives
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 transportation.

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 amung us...

... 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 (1847).

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 yet...
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 once was.

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, Issue 44.
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Also see:
Letter from Will Harney, dated April 1846, describing the conditions.
List 1 -for a list of immigrants.
Old Harney letters

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