Emigration from Erris
Our history is their history and theirs is ours. By remembering the people who left, we welcome back their descendants.
- Rosemarie Geraghty

Two years ago, in July 2013, golfers & golf journalists from all over the world enjoyed the official opening event of the Kilmore nine holes at Carne Golf Links. Needless to say, the new nine holes have been greatly acclaimed since, being deemed “challenging”, “magnificent” and “stunning”. According to Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design, “Carne now has 27 of the most dramatic duneland holes in the world.” High praise, indeed!

At that time, which was the year of The Gathering, the visiting golfers also enjoyed another picturesque event in the nearby villages of Eachléim (Aughleam) and An Fód Dubh (Blacksod). A special commemorative garden in Blacksod was launched – a kind of “reverse Ellis Island” at the bottom of the Mullet Peninsula in Erris.

John Garrity - a sports writer, author & photographer from Kansas, USA – was one of these special golfing visitors. He is well known for his 30 years of work with Sports Illustrated and for his contributions to Golf Magazine. Garrity spent years retracing his ancestors’ steps and discovered that he had relatives in Erris during a visit in 1989. His journey is described beautifully in his book, Ancestral Links – something that many people recommend reading before playing Carne.

This unique Gathering event was of dual significance to Garrity – not only does Carne Golf Links have a special place in his heart, but so does the wider Erris region. His ancestors left this area for a new life in America.

To this day, the words ‘Ireland’ and ‘emigration’ are often intertwined. Indeed, The Irish Times have been running a ‘Generation Emigration’ feature for the last year, and social media is full of emotional videos of returning sons and daughters.

However, the Blacksod Bay emigration was not typical of the extensive, mass departure from Ireland that is known all over the world. It was an unique initiative. In 1883 and 1884 a man called James Hack Tuke helped over 3,300 people in a coordinated emigration scheme from Blacksod Bay. On 15 voyages, 11 ships of the Allan Line brought people from Erris, Achill Island and north west Mayo to a new life in the USA and Canada.

The memorial garden in Blacksod features the stone outline of a boat, which is pointed west – the direction of the emigrants’ journey across the Atlantic. The side of the boat is divided into 15 sections, each representing a ship that left Blacksod Bay. The width of each section relates to the number of passengers who left on each ship, and their names are displayed. The sections are also separated by spaces of varying sizes, representing the timeline of their departures.

The Tuke emigration scheme was unusual for many reasons: whole families were going together (and therefore no need for American wakes); it was ensured that at least one person could speak English (the spoken language at their destination); and another principle was that nobody would be forced to go.

James Hack Tuke (1819 – 1896) was a Quaker from York, England. After a visit to the west of Ireland in 1847, Tuke spent over 50 years of his life striving to eradicate poverty and deprivation in the west of Ireland. His philanthropist work has been featured in many journals, including articles by local parish priest, Fr. Kevin Hegarty, and in ‘Within the Mullet’ by the late Rita Nolan. In deference to Tuke and his workers, Nolan said, “Many people in the Mullet probably owe them their very existence. Without the help given by these strangers, our ancestors too might have perished with the many who died.”

For several years, Rosemarie Geraghty has been painstakingly researching the history of the families who travelled to Boston and Quebec from Erris and Achill, assisted by ‘The Tuke Fund’. Working from Ionad Deirbhile, the visitor centre in Eachléim, Geraghty (no relation to John Garrity!) has already helped numerous descendants to discover their heritage – many of whom have returned to Erris to retrace their ancestors’ steps.

It is incredibly bittersweet to hear the stories of the journeys on the ships and of life in farflung places. Rosemarie Geraghty has been privileged to read some of the letters that have been found, written home from abroad. Here are some excerpts, from ‘The Tuke Fund 1883’:

“I rent a house in the town for £2 a month, Pat and Michael are working together under the same man, they are getting seven shillings a day … Provision is not to say too dear here … but clothes are very dear … The next letter I send will not be empty … ”

“This is a country place and a great place for farmers … those that are working on the railroad are getting 6s. 3d. per day … Young men would do well in this country, but weak families can’t do so well ... But it is far better for them to come to this country weak or strong, or [sic] to try to live in misery as long as the [sic] live … we live out in the country six miles from the nearest town, we live quite content and very happy that we came out. May the Lord bless those that relieved us in taking us out of poverty.”

Whether or not you are Irish, or Irish Diaspora, one cannot fail to be moved by these stories. Ionad Deirbhile visitor centre – which houses all of Rosemarie Geraghty’s research on Tuke’s Blacksod Bay Emigration scheme – is well worth a visit, as is the memorial garden in the shadows of the iconic Blacksod Lighthouse.

And for anyone who might be passing through the town of Hitchin, Hertfordshire (UK) – perhaps you could please say a “thank you”, on behalf of the people of Erris. This is where James Hack Tuke is buried.

Go raibh maith agat, Mr. Tuke.

Posted by admin at Jun 22, 2016 Category: Other
Tags: Blacksod, Eachléim, emigration, James Hack Tuke, John Garrity