In April, 1847, Stephen E. De Vere, a compassionate landlord, travelled as an emigrant to Canada in a converted lumber and cargo boat. His description of conditions is appalling.
'Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered man. How could it be otherwise? Hundreds of poor people men, women, and children of all ages from the drivelling idiot of ninety to the babe just born, huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart, the fever patients lying between the sound, in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging, by a change of position, the natural restlessness of the disease. The food supply was of the poorest quality. Drinking water was mixed with vinegar to kill the stench.'
Yet they changed America, among the famine emigrants Patrick Kennedy, great grandfather of an American presdient, later Micheal Regan ditto, and indeed, Fulmouth Kearney ... William Ford, 1846 father of Henry Ford, the man who changed America, to name but a few.
In the American Civil War, 250,000 fought for the Union. They helped create the American political system, built the Catholic Church, changed the face of Ireland and America. Their legacy is with us all today.
The poet Evan Boland said it best:
“Like oil lamps, we put them out the back —
of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then
a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:
they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:
Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.
And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.”