The newly discovered Irish relative of Annie Moore, the first person to pass through Ellis Island immigration center in 1892, has spoken of the influence of the Cork woman on generations of Irish immigrants in the US and how she has become as symbolic figure for Irish Americans.

Moore, then a 17-year old girl from Cork, made history on January 1, 1892, when she passed through the Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor on its opening day, the first person to do so. Traveling with her younger brothers, she was on her way to meet her parents who had already made the move to the US and she was awarded a $10 gold coin for the privilege of being first through the gate.

It has been said that it was only through the chivalry of another that Annie was to become the name we remembered, as an Austrian man who stood front of the line as the ship doors were opening stood aside to let her and her 15 and 12-year old brothers proceed ahead of him.

Moore’s onward journey in the US was the cause of much confusion and, until 2006, the life of the wrong Annie Moore was heralded as an inspirational story for Irish immigrants. Her American relatives, however, the closest of whom was her grand nephew Michael Schulman, were aware of their connection to the famous historical figure, but it wasn’t until March of this year that Paul Linehan from Co. Kildare discovered he was her closest relative living in Ireland.

“Some families have American cousins but we didn’t have any of that in our family history so to suddenly discover that we were related to such an historical figure as the first person through Ellis Island and a symbol of emigration has become a huge thing for us,” Linehan told the Irish Times.

Read more: Genealogist finds living Irish relatives of first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island

The Kildare man, who is Moore’s first cousin thrice removed, was finally tracked down following a decade-long search by genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak.

On learning of their historic family connection, Smolenyak also informed the Linehan family that their new American cousin Michael Schulman would be attending the March 30 Irish America Hall of Fame luncheon in New York and the decision was made to instigate a small family reunion.

“Michael is the grandson of Annie’s younger brother, Philip who is with her in the statute at Ellis Island and in Cobh – Megan arranged for us to meet before the luncheon and it was a very relaxed conversation as we tried to stitch together what we knew of our family history from both sides,” Linehan continued.

Joining Hall of Fame honorees former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey, space shuttle commander Eileen Collins, journalist and writer Pete Hamill and Northern Ireland peace process facilitator Edward JT Kenney, as well as Lifetime Achievement Award winner President Bill Clinton, Linehan was struck by the genuine and heartfelt awareness those he met with had for their Irish heritage.

Not only this, but he became aware of the important role that his own relative had played in acting as a symbolic figure for these Irish Americans and for the generations of Irish immigrants who sought passage to the US in the hope of making something better of themselves.

“All these important Irish-Americans were being honored and I was struck by how aware they were of their Irish ancestry ... it wasn’t leprechauns and shamrocks and yet there was an understanding of how they had all come from Ireland and traveled different journeys to get to where they are now,” he said.

“And it really struck me how their access to America had almost been granted by Annie Moore – it was Annie Moore and all the other anonymous Annie Moores that we don’t know about, who paved the way for all these people in this room in Manhattan to achieve what they had achieved.

“It wasn’t so much the immigrants themselves because their lives didn’t improve dramatically but their children and their children’s children who had access to education and healthcare and a bit more money that led to that building up from the bottom that has made America what it is today.”

A tenor who sings regularly with the Drawing Room Opera Company, Linehan has long included the Brendan Graham emigration song “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears” in his repertoire, little imagining that little Annie Moore, the subject of the song, was his own relative.

Linehan performed the song at the luncheon shortly after meeting with Moore’s American relatives. “Isle of Hope was something that was in my repertoire for the last number of years but now it’s changed dramatically for me knowing that the person I am singing about is a relative and so the enormity of that and the emotions become very real.”

Read more: First through Ellis island - Annie Moore’s tough and tragic life

H/T: Irish Times