Can you help? Seeking descendants of the 156 Irish “Primrose girls” who emigrated to Canada, in 1853.

A group of Irish amateur genealogists from a small Galway town are seeking to connect with descendants of 156 emigrants known as the “Primrose” girls after the name of the ship they sailed on to Canada in 1853. 

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Here is their letter:

Dear IrishCentral readers,

We hope you may be able to assist a small voluntary group of genealogy researchers in the west of Ireland.  We are “The Primrose Girls Project” and would greatly appreciate if you could publish this article in the Irish Central.

We, “The Primrose Girls’ Project” are currently undertaking research on a group of workhouse orphan girls who traveled from Mountbellew Workhouse in County Galway, Ireland via the port of Limerick bound for Quebec Canada on the Primrose ship on July 16th, 1853. Our aim as a group is to discover what happened to these orphan girls on arrival in Canada. Record their stories and reconnect with their descendants’. These girls, so long forgotten in their native place, deserved to be remembered. The group are hoping to have a commemoration for the girls in 2021 in Galway.

 The girls’ passage was paid for by the Board of Guardians in Mountbellew workhouse Galway as part of an assisted emigration process. They arrived in Canada on September 1853. They apparently arrived with another group of young orphan girls from Parsonstown union.  A total of 156 young girls arrived that day on the Primrose. It is thought some went to Bytown/Ottawa and others went on to Toronto and Hamilton where they got employment. It is believed that some of the orphan girls were sent to Sisters of Charity in Bytown/Ottawa to be retrained, as it appeared they did not have the skills required for the work available.  It must be noted that these young girls had spent a good number of years in the workhouse and therefore had no access to any kind of training.

Hearsay suggests that some of the girls did not stay in Canada and may have moved down to into America.  This may have happened after they married or they may simply have left Canada in search of work or possibly family in some part of the U.S.A.

Among the girls were Ellen Egan, b. 1838, married William Parker, lived in Renfrew County, died in Guelph in 1915, and Ellen Madden, b. 1835, married Michael Gallery/Gallagher, died in Toronto 1876 at age 41. Our aim is to learn the fate of the orphan girls and to connect with their descendants. 

 If you can assist in any way, please contact:

A list of the orphan girls as follows:

Biddy Molloy, aged 18

Mary Carr, aged 19

Biddy Barrett, aged 16

Catherine Connolly, aged 20

Peggy Lohan, aged 18

Mary Rafferty, aged 17 

Biddy King, aged 18

Catherine Higgins, aged 19

Ellen Egan, aged 15

Honor Gibbons, aged 23

Kitty Loughnane, aged 15

Mary Shannon, aged 15

Bessy Fallon, aged 16

Biddy Kelly, aged 18

Kitty Rabbitt, aged 18

Ellen Madden, aged 18

Ellen Brennan, aged 18

Honor Corbett, aged 15

Mary Brennan, aged 22

Mary Coffey, aged 17

Mary Down, aged 20

Winny Dowd, aged 17

Anne McGrath, aged 15

Biddy Healy, aged 16

Honor Brady, aged 16

Margaret Coffey, aged 19

Mary Concannon, aged 15

Biddy Toohey, aged 18

Celia McCabe, aged 19

Jane Murray, aged 15

Judy Healy, aged 20

Mary Killarney, aged 21

Biddy Cox, aged 20

Catherine Kilgannon, aged 15

Honor Quinn, aged 18

Mary Daly, aged 18

Biddy Breheny, aged 20

Catherine Fallon, aged 17

Kitty Heneghan, aged 26

Mary Dooly, aged 20

Mary Coffey, aged 18

Mary Kilfoyle, aged 18

Mary Warde, aged 16

Mary Mitchell, aged 16

Catherine Keogh, aged 20

Jane Kelly, aged 40

Fanny Gereghty, aged 15

Biddy Ruane, aged 40

Further information supplied to group by Dr. Gerard Moran who has written many books and articles on emigration from Ireland, on 3 of the workhouse orphan girls are as follows:

Ellen Egan

Born 1838 from electoral division of Castleblakeney

Appears on the 1861 Canadian Census where she is living in Toronto and working as a bread-maker. She is boarding with Mrs. Gallagher who is also an Irish immigrant.

Ellen Egan marries William Parker in 1862 and they move to eastern Ontario to an area called Renfrew. They lived in the township of Alice and Fraser. She is recorded as a farmer’s wife and it is also noted that she cannot read or write.

The couple went on to have three children – Michael, James, and Mary born 1862, 1865 and 1869 respectively. In the 1881 Canadian Census, the family are living in the township of Petawana and McKay and they have had two more children – Joseph and Ellen.

Towards the end of her life, it would seem William and Ellen move back close to Toronto and settle in a place called Guelph.

Ellen Parker (nee Egan) died in Guelph in February 1915. The cause of death was recorded as ‘senile changes of arteries’. She was 76 years old.

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 Ellen Madden

Born 1835 and from the electoral division of Clonbrock

Married Michael Gallery (Gallagher?) on 17 August 1858. The couple stayed in Toronto and had three children – Patrick, Mary, and Ellen.

Ellen Gallery (nee Madden ) died aged 41 on 30 October 1876. Her cause of death was peritonitis.

 Anne McGrath:

Born in 1838 and from the electoral division of Cooloo.

In the 1861 Canadian Census, Anne was a servant to Joseph Parker in Montreal. She married Peter Keenan in February 1866 in Welland, Ontario.

Welland was quite close to the US border and they may have migrated to the US but this hasn’t been confirmed as there are too many Peter and Ann Keenans in the 1870 US Federal Census but there seems to be no record of them in Canada either.

If you have any information you think might be able to help please email