Larne in Co. Antrim is to remember the launch of one of the first ships to bring Irish immigrants to America.
On May 1, 1717, the ship “Friends Goodwill” left the busy port of Larne on Antrim’s east coast and set sail on what would be a terrible four-month journey across the Atlantic.
Next year will mark 300 years since the ship’s master Edward Goodwin and his 52 passengers became some of the first Irish immigrants to the US, a journey that would pave the way for the thousands more and would mark the start, in particular, of the Ulster Scots relocation to America.
In tribute to the 18th century migration that did much to shape the US as we know it today, the Mid- and East Antrim borough council have decided that the 300-year anniversary cannot pass by without commemoration and planning is now underway to officially mark the historic milestone.
A monument to the “Friends Goodwill” already stands in Curran Park in Larne in honor of the brave passengers on this first emigrant ship, which was first unveiled on the 275th anniversary of the sailing of the ship in 1992. The statue depicts a family - mother, father and child - waiting to board the ship, with a large bible under the arm of the mother and the boy carrying his shoes, a trick employed so as not to wear them out. For many of the Ulster Scots emigrating at this time, the family bible was their most precious possession and many of them had their family trees written out inside.
Addressing the subject of the anniversary at last month’s monthly meeting, the borough council unanimously agreed to the commemoration when proposed by Alderman Gregg McKeen.
McKeen, a representative for the DUP, told the Larne Times: “This was a significant event, as it marked the start of the whole migration of people from these shore to America.
“It is an important part of Larne’s legacy and it should be celebrated accordingly.
“I have asked the council to start working up a plan for the anniversary in May 2017.
“This could perhaps be based on a nautical theme and incorporate tall ships, reenactments and a number of other activities.”
When “Friends Goodwill” eventually landed in Boston, Massachusetts, sometime between September 9 and 16 in 1717, they were very fortunate to have lost just one life on the passage over.
Meeting constant headwinds as they sailed west, the ship made extremely poor progress and food supplies grew lower and lower. They eventually fell in with another ship who prevented them from starving for a little while longer but the prolonged bad conditions and further delays caused meant that hunger was an ever-ominous presence.
The crew were able to catch some sharks and dolphins but the meagre supplies were still falling short. Already having spent three months at sea, the ship was struck by a further dangerous storm in August leaving the crew exhausted. Both crew and passengers were almost giving up hope that they would ever see land again when they slowly made their way into Boston harbor around the second week of September 1717.
Although others had left Northern Ireland for America before this, “Friends Goodwill” departed right on the cusp of what would become known as the “Great Migration” of Ulster-Scots and Scots-Irish from 1718 onwards.
Previously, the first major attempt at migration was in 1636 when 160 Presbyterians left Co. Down for New England but were forced to abandon the venture because of bad weather. From then until 1718, the migration was sporadic and mainly undertaken by individuals, often securing cheap passage on tobacco boats bound for Delaware. At least 12 ships left Belfast for Delaware between 1688 and 1703.
H/T: Larne Times