The Emigrant

There was simply not enough work in Ireland to pay the rent. Consequently from early times the Irishman and Irishwoman left to find work either seasonally harvesting crops in England or shearing sheep in Scotland or they emigrated on a more permanent basis to England, America, Australia, and New Zealand.

The first leg of the journey abroad for most Irish emigrants was on foot. Some only had to walk as far as the nearest town with a train station. Others walked for days to get to a port for the voyage overseas. Most had nothing to carry but the clothes on their backs.

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck


Queenstown was a major port from which the Irish immigrants left Ireland for America.

Mathias, Penelope, James and Bridget Langan left from Queenstown in 1892.

Joseph and Fanny Walsh left from Queenstown in 1894.

Originally called Cobh (pronounced "cove" ) until Queen Victoria visited in 1849 when the name was changed to Queenstown. It was changed back to Cobh in 1921. Cobh is in Cork Harbor.

Between 1848 and 1950 almost six million people left Ireland; two and a half million of them left from Queenstown.

The Illustrated London News Sept.5, 1874

Queenstown, Train Station

Not posted.

Fanny and Joseph Walsh most likely arrived in Queenstown on the train from Ballinrobe.

Post card collection of Maggie Land Blanck


Postmarked 1906

Post card collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Cobh (Queenstown), Co. Cork
Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Queenstown at the White Star Wharf
Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Queenstown Harbour

No postmark

Post card collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Photo collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Queenstown Harbour

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Queenstown Harbour

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

St. Patrick's Street, Cork, Ireland

Printed on the back:

"St Patrick's Street, Cork, Ireland — The capital of the county of Cork in the south of Ireland on the river Lee, 15 miles from the sea. St. Patrick street is one of the main streets. The principle buildings are the Protestant and Roman Catholic Cathedrals and Queen's College"

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Entrance to Queenstown Harbour, ROCHES POINT

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The S. S. Adriatic

Several of the Walsh/Langan clan listed the Adriatic as the ship on which they come to America. I have never, in fact, found anyone in the Langan/Walsh clan listed on the Adriatic. However, it was typical of several ships that sailed for the White Star Line. There were two ships named the Adriatic that sailed for the White Star Line: One built in 1871 was scrapped in 1898, another Adriatic was built in 1907. This image is of the 1907 ship. Since the Walshes/Langans all immigrated before 1907 if any of them did come on the Adriatic it had to have been on the earlier ship.


The number of people living in Ireland in 1966 was less than half that of 1841, despite the fact that Ireland had the highest rate of marital fertility in Western Europe. The decrease in population was mostly due to emigration, not only to the United States, but to England, Canada, and Australia.

Most of these immigrants came from the rural west of Ireland. Census statistics show that the population of Co. Mayo was 293,112 in 1821. There was an increase to 388,887 in 1841 (a few years before the famine). In 1851 the population was 274, 449 which dropped to 254,796 in 1861. It continued to drop, and by 1891(three years before Joseph Walsh left) it was 219,034. The all time low was 109,525 in 1971. Since then there has been a slight increase with the population in 1981 increasing to 114,548. Despite the fact that the town of Ballinrobe was a magnet for people moving in from the countryside, it too saw dramatic decreases in population. In 1841 the population of Ballinrobe stood at 1,722, by 1891 it was at 1,060, in 1979 it was 637.

Michael and Thomas Walsh left in the 1880. Fanny and Joseph Walsh left in 1894. The Langans left in the 1890s.

Between 1876 and 1921, 84% of the Irish emigrants went to the United States.

In order to understand who emigrated and who didn't, it is important to understand the system of inheritance in Ireland.

Families in Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s inherited by a method called the "stem family system" in which only one child inherited control of the families holding. Since most Irish Catholic families were large and most of the plots of land were too small to be divided among all of the male offspring or the businesses too small to support many people, one son or daughter inherited the right to the land or the business and the other children were forced to life a celibate life at home helping on the family property, take a menial job with very little hope of ever getting a piece of land, or emigrate.

When there were too many adult mouths to feed and not enough land to feed them, the immediate family and relatives paid to send the younger family members abroad, most frequently to America. Because of this system, the Irish were emigrating to England, America, and Australia long before and long after the famine.

Because the Irish Catholic could not "own" the land the stem system in Ireland involved one son or daughter inheriting the right to rent a certain parcel of land from an English overlord. It was, however, not necessarily the oldest son who inherited "the farm". The parents needed to maintain control, for their own livelihood and the support of younger children, so frequently it was the youngest son or daughter who was around long enough. The inheritance fell pretty much to whomever was still at home at the time the head of the household (father or mother) died or grew too old to work the land his/herself. It was not infrequent for widows to remain the heads of household ever after their children had reached adulthood. This was the case with Penelope Byrne Langan's mother, Penelope Naughton Byrne, who at one point had her son, his wife, their two children, her daughter, her husband, and their three children living with her where she was listed as the head of household.

Most histories of Ireland say that generally one or two children in a large family married with the remaining siblings being forced to stay on the property as unmarried adult workers, to immigrant, or to go to the workhouse.

By 1960 the town of Ballinrobe had a population of 1,160 but the surrounding countryside had lost half the population they had had in 1890. Everything points to the fact that a lot of people from Ballinrobe emigrated.

Established immigration patterns indicate that people went where there were already other relatives, friends or neighbors. There must have been quite a number of people from Ballinrobe in New York City.

Who in the Walsh, Langan and related families stayed and who emigrated?

The Walshes

John Walsh was listed as a farmer in 1869 in Knockanotish. At other times he was listed as either a gardener or a steward. Was there land to inherit in John's family? It is clear from other records that there were Walshes living in Carrownalecka from 1827 and in Knockanotish from 1851. However, I don't know for sure if John was in the same family of Walshes. The names of the Walshes in Carrownalecka in 1827 and 1851 are not the same as John's or any of his children. The Walsh living in Knockanotish in 1851 was named John, but he was only renting a house and a yard, not acreage (at least at that local). In any event John Walsh stayed in Ireland. Did he have siblings who emigrated?

Of the 11 known children of John Walsh, at least eight of them immigrated to NYC.

None of the sons of John Walsh were listed in the 1901 census in Ballinrobe.

The Langans

Mathias Langan, his wife, Nappy Byrne Langan, and all their known children, Pat, Martin, Maggie, James and Bridget, immigrated to America between 1887 and 1892. This indicates that there was no land for them to inherit in Ireland.

Nappy Byrne's brother, Thomas Bryne had inherited the property that had belonged to Nappy's father, Michael, in Mochara in Shrule Parish. Thomas inherited this property, however, only at the death of his mother, Nappy Naughton Byrne, the widow of Michael Byrne.

Bridget Langan Ferrick, Mathias Langan's sister, was listed as a widow in the 1901 census in Ballinrobe.

Pat Langan, Mathias Langan's brother died unmarried in 1888 on High Street, Ballinrobe.

Mathias Langan returned to Ballinrobe after the death of his wife. He died there in 1920.

There are Byrnes still living on the property in Mochara.

The Emigration Route From Ballinrobe to New York City

Michael Walsh in various records in the US said he sailed from Queenstown.

I do not know what route Thomas Walsh took because I can't find immigration information on him.

Joseph and Fanny emigrated together in 1894 and went through Queenstown to Philadelphia.

I have not found Pat, Martin, and Maggie Langan's immigrations records. Since Queenstown was the most common route from Ballinrobe, it seems most logical that they also went through Queenstown.

Mathias, Penelope, James and Bridget immigrated on the S.S. Germanic, which sailed from Queenstown and arrived in New York on April 1, 1892.

The officer in the Southern Mayo Irish Research Center in Ballinrobe told me that the most common route for people in the area before the railroad came to Ballinrobe in 1892 was overland by foot to Claremorris (a distance of about 10 to 15 miles) and then by train to Cork (Queenstown) .

This was probably the route taken by Michael Walsh in 1885 or 1886. Was he traveling alone or did Thomas emigrate at the same time?

Joseph and Fanny Walsh probably took the train from Ballinrobe to Queenstown.

Pat, Martin, and Maggie Langan most likely took the route through Claremorris. As did Mathias et al who left before the Railroad opened in Ballinrobe in November 1892.

The Train Routes Across Ireland

In 2006 I obtained an 1880 map of Ireland that includes the railway lines from the west to the port cities on the east coast of Ireland. I was hoping it would clarify the routes from Ballinrobe to either Queenstown, Ireland of Liverpool, England which were the two most popular routes from Ireland to America.

Queenstown, the most popular route to America, was located in County Cork in the south of Ireland. The most likely route to Liverpool, England was by ship across the Irish Sea from Dublin.

Before 1897 the train from Claremorris went through Roscommon to Athlone then through either Mullengar or through Partarlington to Dublin in what appears to be a relatively direct route. While I have not been able to find any information on the routes that were taken from the west to either Queenstown or Liverpool I would imagine that this was the route taken by those who left from Liverpool.

The route from Ballinrobe to Queenstown was complicated, at best. The route was the same as far as Athlone. Then it appears that one could have:


Back track to the west through Athenry, then south to Limerick, southeast to Tipperary and at last south west to Cork.


Continued east from Athlone to Partarlington and then southwest to Cork

It is also possible that the Langans, who had connections in Shrule on the Mayo Galway boarder, went by foot to Tuam where the route was shorter than the way through Athlone. From Tuam one went directly south through Limerick east to Tipperary and then southwest to Cork.

A spur which extended from Claremorris to Ballinrobe was opened in November 1892 and ran through Hollymount. There were no official opening ceremonies. However opening day was a Church Holiday and a large crowd from the surrounding countryside gathered to watch the first train run.

In July 2010 Michel O'Grady wrote to inform me that the Ballinrobe train station was on Station Road a "spur off Kilmaine Road. The station house is still there but, alas, there is no evidence of the original line."

On a Google map you can still follow the old train line for a few miles.

Ballinrobe-Claremorris Line

The coming of the railroad to Ballinrobe made for an easier flow of goods from the factories in Dublin which replace the locally made products.

While the railroads were the projects of the business and gentry classes the construction of the roads provided employment for the local Irish peasant and made possible an easier method of emigration. The construction of the Ballinrobe spur took two years and included draining the bog at Curramore, deep cutting through Caltra Hill, rock cutting near Claremorris, bridge and culvert building, making abutments on the Robe River and building the platforms and station house in Ballinrobe. Carting (the moving of goods from the station to the town and outlying area) at one point employed 16 carters in Ballinrobe.

Train service from Ballinrobe to Claremorris ran two trains per day in each direction.

"The first train left Ballinrobe at 8:35 reaching Claremorris at 9:00. The return working left Claremorris at 10:05, reaching Ballinrobe at 10:45. The afternoon train left Ballinrobe at 14:04 arriving at the junction at 14:46."
By 1897 there were three regular trains in each direction with additional trains on Fair days and in 1927 the number of trains in each directions was increased to four.

The main use of the line was freight with cows, sheep, horses, timber and pigs the most important commodities going out from Ballinrobe. Some stone was also shipped. Incoming freight was coal, bran, flour, Guinness, manure, Indian corn and sundries. In fact, the movement of cattle was the principal reason to build the Ballinrobe Claremorris line. The trains were frequently "mixed" with freight and passenger cars pulled by the same engine.

In February 1894 the Athenry & Tuam Extension to Claremorris was opened. This route went directly south from Claremorris through Tuam to Anthenry, saving the zigzagging that the traveler had to do before that date. It is possible that Joseph and Fanny Walsh took this shorter route.

The line to Ballinrobe was closed in 1960.

Information in this section from: The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Rrailways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates

Evening Train for Ballinrobe at Hollymount 1954

The Railway Magazine May 1954, collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Ballinrobe train passing though the centre span of the Caltra cutting overbridge.

The Railway Magazine May 1954, collection of Maggie Land Blanck

No. 108, Swallow, on a mixed train at Ballinrobe, c. 1905

Notice the passenger cars at the front and the freight cars at the back of the train.

The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Railways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The branch train, Ballinrobe, c. 1934; loco 559

The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Railways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Loco 588 crossing the robe river bridge (T. G. O'Donoghue)

The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Railways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Hollymount. looking towards Claremorris (T. G. O'Donoghue)

The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Railways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Ballinrobe, looking towards the end of the line (H. C. Casserley)

The Baronial Lines of the Midland Great Western Railways, Loughrea and Ballinrobe by Padraig O'Cuimin 1972 Transportation Research Associates collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The American Letter

The eight-year difference between Michael's immigration and Joseph and Fanny's immigration and the five year span of the Langans immigration, means that there were letters back and forth. One of the important parts of the letters from America was the money that was sent to subsidize the family in Ireland or to pay the fare to send other family members to "Amerikay".

Since most Irish peasants born before the mid 1800s were illiterate they had to have someone read the letter to them as illustrated by the following pictures. News from abroad added some excitement to life and letters were shared with neighbors and friends.

Printed on the back.

A letter from Pat in America

There are as many Irish out of Ireland as in it. Two-thirds of the Irish emigrants come to the United States; the others go chiefly to Canada and Australia. The strong ties of family affection, so characteristic of the Celt, were strengthened in Ireland by centuries of poverty and oppression, and intensified at last by famine. The homeward letters do not go empty; a million dollars a year go with them, from brothers and sons, and daughters, and husbands, and lovers, who have found prosperity

in far-off Australia or in America, the land of the free. In this letter, we may fancy, Pat telling Nora that he has the cottage nearly finished and that he will send her a ticket to come to him before Christmas. Then Nora will bid her friends and dear old Ireland good-bye as we now do.
Stereo card collection of Maggie Land Blanck. Not dated

Post card collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The American Letter

The American Wake

All the Walsh and Langan emigrants probably had an "American Wake" before leaving Ireland.

There were mixed feelings in Ireland about immigration. On the one hand it offered greater opportunity to the sons and daughters who would not have been able to marry and have families in Ireland and who would go off to seek their fortunes in a new world. On the other hand it meant that they would never see their parents again.

The words of the Irish immigration song The Shores of Americay indicate this clearly:

It's not for the love of gold I go, and it's not for the love of fame,
But fortune might smile on me, and I might win a name.
But yet it is for gold I go, o'er the deep and raging foam,
To build a home for my own true love on the shores of Americay.
And if I die in a foreign land, from my home and friends far away,
No kind mother's tears will flow o'er my grave on the shores of Americay.

Because the trip was so long and difficult there was little chance that the emigrant would return to Ireland. This was equated on the part of the family left in Ireland as being as good as dead and a custom arose to hold a wake for the departing emigrant.

The custom of sitting up all night with the dead until the burial the next morning (called "waking" or "watching") was an ancient practice in Ireland. Irish wakes were a mixture of sadness and gaiety, often combined with drinking.

It is not know when the "American Wake" came into being, but it was practiced at least as early an 1830. It became more popular as immigration increased and was particularly popular in the west of Ireland. To the Gaelic speakers in Mayo it was known as the "feast of departure".

The emigrant made the rounds of friends and neighbors in the week preceding his departure to let them know he/she was leaving and to extend an informal invitation to the "wake". The "wake" started in the evening before the emigrant was to depart and lasted until the early hours of the next morning.

In the early days the wakes were sober affairs since many people did not have money to serve refreshments. They were occasions to give advice to the emigrant and to ask him/her to give messages to loved ones and family members already in America. As time went on the wakes took on more of a party atmosphere with food, drink, dancing, and music. In some cases the entire expense for the "American wake" was sent from America along with the sailing ticket by relatives already in America.

The night was a mixture of gaiety and sadness. There were bouts of crying and keening (caoine meaning to wail or lament). Sad ballads about the difficulties of departing and the hard life of the immigrant were sung.

When morning came the emigrant said good bye to his parents. A "convoy" of his friends and acquaintances accompanied him to a particular crossroads or to the train station, if one was near.

American wakes often ranked in importance only slightly lower than births, marriages, and deaths.

There was an additional factor deeply rooted in Irish folklore that contributed to the correlation of going to "Americay", which lay to the west, and to death. According to ancient voyage tales, the land of the dead lay in the mythical isles of the west. Western travelers were believed fated to an early demise. Western rooms were traditionally reserved for older parents who had already relinquished control of farms to their sons, in other words the most likely to be the next to die.

Ironically, Tir no nog, the mythical western "Land of the Young", was the place from which no one returned except to wither and die.

Michael Walsh most likely walked to Claremorris where he took the train. The family and friends of Joseph and Fanny certainly saw them off to the train in Ballinrobe in 1892.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Harpers Bazar December 10, 1870

Irish Emigrants Leaving Home

Visible on the side of two of the trunks: NEW YORK

This images shows the contrast between the sorrow and the gayety associated with the "American Wake".

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The Illustrated London News May 10, 1851


Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, Illustrated London News May 10, 1851


Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

By A. O. Kelly, The Illustrated London News, July 21, 1883


The large Engraving that fills two pages of our Supplement this week is from our Special Artist's drawing of a scene he lately witnessed in the county of Galway. The little town is the capital of Connemara, one of the poorest districts of Ireland. The town is usually dull and the streets empty; but on this occasion the main street was crowded with people from the surrounding district who were about to leave Ireland with a free passage granted by Government under the emigrations clauses of the Arrears Act. There are many similar scenes at present going on throughout the distressed districts of Ireland.
Representatives of the Government sought employment in the States for these emigrants although the article does not say where. The emigrants were clothed, had free passage and were given some money "to start with on their arrival at their destination".

Thousands apparently availed themselves of the opportunity.

The artist "endeavored to introduce some of the types and as much of the character of the scene as he could". The figure in black in the lower left corner is a priest "who people are pressing around, as usual, for advice and assistance" (He's a pretty dandy looking fellow!). Two of the royal Irish constabulary can be seen on the left. The rest are the emigrants taking leave of family and friends and preparing to make their way to the docks to board their ships.

Note: Clearly there were multiple routes out of Ireland. I do not know anything about the emigrations out of Galway City.

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Univers Illustre, No date.

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2012, publication unknown, date unknown, reprint

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck


The emigration agent's office - the passage money paid

Printed on the back.

The Exile

Even to the casual observer the gradual depopulation of the Emerald Isle had been a most pitiful sight; how, then, it must have affected every true Irish man and every true Irish woman? Never since the Israelite captivity has there been an exodus on such an immense scale. A whole people flying in such numbers that, were the exodus to continue at the same rate, the date would not be far distant when the population would be reduced to a mere handful. In 1841 the population was close on 9 million, whereas at the present day it is no more than half that number. In normal circumstances it should by natural increase have attained to 18 million! There is no doubt, however, that a brighter day is dawning, and that ere long the subject of our illustration will cease to typify an ever present spectre in the lives of the Irish peasantry.

Postcard collection of Maggie Land blanck. not dated

Maggie Jane Roycroft Emigrated 1887 From Queenstown
Maggie Jane Roycroft born September 2, 1862 immigrated in 1887 from Queenstown and had her photograph taken from there "on leaving old Ireland".
She was COI, but also had two letters sent from a Methodist minister, Wm. Clarke, dated 1887, but I am sure her departure and circumstances would have been much the same as the Irish Catholic. She passed on so much of the Irish and Ireland to us grandchildren growing up, and much, much humor; that we are indebted to her forever for her values, wit, and courage. She grew up on a farm at Dunkelly, Goleen on the Mizen Peninsula near Dunmanus; daughter of James Roycroft & Eliza (Connell) Roycroft. She lived in NY for awhile, but her final destination was Chicago, IL.

Jerry Mercier, July 2006

Photo courtesy Jerry Mecier July 2006

Photo courtesy Jerry Mecier July 2006
Maggie's parents, James Roycroft & Eliza (Connell) Roycroft Maggie's sister Annie at Dunkelly home.

Letters from Ireland By Harriet Martineau, Reinhard S. Speck, 1852

While traveling by public car Harriet Martineau describes some emigrants who joined them near Castlebar:

"on approaching a cluster of houses, were were startled — to say the truth, out blood ran cold— at the loud cry of a young girl who ran across the road, with a petticoat over her head, which did not conceal the tears on her convulsed face. A crowd of poor people came from — we know not where — most of the in tears, women weeping quietly, others with unbearable cries. A man, his wife, and three young children were going to America. They were well dressed, all shod, and the little girls bonneted. There was some delay — much delay — about where to put their great box; and the delay was truly painful........ All eyes were fixed on the neighbors who were going away for ever. The last embraces were terrible to see; but worse were the kissings and clasping of hands during the log minutes that remained after the woman and children had taken their seats...... When a distant turn in the road showed the hamlet again, we could just distinguish the people standing where we left them. As for the family, — we could not see the man, who was on the other side of the car. The woman's face was soon like other people's, and the children were eating oatcake very composedly"
Martineau commented that the people do not go eagerly, the go "because they must". She had the impression that most people went with little knowledge of what they were going to. They went "because others have gone, because they are sent for, or because the have a general idea that is is a fine thing for them."

Life in America

The fast majority of Irish immigrants, despite the fact that they came from rural area of Ireland, settled in urban areas the United States.

Ireland had a long history of immigration with the highest rate of immigration being during the famine years. Joseph Walsh and his siblings and the Langans immigrated during a relatively slow immigration period.

Like many Irish newcomers before them the Walshes and Langans were Roman Catholic, relatively poor, and were most likely Gaelic/English speakers with few skills applicable to life in New York City. Upon their arrival in the United States all Irish immigrants were subject to a great deal of prejudice. Signs, which read "No Irish need apply", were common. I have one dated 1915. Classified ads in newspapers pointedly excluded the Irish: for instance

"Wanted, a Cook and a Chambermaid. They must be Americans, Scotch, Swiss, or Africans; none others need apply".
Even blacks were preferred to the Irish.

The Irish immigrant was frequently depicted with ape like features. See the image below for some of the stereotypical portrayals of the Irish immigrant. Though most Irish immigrants came from rural areas of Ireland, they preferred to settle in large cities like Boston and New York. Sociologists believe this is due to the community patterns of rural life and the accessibility of Catholic Churches in the large cities.

By the time Joseph Walsh and his siblings and the Langans emigrated in the 1890s the immigrant ships were vastly improved over the "coffin" ships of the mid 1800s. Some steamship companies offered concerts, church services, dances and games on board.

According to Kerby A. Miller in "Emigrants and Exiles, Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America,

"Usually, an uncle of aunt in the New World financed the initial departure of an eldest son or daughter, who in turn was expected to send prepaid passage tickets and promise further assistance (e.g., a place to live, help in finding employment) to his or her younger brothers and sisters."

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck



Collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Harper's Weekly April 4, 1874


"Arrah, thin, it's a great pity yer not alive to see how yer descindents honor yer memory"

The Irishman, however, had a much more romantic view of himself

Collection of Maggie Land Blanck
In this dreamlike image a young immigrant pines for his lost love back in Ireland.

For a list of Ballinrobe residents who immigrated through Ellis Island, New York between 1892 and 1906 go to go to Ballinrobe Immigrants

To see images of the immigrants arrival at the port of New York go to Immigration

If you have any suggestions, corrections, information, copies of documents, or photos that you would like to share with this page, please contact me at maggie@maggieblanck.com


The Temperance Movement

For early pictures representing the Temperance Movement in New York City

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©Maggie Land Blanck - Page created 2004 - latest update August 2013