Irish Emigration Project Shines Light On Exiles

Roundup: Talking About History

A proposal to establish a centre for emigration studies in Co Mayo was mooted by council cathaoirleach Henry Kenny (FG) at the weekend.

Cllr Kenny, a brother of the Fine Gael leader, was officiating at the launch in Castlebar of Emile - a Culture 2000 project involving Sweden, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Ireland.

The US ambassador to Ireland, James C Kenny, whose grandparents emigrated from Mayo in 1907, was a special guest. The project was simultaneously launched in the five participating countries. Emile has redressed a serious vacuum in the Republic's knowledge-base of emigration to America, and also informs contemporary issues around immigration and integration, according to Irish co-ordinator Austin Vaughan, who is Mayo county librarian.

To date, the main collections of emigrant letters have been held in the Public Records Office, Northern Ireland and the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh.

The five Emile participants experienced the highest European emigration rates throughout the study period, 1840-1920. A sub-project, Young Emile, compares the experiences of contemporary immigrants to Europe with those described in old letters

"It has been estimated that round EUR 260 million was sent home to Ireland by our 19th century emigrants. These letters and parcels were also accompanied by liner-tickets, clothes and photos of life in the new world. Not surprisingly, it was mainly women who sent home the remittances," said Mr Vaughan.

Some 50 per cent of these emigrants were young, single women, the majority of whom went into domestic service.

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