Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ireland’s Still Reaching Out

The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.
                 (1998 amendment to Article 2, Constitution of Ireland)

Think of it: an island, stricken by famine, loses nearly one fourth of its population to either death or emigration. Such was the impetus causing a million Irish—many of them single young men and women—to leave their beloved home between 1845 and 1852.

From those million—well, at least those who survived journeying in the “coffin ships” headed for the New World—North America now claims multiplied millions of their descendants. In 2006, Irish descendants represented Canada’s fourth largest ethnic group—fourteen percent of the overall population—and a 2008 survey in the United States reveals thirty six million Americans claim Irish heritage.

These numbers of multiplied descendants are seen as part of the Irish Diaspora. While the government of Ireland technically classifies this dispersion as all persons of Irish nationality who habitually reside outside the island of Ireland—including their children—the traditional concept has been stretched to include the estimated eighty million people today who still cherish their Irish ancestry. This interpretation has been referenced by the Irish government in the quote mentioned above.

I’ve spent a lot of time considering the trails of one family falling into that second category. My husband’s Tully family—of which I’ve written extensively in posts here on this blog—left their native land in the 1840s, immigrated to Canada, settled in Ontario for a generation, and then eventually found their way to Chicago, the Dakota Territory, or even further west in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

After years of research, I feel like I know these pathways well—at least those in the New World. As far as those Irish origins, however, I was clueless until I stumbled upon some corroborating evidence. Yet, even then, I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Earlier this year, I wrote about a resource across the Atlantic that I had just discovered: Ireland Reaching Out. The organization had established a web presence after a successful pilot year, and an online forum promised to help descendants from around the world find their connections in their ancient homeland.

I took them up on their offer. I posted the information from those corroborating baptismal records on the Ireland Reaching Out forum for County Tipperary.

And waited.

Just this month, someone sent me an answer. In fact, it was someone quite familiar with researching in that area—Ballina in County Tipperary. We began a correspondence discussing the possible records that could match up with my family’s Tully data. While I have a long way to go on verifying data through documentation, I almost feel breathless to think I may finally have found the origin of at least one of our Irish families. In addition, further baptismal records seem to link the mystery Michael Tully I stumbled upon in the Canadian village of our Tully family’s residence with the rest of our family. A missing link I’m looking forward to verifying—along with the new-found distant cousins I’ve met while posting about that Tully line.

So much attention seems to be focusing on the Irish lately. Several U. S. cities host Irish festivals every summer attracting growing crowds of attendees. In the past months alone, there have been announcements of the opening of facilities dedicated to pursuit of specific aspects of Irish immigration or influence on American life—a museum in Connecticut; a library in Arizona. A Canadian film company recently released a documentary, Death or Canada, focusing on the Irish Famine and emigrants’ escape route to Canada. This past August marked the publication of Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, an extensive volume examining all aspects of what may have been the defining event in Irish history.

I’ve followed the announcements of all these opportunities for further immersion in Irish culture and history with great interest. But there is nothing to catch the eye of a family history researcher quite like the opportunity to pinpoint his or her own roots in the beloved emerald isle.

Above right: 1868 engraving by Henry Doyle, Emigrants Leave Ireland; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain. 


  1. As part Irish myself (although the "other half" of the family looked down on the Irish) I can feel your excitement! :) A library in Arizona struck me as an odd place for it - but just having the resource is marvelous.

    ...and hey... you've not found your roots there in Ireland... those folks came from other places... :) Someday, I suspect you will work the line all the way back to the gorge in Africa.

    1. Oh, Iggy, I forgot about your family's "better half" looking down on the Irish!

      About researching all the way back to "The Gorge"...I'm not sure I'll make it that far, but if my daughter continues to pursue her dream of researching ancient Irish history and archaeology, I may learn more about those roots than I'd originally planned :)

  2. It sounds like you might be on the cusp of a discovery...good for you! :)

    1. Here's hoping! It's the chase that keeps it interesting!

  3. I've had a similar experience with my blog. I've gained lots of comments and followers from Northern Ireland and Ireland. They tell me about great resources, books and contacts, and also about books and lectures going on in Ireland about the Scots Irish in New England. That was hard for me to wrap my head around at first. The latest group of emails was about an 18th century Scots Irish poet from my own hometown, he has't been published in America for 100 years but his poems were recently re-published in the UK. It is as if his poetry is more popular over there than right here in New England. It makes me realize how tightly we are all connected, even after crossing the big pond.

    1. Heather, although I don't have as much experience as you when it comes to "crossing the big pond," in gaining a perspective of the bigger picture of Irish immigration (to U.S., Canada and Australia), I have seen data on those earlier, lesser-known emigrations. I'm not surprised to hear what your international readers are telling you.

      I am learning to appreciate the broader perspective gained by utilizing several sources of information origin. We tend to have one type of focus here in the States, but news from these other countries can help broaden our perspective.

      What you mentioned about the Scots Irish poet is a case in point. While the renaissance of interest in his work has not yet hit our shores, because you know about this, you may be at the cutting edge of introducing his work back into his hometown and region!


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