An Emigration Scheme For Kilkenny Weavers
Edward J Law (2013)
There was a policy of assisted emigration from Ireland for half a century between 1828 and 1878 in efforts to relieve distress at home and to create a better future. Mass emigration began about 1835, and between 1841 and 1844 the numbers leaving the country averaged 50,000 a year. State aid was usually directed at emigration to the British colonies of Canada and Australia, but emigrants who had a choice of destination favoured America.
Those who were officially aided in the 50 years to 1878 averaged about 7,000 a year. Of the many others who emigrated some met the cost from their own resources, some were aided by remittances from relatives or friends already abroad, others were funded by landlords, and some by local schemes.
Most of the emigration was from the western counties and in county Kilkenny there are few records of schemes, either assisted or otherwise. There is information on one small scheme, small when compared with Lord Lansdowne’s scheme at Kenmare when 200 emigrants departed for embarkation at Cork week after week. In the summer of 1841 a meeting was held in Kilkenny city under the auspices of the Woollen Operative Relief Fund, when donations were made to finance an assisted emigration scheme for unemployed weavers.
A little over £288 was raised, of which some £275 was expended in funding 51 individuals on the whole of their journey. The group comprised 10 single men, 14 men who were heads of families, 13 women and 14 children, and two children were born in the course of the passage. It is interesting, in view of harrowing accounts of coffin ships at the time of the famine, a few years later, to find that all the emigrants survived the journey.
On departure from Kilkenny the men were given money for shoes, and the whole party had sufficient funds to support them until they reached Liverpool, for which port they sailed after being carried in cars to Wexford. The Fund also met the cost of passage to New York, £1.15.0 for adults, half price for children, together with the cost of provisions, cooking apparatus and bedding for the passage.
The Relief Fund committee, which was headed by Louis Prim, engaged James Brophy to superintend arrangements for the passage of the party from Liverpool to New York. The emigrants, and the committee, were well pleased with Brophy’s services; he secured all the necessary accommodation, acquired proper stores for the voyage and presented all his accounts and receipts for their inspection.
The group embarked on the ship Prentice from Liverpool in mid-August 1841 and by mid-November the committee, who had awaited hearing from the emigrants in America, held a final meeting of the Fund chaired by the Mayor, Dr Kinchella, in the Assembly room of the Tholsel. The committee, their treasurer, John McCraith, and secretaries William Aikenhead and John Flynn, were thanked for their exertions. They were congratulated on relieving a body of men who were starving on the streets, and ensuring for their colleagues who remained in Kilkenny a better chance of constant employment. It was reported that the small balance of monies remaining was distributed in Kilkenny amongst the distressed weavers and the families of those who went out to America.
The meeting heard that all the emigrants who had communicated with them were in employment and must have been gratified by the following extract from a letter written by one of them: “Here there is no such thing as food wanting by anyone –everyone is comfortable- no paupers, no one barefooted; and there is no diet here but bread and meat.”