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Immigrants: The Hardship of Leaving Home


The struggle of immigrants is an often told story and the one about the McEnaeney-Murphy families is no different. Lives on the home soil were burdensome, be the burden economics, religion, politics, or all three. People saw an alternative in "America," however that name was spelled in their native tongue. They saved and thrifted, and worked harder still, to amass the precious fare. Then they left, with beloved family members still in place. The tears of sorrow and of fear turned, soon enough, to those of excitement and joy on being released from the bondage that was home.


For the Irish the story plays much the same. Yet there were peculiar circumstances that made the passage stringent or smooth compared with other nationalities. On the plus side, many Irish--even most-- spoke English; they shared a strong native culture based on religion; they were oppositional by tradition to the dominant culture; they were not afraid of manual labor; they  were gregarious and hospitable. On the negative side, the Irish were mostly illiterate, terribly poor, rural, and quarrelsome to belligerence, easily given to  public brawls, frequently caused by drink


So too the McEnaeney-Murphys as they started out from Quenogue, that small townland sitting on the northern fringe of Inniskeen Parish, County Monaghan, near the first week of March, 1849. The McEnaeney children (the Irish spelling) were seven in number: Catherine (age 19), Nicholas (17), Ann (15), Mary (14), Rose (11), Patrick (10), and Philip (7). The second family of Ann Jennings with John Murphy consisted of Michael (4) and Dennis (2). Like other Irish emigrants they divided the family into several departing groups. The 1849 party consisted of Ann and John Murphy and their two small children, as well as four of the seven McEnaeneys: Catherine, Nicholas, Mary and Patrick. They traveled under the name Murphy, probably for simplicity sake, as appears on the ship's manifest in New York.   That would amount to four adult fares and four children at half fare. The other McEnaeneys came over in November, 1850 (Rose and Philip) and June, 1851 (Ann), all landing in New York from Liverpool.


Were the McEnaeney-Murphys like the other Irish? Yes and no. They were certainly rural, though Inniskeen sits between two considerable trading centers at Dundalk and Carrickmacross, eight miles either way. They farmed, but also Philip McEnaeney traded horses for a living. John Murphy was a stone mason ,as well as a farmer, who married somewhat late in life at 38. The farming background was no hindrance since the McEnaeney-Murphys, unlike many Irish, stayed in farming for one or two generations after arrival.


Were they poor? It seems unlikely, at least in the brutish  sense of many Irish of the Famine years (1845-51). They were able to finance eight fares from not only Ireland to Liverpool to New York, but also on to Illinois in the same year. John and Ann were already on a rented farm a year from landing and had purchased it in 1854.Were they ignorant? While it is uncertain whether they were all literate in 1849, Blackstaff School had been started near Quenoge in the 1830s and the older children could well have gone there.  They also probably spoke (and maybe even wrote) Irish. Were they brawlers and drinkers? There seems small evidence of this, but I would not deny their drinking on mere pious preference.


Why did they leave? The answer is too stereotyped to be helpful, but it was toward the end of the Famine years when all Ireland still bore the scars of starvation and concerns that famine would return again--and soon. The political gains of these years were few for Catholics, nor could they see major breakthroughs in the near term (O'Connell had died in 1847 and his party was in disarray).  Then, too, America had a mythic quality for the Irish that enticed them from home and hearth.



The Route Across the Atlantic and the Obstacles


The entreport for most Irish emigrating from the eastern portion of the Island was Liverpool, the major English port facing on the Irish Sea. It was busy with international shipping that fed to and from the midland industries of England. It became the point of departure for most of the Irish reaching New York. Its newly erected stone piers, called Albert Docks, and classic buildings, such as St. George's Hall, would have overawed the Irish, even Dubliners.


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Map from 1838 showing Inniskean and detailing (orange) the route to Blackrock port and (blue) the route to Liverpool, 150 miles away.


But first the eight McEnaeney-Murphys had to get from Inniskeen to Liverpool. That spring of 1849 they would have gone to Dundalk and on to Blackrock in County Louth (about fifteen miles in all from Inniskeen) to catch the packet steamship to Liverpool. These were open ships that went the 150 miles in fair weather and foul--probably in a half a day. On deck in March on the open sea was no bargain, especially for the younger children.


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Map of British Isles from 1844 showing the passage from Blackrock to Liverpool and the outward voyage to New York.


Once in Liverpool, the family had to secure lodgings before securing passage. Liverpool, like New York, was thick with hustlers eager to lift whatever moneys the Irish had. These were called "Runners" who worked the docks for various businesses as the packets came into Liverpool, bringing the naive Irish into expensive lodging, expensive dining halls, and expensive passage to wherever. At best the Irish simply overpaid. At worst they were robbed. Every now and again an astute parish priest made arrangements in advance to guide them into the safer establishments.


How long did the McEnaeney-Murphys stay in Liverpool? It is doubtful that they had passage arranged. Oral history from Patrick suggested they possibly intended to go to Australia but then switched to a ship bound for America. Perhaps, but the trip to Australia or Canada was subsidized by the English government whereas the trip to New York was expensive.


American lines dominated the Liverpool-New York route and they were to be larger and newer vessels as compared with British shipping. One possibility was a partially subsidized ticket to a site in the US that was looking for cheap labor. Since the family ended up in Amboy, Illinois and it was just then being planned as a roundhouse location for the Illinois Central railroad, this company could have contracted with one of the American lines to provide a reduced rate ticket to likely Irish laborers. To find and arrange passage might well have taken several weeks, but their arrival in New York in early May suggests they left Liverpool about March 25 or so, wherever they may have arrived there.


At this point we do not know which line the "Silas Grimshaw" (the ship they arrived on in New York) belonged to, but we can conjecture that it was an American.  This would suggest a "packet" (four masted square rigger) on average 175 feet long by 40 broad at 2000 tons. Not large by modern standards, but able to carry up to 1,000 passengers.


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1842 map showing the McAnanys crossing of the Atlantic from Liverpool to New York in 1849-1851.


Berths were 6 feet square shelves per 4 adults. Perhaps the family was able to secure two of these, or maybe they had to share with several other adults, as children counted only half space. On board the cooking was done on deck and food was supplied by a mate--who often proved unscrupulous, either as a cheat or a ruffian--or both. During rough weather there was cold food below. Families brought food along to supplement. There were rarely potatoes, with only oatmeal as a near substitute for the Irish diet. The rations were poor but often enough seasickness made them irrelevant. A privy would have been on deck for bathroom purposes but many availed themselves of the rail. Drunkenness was the other scourge--or blessing--to color the month or so aboard. Life was not easy but many described the Irish as in "uproarious spirits," happy to have escaped the dreaded famine workhouse on their passage out.



New York and a New Life, May 2, 1849


Arrival in New York was full of dread, joy and expectation.


"Reaching New York was much anticipated by passengers as they first sighted land and then drew into the city, past Long Island and New Jersey, Sandy Hook and its lighthouse. Customs officials and a doctor boarded close to Staten Island. Passengers are called by name and checked. . . But all was bustle at the docks with thirty to forty ships arriving per day."  (Coleman 174)


On May 2, 1849  ship manifests show that 11 ships (six from Liverpool) arrived that day disgorging 1700 immigrants, mostly Irish. Among them was the "Silas Grimshaw" with the eight "Murphys" aboard.  Immigrants ships docked on the East River along South Street. This would put the Irish directly into the 6th Ward and the infamous Five Points where crime and vice mixed closely together, but where the immigrants found congeniality as well.


 The New York of May, 1849 was almost a half a million people, shrinking Liverpool and Dublin into villages by comparison. Archbishop Hughes ("Dagger John" not inappropriately named) was celebrating five years in office and was head to head with the local Nativism which targeted Catholics. Hughes had begun a building campaign in New York City that started in 1844 with 14 Catholic churches (11 Irish) and ended his reign in 1864 with 33 churches (24 Irish). Schools and hospitals followed as well. St. Vincent's Hospital opened the year the family landed.


New York showed its reluctance to embrace the poor Irish  by charging a head tax of $1.50--a lordly sum to most immigrants--to remain in the city. While the U.S. Supreme Court overturned this tax as unconstitutional in 1849, the Murphy-McAnanys did not see that as an invitation to stay in the overcrowded and filthy tenements with their compatriots. They headed west by heading north.



The Journey West: New York City to Prairie City


Steamships moved immigrants up the Hudson River to Albany and onto the Erie Canal for passage west on barges to Buffalo. The 150 miles to Albany could be traveled overnight. The 363 miles of the Canal took a good deal longer with its 84 locks and mule (vs. steam) -power.  The Erie Canal had been built on the backs of Irish Navies who dug each of those miles. It had been opened less than 25 years when the McAnany-Murphys traversed it. Incidentally, a Mansfield relative captained one of the ships carrying immigrants from New York to Albany during these same years.


We are extremely fortunate to have a contemporary eye-witness account of the next two legs of the family journey. On April 12, 1849 William Swain departed Buffalo for the gold fields of California and kept a detailed dairy and sent letters home describing the passage over the Great Lakes (Erie, Huron and Michigan) to Chicago, as well as down the newly opened Illinois & Michigan Canal to Peru, Illinois (Holliday 1981). From Swain we learn that the cost to Chicago from Buffalo, N.Y. was $5 for cabin passage and $2.50 from Chicago to Peru, Illinois. The cost to the family may well have been cheaper if they traveled on a "through" ticket purchased at a discount in Liverpool.


The trip took Swain a little over a week to Chicago and another day and a half to Peru. The Month of May would have been as beautiful as Swain's April trip that he described as "wondrous" once into the Illinois prairie. The trip through the Great Lakes was less inviting as rough weather in Lakes Huron and Michigan turned all the passengers green. Chicago had a population of 20,000, a booming village with "many fine buildings, churches in particular. . .[B]ut it is horribly located and its streets are literally slough holes."


The Illinois& Michigan Canal had opened in 1848 and was crowded  with traffic--gold rushers mixed with the immigrants, all heading west somewhere beyond Chicago. The McAnany-Murphys were headed for Amboy, Illinois, a town waiting to be founded (1854) at a juncture of railroads (waiting to be finished) in Lee County . The Canal ended at Lock 15 in LaSalle  90 miles SW of Chicago and 30 miles south of Amoby. The trip by barge was comfortable and the countryside gorgeous, according to Swain. He reports that the men aboard the 50 passenger barge would shoot at anything that moved, though rarely hitting their mark. The waterways and surrounding prairies were crowded with ducks, geese, plover, sandhill cranes, prairie hens, woodchucks and muskrat.


At LaSalle, the family had to purchase a wagon, oxen, horses, a cow or two for the 30 mile trip north across the unplowed prairie. Today's roads run north (Il. 251 to Mendota) and then northwest (US 52) with only slight elevations around Mendota. Thus, the travel should have been relatively easy. Again, there must have been money for such necessities as the Murphys were already in their own place (rented I suppose) by summer 1850. John Murphy was born sometime between the January and June 1850, if we are to believe the census taker estimate ("infant under 6 months"). That would mean Ann Murphy (who was 47 at the time) was possibly pregnant when she landed in New York in May 1849. That image of the older pregnant female traveler suggests the indifference to hardship that Irish immigrants displayed in "coming out" from a hungry homeland.


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Anne Jennings McAnany Murphy in 1880's





Bayor and Meagher. 1996.  The New York Irish (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins).


Coleman, Terry. 1972. Going to America (New York: Pantheon Books).


Holliday, J. S. 1981. The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience (New York: Simon & Schuster).



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