By Peter Biggins
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PetersPioneers came to America from Europe on sailing ships between 1834 and 1888, a period of 54 years. This page lists the families and, where available, the names of the ships they came on. Another page, Kassel to Tiffin, 1834, illustrates the journey of the family that we know the most about. It also happens to be the first family to immigrate to America.
We stood, in the month of June, on the Quay of Cork to see some emigrants embark in one of the steamers for Falmouth, on their way to Australia. The band of exiles amounted to two hundred, and an immense crowd had assembled to bid them a long and last adieu. The scene was touching to a degree; it was impossible to witness it without heart-pain and tears. Mothers hung upon the necks of their athletic sons; young girls clung to elder sisters; fathers—old white-headed men—fell upon their knees, with arms uplifted to heaven, imploring the protecting care of the Almighty on their departing children. "Och," exclaimed one aged woman, "all's gone from me in the wide world when you're gone! Sure you was all I had left!— of seven sons—but you! Oh Dennis, Dennis, never forget your mother— your mother!—don't, avourneen—your poor ould mother, Dennis!" and Dennis, a young man—though the sun was shining on his grey hair— supported "his mother" in his arms until she fainted, and then he lifted her into a small car that had conveyed his baggage to the vessel, and kissing a weeping young woman who leaned against the horse, he said, "I'll send home for you both, Peggy, in the rise of next year; and ye'll be a child to her from this out, till then, and then avourneen you'll be my own." When we looked again the young man was gone, and "Peggy" had wound her arms round the old woman, while another girl held a broken cup of water to her lips. Amid the din, the noise, the turmoil, the people pressing and rolling in vast masses towards the place of embarkation like the waves of the troubled sea, there were many such sad episodes. Men, old men too, embracing each other and crying like children. Several passed bearing most carefully little relics of their homes—the branch of a favourite hawthorn tree, whose sweet blossoms and green leaves were already withered, or a bunch of meadowsweet. Many had a long switch of the "witch hazel," doubtless to encircle the ground whereon they slept in a foreign land, so as, according to the universal superstition, to prevent the approach of any venomous reptile or poisonous insect. One girl we saw with a gay little goldfinch in a cage—she and her sister were town-bred, and told us they had learned "lace-work" from the good ladies at the convent "that look'd so beautiful on the banks of the Cork river," and they burst out weeping again, and clung together as if to assure each other that, sad as it was to leave their country, they would be together in exile. On the deck of the steamer there was less confusion than might have been expected. The hour of departure was at hand—the police had torn asunder several who at the last would not be separated—and as many as could find room were leaning over the side speechless, yet eloquent in gesture, expressing their adieus to their friends and relatives on shore. In the midst of the agitation, a fair-haired boy and girl were sitting tranquilly, yet sadly, watching over a very fine white Angora cat that was carefully packed in a basket. "We are going out to papa and mama with nurse," they said, in an unmitigated brogue; "but we are very sorry to leave dear Ireland for all that." Their father had, we imagine, been a prosperous settler. "Oh, Ireland, mavourneen—oh, my own dear counthry—and is it myself that's for laving you afther giving ye the sweat of my brow and the love of my heart for forty years!" said a strong man, whose features were convulsed with emotion while he grasped his children tightly to his bosom. "And remember your promise, Mogue, remember your promise; not to let my bones rest in the strange counthry, Mogue," said his wife; "but to send me home when I'm dead to my own people in Kilcrea—that's my consolation."
It is impossible to describe the final parting. Shrieks and prayers, blessings and lamentations, mingled in "one great cry" from those on the quay, and those on shipboard, until a band stationed in the forecastle struck up 'St. Patrick's day.' "Bate the brains out of the big drum, or ye'll not stifle the women's cries," said one of the sailors to the drummer. We left the vessel and her crowd of clean, well-dressed, and perfectly sober emigrants with deep regret, that, while there are in Ireland so many miles of unreclaimed land, such a freight should be conveyed from her shores. The communicating plank was withdrawn; the steamer moved forward majestically on its way. Some, overcome with emotion, fell down on the deck; others waved hats, handkerchiefs, and hands, to their friends; the band played louder; and the crowds on shore rushed forward simultaneously, determined to see the last of those they loved. We heard a feeble voice exclaim, "Dennis, Dennis, don't forget your mother—your poor ould mother!"
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