On Leaving Ireland

Thomas Dowd, his brother Michael and sisters Mary, Ann and their spouses all survived the famine. Further research must be done to determine which (if any) of the Dowd and Keary children died. There is no record of what became of Mary Dowd, the mother of Thomas. There is no proof that she emigrated with her husband Peter so it is likely that she died in Ireland during the famine or even before.

There is some evidence of the famine's impact on the Dowd family in that Mullinalaghta parish. Annual baptisms in the parish between 1845 and1848 were a fraction of what they had been before the famine. In particular, no children were born to Ann Dowd Keary or Catherine Biggane Dowd between October 1845 and October 1848 indicating that the wives were either too affected by hunger or fever to carry children to birth; or too weak to even conceive. The experience was traumatic and left an indelible impression on the survivors.

In a very short time there was nothing but stillness, a mournful silence in the villages, in the cottages grim poverty and emaciated faces...The tinkers...fled to the cities, the musicians...disappeared and....never returned. Many of the residents too made their escape at once, finding employment or early graves elsewhere...There were no more friendly meetings at the neighbors' houses in the afternoons, no gatherings on the hillsides on Sundays, no song, no merry laugh of the maidens. Not only were the human beings silent and lonely, but the brute creation also, for not even the bark of a dog, or the crowing of a cock was heard...

Hugh Dorian, "Donegal 60 Years Ago".

Thomas Dowd married Ann Martin on September 7th 1848 - regular life did go on despite the famine. One month later, on October 18th Thomas stood as a witness to his nephew's baptism. This is the last record of Thomas Dowd in Ireland. It is still not clear when exactly or how Thomas and Ann left for America but between November 1848 and August 1849 they arrived in New York City, probably via Liverpool. [further research in ship lists, and New York City records to learn emigration details]

It is estimated that about 1.5 million left Ireland during the famine including tens of thousands from County Cavan. Through death and emigration, the population of the county dropped dramatically from 250,000 in 1841 to 174,000 in 1851. These emigrants from County Cavan settled mostly in the eastern United States and in Canada.

Not all people left Ireland of course. Michael Dowd was in Ireland as late as August 1851 when his daughter Catherine was born. A witness to that baptism was a Catherine Dowd - likely a cousin or aunt of Michael's. These Dowds may have stayed in Ireland and never emigrated. An 1859 tax list shows Edward Martin, father of Ann Martin still residing and leasing land in Scrabby Township. There very well may be Martin, Sloan and Dowd cousins still living in County Cavan today [further research in post-1864 civil death records of Martins and Dowd's in Scrabby parish, research Scrabby parish cemeteries, 1901 Ireland Census]

Most Irish farm laborers had never before travelled more than twenty miles from their homes and suffered severe disorientation after they left. Once at Liverpool emigrants sought lodging and boat tickets. Swindlers, "runners" and "man-catchers"preyed on the confused, robbing them of baggage and carefully horderd cash.

Peter Gray, The Irish Famine

[To include typical ship experience, contemporary account of crossing, arrival experience in Liverpool for immigrants, arrival experience in NewYork City ]

Illustrated London News, July 6, 1850

Surprisingly, the mood on immigrant ships was not sombre as might be expected for leaving the old country. On the contrary, the mood among many was jovial. Contemporary accounts report singing, dancing and general merriment on the decks of departing ships. Some were excited to be joining husbands, parents, relations but all were leaving incredible misery behind and had great expectations for a wonderful new life.

A typical Cavan landscape, drumlins and lakes
(North East Cavan)

Western Cavan

At some point fond memories would surface about the old country, perhaps not realized until many years later. The following poem, County Cavan was written by an anonymous author in the 1930s. It reveals some fond memories of County Cavan that Thomas and Ann may have felt themselves and passed on to their children.


I planned a trip to Ireland, to the land I long to see-
Cootehill, Belturbet, Kingscourt and along the Annalee;
To walk beside Lough Sheelin and breathe the scented air,
Cavan town and proud Virginia-sure my heart's been always there.

That lovely County Cavan, it was blessed by God for me,
It's the birthplace of my father and his sweetheart, mother machree;
I've heard of all its beauties since on mother's knee,
That's the reason I will tell you why it means so much to me.

Each song you hear of Ireland brings memories that are dear,
But sweeter than all others is the song I long to hear
Of the spot in dear old Ireland where happy sure I'll be,
When my long-planned trip is here, boys, and my eyes will truly see.

I'll see those talked-of places that fill my heart with joy,
From the border town of Blacklion to the village of Bawnboy;
I'll climb those Cuilte mountains, from there the Shannon flows,
With its lakes and all their beauty, sure it's there I long to go.





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