To any that may find this, this is my story for all to know my struggles and to hopefully one day pass this down to my children and their children. So they will know some of the history of their ancestors. My name is Fiona MacMenomay, it was originally McMenomay but my grandfather, the father of my mother, did not want anyone to know that we are of Irish descent. He would rather people think that we are of Scottish descent because of the discrimination that the Irish have to endure in America. I am almost sixteen years of age.
My mother has decided that it is time that we leave our native Ireland and go to America in hopes of a better life with my grandfather, Edward. I have never known my grandmother, Orla. My mother and grandfather never speak of her, only that she died while giving birth to my mother. My mother, Aoife, is still saddened that my father, Patrick, and my youngest sister, Grace, passed away two months ago. While we had been barely surviving with what little food we can find, they had gotten cholera. Most of our drinking water and even some of our food has been contaminated with this deadly bacterium.
We think we were spared because we did not travel into town with father and Grace who had stopped at a small stream of water to get a drink. They started becoming ill three days after they had returned. Some of the signs of cholera are wrinkled hands and sunken eyes, which they both had. My mother named me Fiona, which is a Gaelic meaning of “fair” because she said I had the fairest skin she had ever seen. My mother’s name is the Gaelic form of Eve; also Aoife was a daughter of King Dermot of Leinster, who married the Norman invader Strongbow.
My sister Grace was brought into this world fighting for her life, she was not breathing when she first came into the world. Grace was named after Grace O’ Malley who was an Irish Warrior Princess. She was a woman of fire and adventure. She refused to be beaten down by the English in their take over the Irish lands. Grace had always been a fighter, but was unable to fight cholera. My mother’s brother, Ryan, sent a letter telling of how his life is in America. My brother, Brian, had decided to leave with Uncle Ryan. Brian is very anxious for our arrival.
Uncle Ryan wrote, “Our master is a great tyrant, he treats us as badly as if we were common Irishmen. Our position in America is one of shame and poverty. ” Our family was offered free land but feel that we shall have a better chance in America instead of living in a country that has rejected us. It saddens us that our own country has done this to our family and so many other Irish families. It has also been told that Irish people are forced to live in cellars and shanties and this is not just because of poverty, but because they are considered bad for the neighborhood.
The living conditions for the Irish have bred sickness and early death. Most of the infants that were born to Irish immigrants in New York City had died. Grandfather still has not decided whether we are going to settle in New York City, Colony of Pennsylvania, or in Virginia. He is in favor of Virginia since the Irish population in 1710 began chiefly along the Blue Ridge. Mother is hoping to stay in New York City to be closer to my uncle and my brother. Ireland comes from the Celtic peoples, who eventually became known as Gaels sometime between 600 and 400 B. C.
My mother has told me that the Romans never invaded Ireland and that is why the Gaels remained isolated and were able to develop a distinct culture. Our history also says that we finally overcame the Vikings after battling for nearly two centuries. From this, Dublin was one of the established cities. By the sixteenth century the control the English had over Ireland was limited to a small area of land surrounding Dublin. I am going to miss the one and only place I have lived and known, Dublin. We have been working on our “brogue”, which is our strong accent. It comes from the Irish word “barrog” meaning “accent” or “speech impediment. Uncle wrote that the Irish are ridiculed for the way we speak. He also said that they are also ridiculed by the way they dress. The poverty and illiteracy provoke scorn from others. Mother and I are hoping we will not be in an almshouse once we arrive in port. These are also known as the poorhouse. The citizens that live there are usually the immigrants who were too tired, weak, sick, and hungry when they arrive. Uncle Ryan also warned us of the “runners”, who will try and grab our bags and will try and force us to their favorite tenement house and then exact an outrageous fee for their services.
I must close my journal entry now, mother said I need to go to bed so that we can wake up at dawn to make our way to the port and board the ship. Our life in Ireland has been cruel and emigrating to America is not going to be a joyful event, but my family and I know that Ireland will never be the same since The Great Hunger and our potato crop failure, due to potato blight. There once were nearly three million people in Ireland, we have lost nearly one million to starvation and disease and at least one million have emigrated. It is time to see if we can survive our trip to America and make a better life for what is left of our family.