Emigration

Cobh pier

Standing here at the quayside in Cobh, on a cold yet clear evening it is not hard to let one’s imagination start to wander.  This pier was not always in such a regrettable state of repair; once it stood strong and proud, as feet, countless numbers of shuffling feet trod its boards.  From piers such as this, passengers waited for the ferry to take them out to the deeper water to embark on to the giant liners; SS America, the Celtic and of course the Titanic and dozens more.

What must the emotions have been like for those huddled in the cold as they waited?  Sorrow at leaving behind loved ones, fear of the voyage and what lay on the other side, yet excitement too at the possibility of a new beginning and the dream of a life free to make one’s own choices and decisions.   In 1931 James Truslow Adams wrote  a definition of the ‘American Dream’, that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Of course we have a new context with which to see all this.  History (as is often its want) is repeating itself.  Many, far too many of our young people are emigrating, not from cold quaysides but from shiny, air-conditioned terminals, not across the sea but through the air.  I’m sure though, that for many the emotions are just the same as those of their fellow countrymen in bygone generations.  God be with them.

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4 Comments to “Emigration”

  1. I wonder if my forebears left from here. My maternal ancestor, from Ireland named Cook, was said to have come from Ireland along with his sister. Having been orphaned, they traveled to America with their legal guardian and an inheritance. Legend had it that the guardian then left with the inheritance. Little else is known from the oral tale that was handed down, I don’t know how much of it is true. At any rate, the Cooks came to settle in south Alabama, leaving for me (like so many Americans) a distant and misty Irish heritage.

  2. That’s fascinating Charles – according to cobhheritage.com “From 1848 – 1950 over 6 million adults and children emigrated from Ireland – over 2.5 million departed from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration.” So it may very well have been from here that your maternal ancestor and legal guardian set sail…

  3. And why aren’t we, the people, doing something about it? Why do we simply accept the dysfunction of effectively non-optional emigration every time we bump into a problem? Of course if the masses who leave chose to stay they might well demand change. God forbid, he might even be with them if they chose to stay!

  4. Good point Keith – I suppose for many people the easier option is to go rather than stay behind and try to change things.

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