This page was created by Maren Connell.  The last update was by Emily Bengtson.

Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine

Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears

One of the most heartbreaking songs about emigration is “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears.”  It tells the story of the first person to enter America through Ellis Island - a young Irish girl named Annie Moore and talks about leaving everything behind and starting over in a new place.  It compares Ireland - the isle of tears - and the Isle of Manhattan - isle of hope.

In a little bag she carried
All her past and history,
And her dreams for the future
In the land of liberty.
And courage is the passport
When your old world disappears
But there's no future in the past
When you're fifteen years

According to the historical records kept by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc, the song takes a few liberties.  Annie is actually seventeen, according to their records, and she wasn't traveling alone.  She had her two younger brothers, Anthony and Philip, with her and the three children were meeting their parents in New York, who had come before them ("Annie Moore"). 

When they closed down Ellis Island
In nineteen forty-three,
Seventeen million people
Had come there for sanctuary.
And in springtime when I came here
And I stepped onto its piers,
I thought of how it must have been
When you're fifteen years.

Isle of hope, isle of tears,
Isle of freedom, isle of fears,
But it's not the isle you left behind.
That isle of hunger, isle of pain,
Isle you'll never see again
But the isle of home is always on your mind.
The isle of home is always on your mind.

Many covers of this song feature a solo singer throughout most of the song, but have a choir join on the final chorus, the musical accompaniment swelling to a chilling climax, giving the impression of the 17 million people who joined Annie Moore, and the many more who didn't make it as far as Ellis Island.

Works Cited
Graham, Brendan. "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears."

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. "Annie Moore: First Immigrant Through Ellis Island." Web. 05 Apr. 2016. 
Researcher/Writer: Michaila Gerlach
Technical Writers: Emily Bengtson and Maren Connell

 

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  1. Ellis Island in 1905
  2. Ellis Island - Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears