Star of the Sea : A Postcolonial/Postmodern Voyage into the Irish Famine
This path was created by Derek James Rachel. The last update was by Dawn Duncan.
Britain: Where the Colonized Invaded the Colonizer
By the end of the famine, “one-third of a million of famine-stricken people ended up in the slums of Liverpool, Glasgow, London, and other British cities” (Smyth, “Exodus” 494). This number is especially large for any country during the famine, but surprising due to its status as the colonizer of the Irish. The slums was where most Irish emigrants went to after disembarking at the British ports, and it enabled the Irish to create their own culture within their colonizer's own backyard. According to parish authorities in Liverpool there were “60,000 who had either remained in Liverpool or sought work in one of the neighbouring industrial towns” (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 332). Liverpool became one of the most attractive places for the Irish population in England, though mostly because it was right by the port, making it easier to relocate if they felt it necessary.
Liverpool was England’s most thriving commercial port, and “the only centre capable of marshaling the shipping demanded by the emigrant flood” (Gray, The Irish Famine 102). It was therefore one of the largest ports and provided a large area to keep the ships that were constantly coming in or leaving for North America. On average, 250,000 Irish arrived every year in Liverpool between 1846 and 1851, and the authorities were capable of receiving this large influx of immigrants. According to Carmen Tunney and Pat Nugent, “The Liverpool-New York route became the primary channel of transatlantic emigration traffic because it offered the safest passage at competitive prices and on superior quality vessels that could travel throughout the year” (509). This was because there were more available ships in Liverpool than any other port, and its location provided a straight route to New York that was safer than routes from other ports. Therefore, Irish emigrants flocked to Liverpool in order to take advantage of the promise of the safest journey. The high number was due to this promise, and evident through the fact that “out of the 301 ships carrying Irish passengers that docked in New York City in 1846, 214 came from Liverpool,” (Tunney and Nugent 509). This large number of ships equals more than 60 % of the ships entering New York City from Liverpool.
Upon arrival in Liverpool, the Irish emigrants were met with plenty of traps to navigate through. As soon as they stepped off the coffin ships, they were “beset by a tribe of people, both male and female, who are known by the name of ‘mancatcher’ and ‘runner’. The business of these people is in common parlance, to ‘fleece’ the emigrant, and to draw from his pocket” (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 301). Similarly to the situation in Boston, the runners would carry their luggage, offer to negotiate prices, or direct them to a specific lodging. However, they would get commission from negotiating prices and for directing them to their assigned lodging they represented. Therefore they would manipulate the emigrants to do what they wanted. A multitude of emigrants were tricked this way, and would get no help from the authorities.
As more emigrants arrived in Liverpool, typhus and other famine-related diseases spread across the city. Therefore, the newly arrived emigrants needed to find a place to stay that was not contaminated. However, there were no places available that gave them such a promise. Ultimately, “they had to seek temporary shelter in the overcrowded, unsanitary, and foul-smelling lodging-houses and cellars of that city while awaiting passage to the new world” (Donnelly 179-180). These houses were rarely any different from the conditions of the coffin ships they had just disembarked from. Therefore, the Irish population attempted to leave as soon as they could, and as healthy as they could be.
If the disease-ridden lodging houses were not a big enough problem, the British found other ways to rid themselves of the newly arrived Irish. On June 21st 1847, the British government passed a strict law that would help the besieged Liverpool by “allowing local authorities to deport homeless Irish back to Ireland” (“Coffin Ships”). With this law, it would be legal to take anyone Irish and deport them to the famine with no warning. According to Peter Gray, “In 1847 about 15,000 were removed from Liverpool, shipped back to Dublin or Cork and abandoned on the quays” (The Irish Famine 110). Since the Irish emigrants had sold everything in order to afford the ship fare, they would have no money and no prospects back in Ireland: in the middle of a catastrophic famine caused by the country that had just thrown them away.
“Coffin Ships.” Irish Potato Famine. The History Place. Web. 10 February 2016.
Donnelly, James S. The Great Irish Potato Famine. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2001. Print.
Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1995. Print.
Keneally, Thomas. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics. New York: The Serpentine Publishing, 2011. Print.
Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.
Tunney, Carmen and Pat Nugent. "Liverpool and the Great Irish Famine." Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.