How the Family are brought out

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVI (3) start of chapter

With all banks and offices through which money is sent to Ireland the months of December and March are the busiest portions of the year. The largest amount is then sent; then the offices are full of bustling, eager, indeed clamorous applicants, and then are the clerks hard set in their attempts to satisfy the demands of the impatient senders, who are mostly females, and chiefly 'girls in place.' The great festivals of Christmas and Easter are specially dear to the Irish heart, being associated with the most sacred mysteries of the Christian religion, and likewise with those modest enjoyments with which the family, however humble or poor, seek to celebrate a season of spiritual rejoicing. Then there is joy in the Church, which typifies in the decorations of her altars as in the robes of her ministers the gladness which should dwell in the heart of the Christian. Thus misery, and sorrow, and want, are not in accordance with the spirit of these solemn festivals, nor with the feelings which ought to prevail with those who believe in their teaching. Therefore, to enable the friends at home—the loved ones never forgotten by the Irish exile—to 'keep' the Christmas or the Easter in a fitting manner—in reality, to afford them some little comforts at those grateful seasons of the Christian year—remittances are specially sent; and coming from the source which they do, these comforts, too often sadly needed, are the more prized by those to whom the means for procuring them are forwarded with touching remembrances, and fond prayers and blessings, grateful alike to piety and affection. There is something beautiful in these timely memorials of unabated love; they link still closer hearts which the ocean cannot divide.

What wonderful things have not these Irish girls done! Take a single example—and there is not a State in the Union in which the same does not occur:—Resolving to do something to better the circumstances of her family, the young Irish girl leaves her home for America. There she goes into service, or engages in some kind of feminine employment. The object she has in view—the same for which she left her home and ventured to a strange country —protects her from all danger, especially to her character: that object, her dream by day and night, is the welfare of her family, whom she is determined, if possible, to again have with her as of old. From the first moment, she saves every cent she earns—that is, every cent she can spare from what is absolutely necessary to her decent appearance. She regards everything she has or can make as belonging to those to whom she has unconsciously devoted the flower of her youth, and for whom she is willing to sacrifice her woman's dearest hopes. To keep her place, or retain her employment, what will she not endure?—sneers at her nationality, mockery of her peculiarities, even ridicule of her faith, though the hot blood flushes her cheek with fierce indignation. At every hazard the place must be kept, the money earned, the deposit in the savings-bank increased; and though many a night is passed in tears and prayers, her face is calm, and her eye bright, and her voice cheerful. One by one, the brave girl brings the members of her family about her. But who can tell of her anguish if one of the dear ones goes wrong, or strays from the right path!—who could imagine her rapture as success crowns her efforts, and she is rewarded in the steadiness of the brother for whom she feared and hoped, or in the progress of the sister to whom she has been as a mother! One by one, she has brought them all across the ocean, to become members of a new community, citizens of a great country—it may be, the mothers and fathers of a future race; and knowing the perils which surround youth in a country in which licence is too often—with the unthinking and inexperienced—confounded with liberty, and impatience of control with proper independence of spirit, the faithful girl seeks to draw them within the influence of religion, in which, as in her passionate love of her family, she has found her safeguard and her strength. Probably she has grown old before her time, possibly she realises in a happy marriage the reward of her youth of care and toil; but were the choice to be given her of personal happiness, or all-sacrificing affection, she would choose the hard road rather than the flowery path. Such is the humble Irish girl, who may be homely, who may be deficient in book knowledge, but whose heart is beyond gold in value.

There is no idea of repayment of the money thus expended. Once given, there is an end of it. This is not so with other nationalities. The Germans, a more prudent, are a less generous people than the Irish; and when money is expended in the bringing out of relatives, it is on the understanding that one day or other it will be refunded—that it will become a matter of account, to be arranged as soon as possible, or, at farthest, when convenient. An eminent Irish clergyman, who, from his position, has much to do with the affairs of a large and important diocese, remarked to an Irish girl, one of his penitents, who came to consult him as to the best mode of bringing out her mother and father, she having frequently sent them remittances, and also brought out and provided for a brother and sister,—'Why, Ellen, you are leaving yourself nothing. Now your father, as you tell me, can get on well, and there is work enough for him here; and surely he ought to pay you back something of what I know you have been sending him for years.' The girl looked at her old friend and adviser, first in doubt, then in surprise, then in indignation. When she replied, it was with sparkling eye and flushed cheek—

'What, sir! take back from my father and mother what I gave them from my heart! I could not rest in my bed if I did anything so mean. Never say the like of that to me again, Father, and God bless you!' and the poor girl's voice quivered with emotion, as her eye softened in wistful appeal. 'Don't mind, Ellen,' said the priest, 'I was wrong; I should have known you better.' 'I really,' as he said to me, 'meant to try what answer she would give; for that same day I was cognisant of a very different mode of arranging matters. Sir, let people say what they please of them, the Irish are a grand race, after all, and the Irish women are an honour to their country and their faith.' This was said with an enthusiasm not usual to a man so self-contained as this somewhat Americanised Irish priest.

Instances without number might be adduced in vindication of the eulogium thus pronounced. This year (1867) a young girl landed at Castle Garden, and was fortunate enough to obtain employment the same day. She had in her possession a pound in gold, and some shillings; and finding that she was safely provided for, she determined to send back the money to her mother, to whom it would be of great assistance. Her employer, seeing her so well disposed, advanced her a month's wages, which she was delighted to add to her own money; and a draft was procured and 'mailed' the very first day of her arrival in America!

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America