John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XVI (8) start of chapter

'It would be quite impossible,' said a Sister of Mercy of New York, 'to relate half the instances of heroic sacrifices made for parents or other relatives by Irish girls that come to our knowledge.' Not the less heroic that they are entirely divested of dramatic interest or sensational attraction. Hannah Finn, a poor girl from the county of Limerick, was not just the person or the type a novelist or a poet would have chosen for story or for verse; and yet her life was one of the most complete self-sacrifice. At home she had toiled on a farm, and was therefore unaccustomed to house-work; yet, on her arrival in New York, whither she came in order that she might more effectually assist the old people whom she could not bring with her, she hired herself as 'cook's helper' in one of its hotels, preferring that situation to an easier place, that she might earn higher wages, and thus have more to send to her parents, to whose comfort she devoted her life. Twice a year she sent to them all the money she had saved, and always to the care of the parish priest. In the midst of her hard patient toil she received the sad tidings of her father being obliged 'to leave the land,' at which her heart was sorely troubled. But she only toiled the harder, and saved the more.

On the next occasion she was sending money, the Sister who wrote the letter for her wished to direct it to the place indicated by the girl's mother—the village to which the landless couple had removed; but Hannah persisted in sending it to the care of her former pastor, declaring that she would not send a penny of her money to anyone else. She continued to send her earnings regularly home as long as the old people lived; and soon after their death—her mission being now accomplished—she herself died of dropsy. To the charity of others she was indebted for assistance during her last illness, she having given everything to her parents, and reserved nothing for herself. The story of Hannah Finn, the poor county Limerick girl, the patient drudge in the New York kitchen, is that of many an Irish girl in America, to which they have emigrated rather with the purpose of helping those at home than of advancing their own fortunes.

When a passage is paid for by an Irish emigrant to bring out a member of the family, it is the custom, when sending the ticket, to accompany it with a few pounds to defray incidental expenses.

As a rule, those who are newly come send more and make greater sacrifices to bring out their relatives, or to assist them at home, than those who have been longer in the country: the wants of the family in the old country are more vividly present to the mind of the recent emigrant, and perhaps the affections are warmer and stronger than in after years, when time and distance, and the cares or distractions of a new existence, have insensibly dulled the passionate longings of yore. But thousands—many, many thousands—of Irish girls have devoted, do devote, and will devote their lives, and sacrifice every woman's hope, to the holiest, because the most unselfish, of all affections—that of family and kindred.

'I would say, from my own experience, as agent and otherwise,' remarked an agent in a New England State, 'that emigration will never cease with Irish families as long as any portion of them remain at each side of the Atlantic, and as long as those at this side find means to send for these they left behind—or so long as the Irish nature remains what it is; and I must say I can't see much change in it as yet.'

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