A Word of Advice to Irish Emigrants

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER X (14) start of chapter

It is of the utmost consequence that attention should here be directed to what has been, and must ever be, a source of bitter disappointment, if not of the greatest affliction to individuals and families; namely, the misdirection of letters, owing to the habit of not giving the full address, or the custom common with Irish women of the humbler class, of calling themselves by their maiden instead of their married names. It would be an act of great humanity on the part of those who are in a position to advise the emigrant, or the friends of the emigrant, whether at home or in America, to see that names are written accurately, and that addresses, especially American, are given fully—that is, that the city, county, or state, should be mentioned; and, lastly, that the envelope, which bears the post mark on it, should be retained as well as the letter. An instance or two in point, and which I select out of many, will exhibit the necessity of this advice being attended to at both sides of the Atlantic.

Mary Sullivan has come to America in search of her husband. Having some vague notion of his whereabouts, letters are despatched to various persons in the direction supposed to be indicated. No such person as Daniel Sullivan, 'who came to America four years ago,' is to be found. Poor Mary Sullivan is in despair. But at length, owing to some chance observation which drops from the afflicted wife, it turns out that Sullivan was her maiden name, and that her husband was Daniel M'Carthy, and not Daniel Sullivan. Letters are again despatched, and Daniel and Mary are once more united.

A woman arrives with her family. She has a letter from her son in Washington, or Jacksonville, or Newtown, and she desires to inform him that she is in New York, awaiting him. There is his letter, and she can tell no more about it; all she knows is, that her son is in the place mentioned; and 'why shouldn't he be there, she'd like to know?' But what Washington? what Jacksonville? what Newtown? There are hundreds of places with similar names in the United States; and which is it? Where, she is asked, is the envelope of the letter; for that would have the post mark, which, if not obliterated or indistinct, would be the best of all possible guides. 'Oh, sure,' the simple woman replies, 'I lost that: but there was nothing on that but where I lived when I was in Ireland; sure 'tis all in my son's letter.' The envelope lost, and there being no address in the letter, the Commissioners have to communicate with all the Washingtons, or Jacksonvilles, or Newtowns in the country; and probably it is owing to the enquiries of the priest of the locality in which the son resides or is at work that the family are ultimately brought together.

A young woman, Ellen T——, arrived early in the present year to join her brother, who was in a certain town in Pennsylvania, whence he wrote to her. She was sent to Ward's Island, and her brother was written to. No answer. Another letter was sent, but with the same result. The sister is safe in the Refuge at Ward's Island, but anxious and impatient. Time passes—still no tidings. At length she abandons all hope of finding her brother, and determines to do something for herself; and actually as she is leaving the office with this intention, the brother makes his appearance. What was the cause of the delay? His explanation is simple enough—he had left the place from which he had written to his sister and gone to another place, and 'he hadn't the gumption' to leave his new address with the postmaster.

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