Leavetaking, Co. Monaghan, 1852

The place is actually County Clare but that doesn’t matter – it was more than likely the same no matter where a person left from in Ireland.

Taken from : “Memorandums made in Ireland in the Autumn of 1852”
John Forbes, M.D., F.R.S.
Vol. I ; London ; Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill ; 1853


We found the steamer waiting for us, and the little pier thickly crowded with people waiting to go on board or to see their friends on board. The deck was, indeed, so crowded, that it was not an easy matter to get from one part of it to another: and the crowding and confusion were still further increased by the whole of the fore part of the vessel being occupied by cattle.

It was soon seen that a party of emigrants had come or were coming on board, and were now taking leave of their friends with every token of the most passionate distress. With that utter unconsciousness and disregard of being the observed of all observers, which characterises authentic sorrow, these warm-hearted and simple-minded people demeaned themselves entirely as if they had been shrouded in all the privacy of home, clinging to and kissing and embracing each other with the utmost ardour, calling out aloud in broken tones, the endeared name of brother, sister, mother, sobbing and crying as if the very heart would burst, while the unheeded tears ran down from the red and swollen eyes literally in streams. It was a sight no human being could see unmoved: and when the final orders were given to clear the ship and withdraw the gangway, the howl of agony that rose at once from the parting deck and the abandoned pier, was perfectly overpowering. “O Mary! O Kitty! O mother dear! O brother! O sister, God bless you! God preserve you! The Lord in Heaven protect you!” and a thousand other wild and pious ejaculations, broken and intermixed by agonising cries and choking sobs, literally filled the air, and almost drowned the roar of the engine and the wheels that tore the loving hearts that uttered them asunder.

Amid the crowds of people on the pier, swaying to and fro as they shouted aloud and waved their hats and handkerchiefs. Several women were seen kneeling on the stones, kneeling and weeping, with their hands raised fixedly above them, and so continuing as long as they could to be distinguished from the receding crowd.

The scene was altogether a most painful one to witness, and not soon forgotten by those who witnessed it. If it told, in language not to be misunderstood, of the warm and strong affections of a most cordial people, it brought home the truth to the fancies of all, and to the memories and hearts of many – that there is no greater pang in store of life’s ills than Separation. And, indeed, such a separation as this, is often a greater pang, to one of the sufferers at least, than death itself is; for here, on both sides, nature still retains her full consciousness of loss and her full strength to suffer; while Providence has most kindly so ordered it, in the great separation of all, that the woe on one side at least, is more than half lost in the weakness.

There were about twenty of these emigrants, all destined, in the first place, to Liverpool by way of Dublin. The majority of them were going to the United States, but several, particularly the young women, were bound for Australia. Every one was going out on funds supplied by their friends who had preceded them to the land of their exile.

One woman, with two children, was going to Philadelphia to join her husband, having already received £15 from him, although he had left Ireland less than a year. He had borrowed a good part of the money, the wife said, from his brother, who had been longer settled than himself.

Several young unmarried women were going to Australia, expecting to be taken in as domestic servants immediately on their arrival. They too, had been invited, on the same irresistible terms, by their absent friends and relations to share their exile. There were one or two complete families, father and mother and children; but most of them were but links in a broken chain which had its ends in opposite quarters of the earth.

Among the most deeply affected of these poor exiles were two young girls, who, at the invitation of some friends in Australia, were leaving nearly all the links of their chain of affection behind them. I believe one of the kneelers was their mother, as when dragged forcibly from them, she had sunk on her knees as she had reached the shore. They had a brother also, a strong, rough, long-coated young fellow, who, not withstanding all remonstrances and entreaties that he would leave his sisters and go on shore, had so many last words and fresh leave-takings, that when he at last broke lose from them, he found the gangway hauled up, and the ship’s side some distance from the pier. I don’t think he intended this, but his stay was an evident respite both to himself and his sisters. In his various subsequent attempts to cheer his sisters, he at length adopted one expedient, which I presume must be regarded as completely national: he set-to, with right good will and with all his might, to dance jigs before them! Poor fellow, it was at once laughable and melancholy to see the mingled grotesque and sorrowful expression on his countenance, more especially when, amid his formal mirth, he now and then caught a glance of his sisters rubbing their swollen eyes. He however, held up wonderfully well until our arrival at the next stopping place (Williamstown), when the final leavetaking was made, and as he took his departure from the ship, setting up, as soon as he descended into the boat, such another portentous howl as had signalled the parting at Killaloe.