Great Famine Voices Roadshow Manchester (1:13:28) tells the story of the Famine Irish migration to the city and legacy of its Irish community. Mervyn Busteed provides an overview of Manchester and the Great Hunger. Mancunians of Irish descent recall their ancestors’ arrival and settlement in impoverished and now iconic areas such as Angel Meadow and Little Ireland.
Mervyn Busteed introduces Great Famine Voices Roadshow Manchester. He provides a tour of Manchester’s Famine Irish neighborhoods and sites such as Angel Meadow and Little Ireland while recounting the history of the Great Hunger migration to the city in 1847.
Ann Drozdowski recalls the arrival of her great great grandparents Patrick Connor and Bridget Curley in Manchester’s Angel Meadow from County Roscommon during the Great Hunger between 1849 and 1850. It was one of the city’s worst slums described by Friedrich Engels as “hell on earth”. Her ancestors were fish mongers and tanners in Angel Meadow. “I am very proud of my Irish ancestors,” she declares. “They arrived in England with just the clothes on their backs. They lived in the worst slums in the country and they were vilified by the local people. But they stuck together. I think they must have been very intelligent people, because their descendants today are teachers, architects, solicitors, and even a poet.”
Chris Houston’s great great great grandfather was the renowned Irish poet and hedge teacher known as the Bard of Nephin (born c. 1790). He recalls visiting the National School his ancestor founded in 1840 in County Mayo and discovering the original foundation stone bearing his name. The first record of the family in East Lancashire is in 1860. Chris’s grandfather Andrew Houston became known in turn as the Bard of Rossendale, whose poetry was published in a volume in 1920. Chris notes that there is no reference to the Great Famine in his family annals although his ancestral home in County Mayo was devastated by the blight. He regards this as a telling story about Irish attitudes to the Great Hunger.
Debra Wain recalls her Irish ancestor John Cowan who was born in 1821 in St Andrew’s Church in Dublin. His wife Ellen Connolly from Kinsale was also born in 1821. They emigrated to Manchester in 1841 where they married and he worked as a journeyman tailor. Her father wrote in his memoir that “I was born in a slum area of Manchester”.
Ian McHugh recalls that he has always been proud of his Irish roots and discovered his Famine Irish ancestry during a visit to County Mayo when he learned that his great great grandfather John McHugh had lived near Castlebar, and that his son Martin McHugh — Ian’s great grandfather — had migrated to Manchester in 1889.
Janice Wilson recounts the story of her ancestor Joseph Maher (also known as Michael Maher in the 1851 census, baptized in 1843) whose parents Michael and Margaret Macnamara had emigrated to Angel Meadow from Dublin. Michael died in the workhouse in Deansgate, near Angel Meadow, in 1846. Her father Tommy Maher was a professional singer whose signature song was “Penny Serenade”.
Lynn May recalls her Irish great great grandfather, John Dynan, who was a tailor by occupation and married in 1827 in Manchester. In 1841, the family moved to Liverpool with two children Charles and Griffith, while another son John resided with other family in Holyhead. In 1850, John embarked for New York on the Lady Franklin. His wife is recorded as a widow in the 1851 census. Family lore records that John died at the first or second Battle of Bull Run in 1860 or 1861, though it was probably his son namesake son John (born in 1829) whose uniform was sent back to his family.
Maggy Simms notes that two separate branches of her family came to Manchester from Ireland. Her maternal great grandfather Thomas Dolan is recorded in the 1841 census as living in Warrington but born in County Mayo. Her paternal ancestors were recorded in the census as labourers or criminals who lived a hand to mouth existence. One such ancestor was Patrick “Paddy the Painter” Geoghan, whose occupation was recorded as a house painter in Salford, though he was often in and out of jail. Family lore recalls that he died in the workhouse. His daughter Mary Jane Geoghan struggled with his notoriety and the loss of some of her children while trying to raise them on Canal Street in an impoverished area of Salford. Her husband John Joseph Burke was renowned for his left wing politics which became a family tradition of “sticking the middle finger to the establishment”. Family lore holds that their Irish ancestors were also involved in Fenian activities and connected with the Manchester Martyrs.
Sandy Ball is descended from an Irish great great grandmother from Athlone who appears in the 1841 census living in the Red Bank area of Manchester in a family of rope makers.