It is estimated that between 1845 and 1855 over one million people emigrated from Ireland, many from the port of Cork. Several hundred potential emigrants arrived in the City each week from the middle of 1846.
The Cork Examiner reported:
“The quays are crowded every day with the peasantry from all quarters of the country, who are emigrating to America, both direct from this port and ‘cross channel’ to Liverpool, as the agents here cannot produce enough of ships to convey the people from this unhappy country. Two vessels – the Fagabelec and Coolock – were despatched this week, the former with 208, the latter with 110 passengers. There are two other ships on the berth – the Wandsworth for Quebec, and the Victory for New York; both are intended to sail on Tuesday next. There are nearly 1200 passengers booked in these vessels.” (15 April 1847).
Emigrants awaiting departure from Cork, 1851 (Illustrated London News)
Shipping advertisements from Southern Reporter, 1847
It was common for potential emigrants to be exploited during the time they spent in the city. It is estimated that over 70,000 emigrated directly from Cork during the years of the famine. Mass emigration that started in the years before the famine but reached a peak during its worst years would become a long-term strategy for Irish people seeking to improve their lives, up to and including the present day.
Unemployment, Vagrancy and Disease
Very large numbers of paupers came from the countryside during and after the famine years, seeking employment and food. Others had been evicted from their home places and drifted to Cork for a lack of anywhere else to go. Many of these people could not find relief in the city, and by early 1848 it was common to see ‘hordes of hungry people parading the streets’ (In the Shadows, p. 179) Others lived in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. By early 1849 cholera was common in the city and was responsible for high rates of mortality.
Social problems associated with begging and crime would persist well into the 1850s, and in November 1853 cholera returned to Cork. The Cork Union Workhouse still housed many inmates in the years directly after the famine. Typhus continued to cause many deaths up to the 1870s and living conditions and general hygiene remained poor. It would not be until the 1880s that Cork Corporation began to make serious inroads into improving dwellings and sanitation.
Famine memorial, Dublin
Although the population of County Cork fell by 24 per cent between the census of 1841 and 1851, the population of the city grew by over 5,000 due to the influx of rural migrants seeking food, work, or passage to North America.
O Mahony, C. (1997) In the Shadows: life in Cork 1750-1930, Tower Books, Cork
O Mahony, C. (2005) Cork’s Poor Law Palace, Rosmathún Press, Monkstown, Co. Cork
O’Mahony, M. (2005) Famine in Cork City, Mercier Press, Cork.
Crowley, J., Smyth, W. J., and Murphy, M. (Eds) (2012) Atlas of the Great Famine, Cork University Press.
Crowley, J., Devoy, R., Linehan, D. and O’Flanagan, P. (Eds) (2005) Atlas of Cork City, Cork University Press.