Irish History Live


Emigration (funding) by Eliza McKee

The funding of emigration before and after the Famine in nineteenth-century Ireland

The way that emigration was funded was significantly different before and after the Great Famine. In the pre-Famine period, some Presbyterian and north-east Ulster emigrants financed their move by becoming indentured servants.[1] However, the pioneering emigrants who often established the chains on which subsequent emigration relied, were more dependent on loans, savings, gifts and local lotteries in order to fund their move.[2] A limited amount of assistance was available in the pre-Famine period. Private assistance was supplied to at least 12,000 emigrants between 1826 and 1845, and between 1818 and 1845 at least 32,000 people received state-sponsored help to leave Ireland.[3] However official funds in the pre-Famine period were often used to facilitate the emigration of particular groups such as crown witnesses, military pensioners and convicts.[4] 

In the post-Famine period remittances dominated as the main source of funding for emigration. Over £34 million was sent back in remittances to the United Kingdom between 1848 and 1887, most of which went to Ireland.[5] Two-fifths of such remittances were sent back to Ireland in the form of the pre-paid passage.[6] A gradual increase in wages meant that more people from lower-income backgrounds could afford the passage especially if they had also received remittances. Some emigration was assisted; indeed around 400,000 emigrants were funded through government, poor law, landlord or philanthropic assistance. [7] Further assistance came from land funds set up by colonial governments. For example by 1872, 140,000 non-convict settlers had arrived in Australia from Ireland, and the majority had received some form of government subsidy.[8]

[1] L. Kennedy and L. A. Clarkson, ‘Birth, death and exile: Irish population history 1700-1921’ in B. J. Graham and L. J. Proudfoot (eds), A historical geography of Ireland (Dublin, 1993), p.172.

[2] D. Fitzpatrick, ‘Flight from famine’ in C. Póirtéir (ed.), The Great Irish Famine (Cork, 1995), p. 178.

[3] D. Fitzpatrick, Irish emigration 1801-1921 (Dublin, 1984), pp 18-20.

[4] Ibid, p. 18.

[5] Ibid, p. 21.

[6] Ibid.

[7] C. Clear, Social change and everyday life, 1850-1922 (Manchester, 2007), p. 58.

[8] Fitzpatrick, Irish emigration, p. 18.

This entry was written by Eliza McKee. At the time of writing, Eliza was a second-year history student at Queen's University Belfast. Her research interests focus on the social history of Britain and Ireland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has a particular interest in the study of women and gender in Ireland.

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