Why did they leave Ireland ? (Elwyn)
- You ask why your ancestors might have left Ireland. I am sure they left for the same reasons that 2 million others did. To find work. Ireland has very few natural resources (no oil, coal, iron ore etc) and so did not benefit from the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the way Scotland, England, the US, Canada & Australia did, which created hundreds of thousands of comparatively well-paid new jobs in new industries (coal mining, steel making, ship building etc). So that was a big pull factor. There had been a huge population explosion in Ireland going up from about 3 million people in 1750 to 8 million in 1830. There simply weren't the jobs for all those people. In much of Ireland the only employment was subsistence farming. And then the straw that broke the camel's back, along came the famine, numerous times throughout the 1800s. The worst period was when the potato crop failed almost completely 3 years in a row in the late 1840s, and then partially several more years after that. Many farmers were very much one crop dependent, because you could grow more potatoes to the acre than any other crop, but as a consequence they had nothing else to fall back on, and because it was largely a barter economy they mostly had no spare cash to buy food. When the crop failed 3 years in a row, people ended up eating their seed potatoes, leaving them nothing to plant the next spring. It is estimated that during the years 1845 to 1850, around 800,000 people died of starvation or of a famine-related disease such as typhus, dysentery, scurvy or pellagra. A further two million people emigrated. Unlike earlier famines, in which the population recovers quickly from the catastrophe and continues to grow, the after- effects of the Great Irish Famine were such that the population of Ireland, standing at 8.2 million people in 1841, declined to 6.6 million in 1851. Fifty years later, Ireland's population was still showing a decline (down to 4.5 million), even though every other European country was showing a population increase. Ireland's population did not return to its pre-famine heights until 1964. Approximately 8 million people left Ireland between 1801 and 1900 - the equivalent of the entire pre-Famine population. The population today is only 5.5 million.
Other factors that led to the continued emigration too eg early mechanisation on farms. With new machines to turn the soil and plant seed, farmers no longer needed an army of agricultural labourers to help on the farm (hence the 4 labourers cottages on your farm). So those jobs were rapidly disappearing. Likewise mechanisation had led to linen factories being set up in places like Belfast. These made home weaving uneconomic and so also upset the labourer's family economy. Agriculture was the biggest single employer in Ireland, but it was mostly a barter economy. Few people had any ready cash save what they could make from weaving or any government sponsored work such as building new roads. So when the opportunity arose to get jobs with a regular wage packet, as opposed to a few pence from your father each week, the decision to migrate wasn't really all that hard to make. So it was as much about economic betterment as anything. The famine wreaked havoc in most of Ireland but in Co Antrim, a comparatively wealthy county, it wasn't too severe (and not all the farmers had made the mistake of being one crop dependent) so I would say it was less of a reason for your particular ancestors than it was from others elsewhere in Ireland.
There were no special factors that made people emigrate in 1863 and 1873. There was just a massive tide of migration all through that century, including long before the famine. Your ancestors obviously left a couple of decades after the worst of the famine but it's impact was still being felt across Ireland, and there were still plenty of much better job opportunities in Australia and the USA. (The USA was the most popular destination for emigrants with about 40 to 50% choosing it. Only about 5% of Irish emigrants chose Australia and New Zealand, possibly due to the costs and length of the voyage).