Contrary to general belief, emigration from Ireland didn’t begin during the famine, but had been going on for centuries before that. However large scale emigration did rise very sharply after 1845. In fact, between 1845 – 1850 over a million people left Ireland and it is thought, of those that stayed a further million died of starvation.
Emigrant ships offered no real comfort for the ordinary man or woman. Three classes were the norm – first, second and steerage and the latter is where the bulk of Irish emigrants were grouped. In addition to Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Belfast and Galway were also main embarkation points. A journey to the US took between one and two months and most ships sailed during the summer months, but as desperation took hold amongst the people during the famine years, ships ended up sailing during the winter month’s aswell braving storms, ice bergs and the cold.
It was one of the great sad ironies, that convict ships from Ireland were often better built and more comfortable (comfort here is very relative to the standards of the day) than emigrant ships as these had to at least be built to certain standards while the majority of emigrant ships were converted from carrying cargo to fulfil an alternative purpose.
The primary destinations from Cork, were England, Australia, Canada and of course the USA, where Annie Moore from Cork was the very first person to be processed through Ellis Island. Annie’s statue can be seen in Cobh from where she embarked.