A bit of history today. I like to keep these posts light-hearted, but as soon as Jim mentioned leaving and staying, I thought of an event that was so great, it helped shape the future of a whole country.
I’m referring to emigrations by Irish people across to the Americas. I know there are some US/Canadian readers read my posts, perhaps you yourself have Irish ancestry?
Until 1850, there was a small trickle of Irish emigration, which turned into a flood during the Great Famine of the late 1840s – crop failures over successive years. As you can imagine, emigration grew massively during the Famine, largely unskilled labour, and largely into the east coast ports of New York and Boston. Canada, which at that time was, like Ireland, a British colony, was also a favourite destination.
Immigration continued after the Famine, and the number of Irish-born people in the USA reached its peak by around 1890 (about 4 million). Even in 2016 there were still only 6½ million people in Ireland itself, and in last week’s Irish general election was decided by just over 2m votes! From that point on, there was less and less immigration, which took a further nosedive in the 1920s, when the US applied immigration constraints. Today, only around a hundred thousand Irish emigrate to the USA per year.
My choice of song today commemorates that mass migration. The song was written by Dublin singer-songwriter, guitarist and Pogue Phil Chevron (1957-2013, cancer) and is performed here by The Pogues. It was released on their album If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1987). Thousands Are Sailing.
The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save
Did you work upon the railroad
Did you rid the streets of crime
Were your dollars from the white house
Were they from the five and dime
Did the old songs taunt or cheer you
And did they still make you cry
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry
Ah, No, says he ’twas not to be
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name
Thousands are sailing
Across the Western Ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see
Across the Western Ocean
Their bellies full
And their spirits free
They’ll break the chains of poverty
And they’ll dance
In Manhattan’s desert twilight
In the death of afternoon
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon
And “The Blackbird” broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet
And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps
I danced up and down the street
Then we said goodnight to Broadway
Giving it our best regards
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohan
Dear old Times Square’s favourite bard
Then we raised a glass to J.F.K.
And a dozen more besides
When I got back to my empty room
I suppose I must have cried