During the “Assisted Emigration Period” of the years 1883-84 just over 3,300 people from North West Mayo, emigrated on steamships of the Allan Line from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo bound for Boston and Quebec. Families from the Erris, Achill and Newport West regions.
Assisted emigration was a scheme by which people in the most deprived areas of Ireland received help in emigrating to the U.S. or Canada in search of a better life. Known as “The Tuke Fund” it was named after James Hack Tuke, a Quaker from York who sought to address starvation and deprivation in the West of Ireland
Inaugurated in March 1882, “The Tuke Fund” described it’s goal as “the assistance to emigration of the small holders of the West of Ireland” and every detail was thought of to ensure the comfort and welfare of the emigrants. James Tuke himself had previously travelled to the U.S. and Canada to ascertain suitable areas for the settlement of the emigrants.
The scheme was voluntary. Only families would be assisted, thereby a holding would become vacant which could be given to other smallholders improving their circumstances. Where they could afford it, the emigrants would be asked to contribute something towards the cost, but due to the extreme poverty of the people this was usually not possible. Emigrants would only be sent to the United States if they could produce recent letters from friends who were willing to help them, others were sent to the villages and small towns of Canada.
Each family would receive new clothing for the journey, be booked through to their destination and given a sum of “landing money” on arrival at the port. One condition for acceptance into the scheme was that at least one person in each family had to be able to speak English.
In July of 2013 to mark the 130th anniversary of the first sailing, and to tie in with ‘The Gathering’ Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile launched a searchable website/database dedicated to the memory of the people of North West Mayo who left on the Emigrant Ships from Blacksod Bay.
The work on the www.blacksodbayemigration.ie website/database is the result of research and transcriptions of the ships’ manifests regarding the people (mostly families) who left and the history surrounding this time 1883-84. The emigrants embarked on the ships near where Ionad Deirbhile Heritage Centre is situated and the local history research was carried out to help descendants who may be looking for where their people left from, to connect with the land of their ancestors’ birth and find present day relatives. The descendants may submit photographs, if they wish (some already have) and share the stories of their ancestors with each other.
There has been a great amount of interest shown since the database was launched. Descendants of the emigrants have contacted the Heritage Centre and made the journey back to Blacksod, to see where there their ancestors embarked on the Emigration Steamer. The beginning of their voyage to the “New World”
Ionad Deirbhile Heritage Centre, Eachléim, Blacksod Bay is now being regarded as a focal point for descendants who share a common bond, to connect with for the future.