“Why didn’t the Irish fish when the potato crop failed during the Great Hunger of the late 1840s?” is a perennial question asked by the perplexed in a modern world with a global infrastructure. An examination of one family’s migration from an Irish-speaking fishing village in County Waterford to the American seaport of Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the post-Famine era, seeks to answer this persistent question.
The Power brothers left their homeland in the early 1850s at the same time on different ships. Having promised to find and marry two sisters they met in Ireland, the brothers eventually arrived in Boston where they did indeed find and marry the sisters.
The Powers were not unskilled when they arrived in America. They were the heirs to a millennium-long tradition of deep-sea fishing in Ireland. Eventually settling in Gloucester, a premier fishing port on the North Atlantic coast, they plied their heritage in a new world.
This is the story of frontiersmen working in the wilderness of the open sea, and of the connection between Irish and Irish-American fishing traditions. The Irish did indeed catch fish during and after the Famine, as they long had done.
JANET NOLAN is professor emerita of history at Loyola University Chicago, where she taught Irish and Irish-American history for almost a quarter of a century after receiving her PhD in history from the University of Connecticut. She has also taught full-time at the Universities of Connecticut and Rhode Island. She is the author of two books: “Ourselves Alone: Women and Emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920” (1989) and “Servants of the Poor: Teachers and Mobility in Ireland and Irish America” (2004), as well as numerous essays, articles, and reviews. She has given invited lectures in both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and throughout Europe and the United States. She has also appeared on television and radio in the United States, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. She now lives by the sea in Portsmouth. This is Professor Nolan’s second lecture for the Museum.