Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: "Surplus People - From Wicklow to Canada" by Jim Rees

During the Great Famine in the middle of the 19th century, many of the big Irish estates embarked on a policy of clearing their lands of the many tenants who (in most cases) lived on small holdings in hovels. There were too many people on the land and something had to be done. The famine, combined with increased emigration to Canada and the US, provided the ideal opportunity and Irish landlords wasted no time in clearing their estates.

Image source:
The Collins Press.
About 5 miles/8 kilometres from where I grew up in the town-land of Ballingate, and just 2 miles/3 kilometres from where my Dad grew up in the town-land of Tomacork, is Coolattin House. This was the "big house" for the Coolattin Estate which at one time was 85,000 acres in size - this included both the Ballingate and Tomacork town-lands. The enjoyable account of how the Coolattin Estate was cleared is excellently provided by Arklow man Jim Rees in his re-issued book "Surplus People - From Wicklow to Canada". Beginning in 1847, Lord Fitzwilliam, widely regarded as one of the more benevolent landlords in Ireland, selected whole families from his estate for emigration and provided them with funding to get them to Canada. The conditions that people endured were horrible on the trip and at their destinations, and Rees gives an excellent account of the suffering of the Coolattin people especially when they reached their destination in Canada. 

Though my own family did not arrive in Tomacork until 1929 (from Newmarket in Co Cork), I still feel a bond with the families that lived in the area around Carnew and the Coolattin estate. Exactly 110 years later in 1957, almost my Mum's entire family emigrated to Canada - plus ├ža change. Indeed one of the men who assisted Lord Fitzwilliam, Ralph Lawrenson, lived in Ballingate House on the site where my Mum and Dad now live. Jim Rees provides many sources and details of ships and the names of families who emigrated. From Ballingate alone, 40 people were "cleared" to emigrate to Canada. It is a must read for anyone from this part of South Co Wicklow, and while the book is short (156 pages), historians will also benefit from Rees' research into a traumatic time for Coolattin and Ireland. The book will now be passed around my family starting with my Dad!

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