James Hack Tuke: Making Connections.
Between 1882 and 1884 the English Quaker and philanthropist, James Hack Tuke,
assisted over 1,300 families, 9,500 people, to emigrate from Connemara and Mayo to
North America. This was a response to the famine crisis of 1879-82 when over one
million people along the western seaboard were kept alive through the intervention of
private relief organisations and international charity. Tuke witnessed this crisis when
he visited Donegal and Connacht in the Spring of 1880 and concluded there had been
no material improvement in the lives of the people since the Great Famine which he
had witnessed in 1846-7. He advocated the emigration of families as a solution to the
endemic famine and poverty that affected the poorer regions of the west as it would
remove the surplus population in overpopulated areas and permit the vacated farms to
be divided up among the remaining families to create viable holdings, and create a
better life for those who left. The government provided partial funding for the
emigration and Tuke and his committee administered the scheme in the Belmullet,
Clifden, Newport, Oughterard and Swinford poor law unions.
The Tuke emigrants were sent to 2,018 different locations in Canada and the
United States and it is estimated that over 750,000 of their descendants can be found
in those countries today. Over the last ten years, heritage groups in Belmullet,
Clifden, Carna and Oughterard have been connecting with many of these descendants.
It is the aim of the heritage groups to make contact with as many of the Tuke
descendants as possible and have already made contact with groups and individuals in
St Paul, Minnesota; Cleveland, Ohio; Boston; Portland, Main; Toronto as well as
other locations in North America.
This has resulted in many descendants travelling to the west of Ireland to visit the
townlands their ancestors came from and connecting with distant relations they were
not aware of.
It is hoped that the conference will lead to future connections between the Tuke descendants and their ancestral homes in the west of Ireland.
In Galway, the project has been coordinated by the County Galway
Heritage Officer, Marie Mannion, and her staff.