In 2015, the United Nations classified 244 million people as transnational migrants. The phenomenon is the human epic of our age. As citizens of planet earth, we have a moral obligation to comprehend this major, often daunting challenge. A key tool for doing so is examining, objectively and thoroughly, past episodes of migration and its necessary complement: integration.
Due to the Great Hunger — a catastrophic potato famine (1845-1849) — and other factors, Ireland produced the largest global migration event of the nineteenth century. Within that exodus, a compelling, important story is the displacement of people from Wexford (or Loch Garman), Ireland’s most southeastern county, to Savannah, Georgia, during the late 1840s and much of the 1850s.
The "Great Hunger" Famine certainly affected Wexford, but less than other Irish counties. Important producers of malting barley, the baronies (regions) of south Wexford called Forth and Bargy suffered relatively little.
Until recently, the Wexford-Savannah story was hidden in plain sight. However, new research from Savannah-based Georgia Southern University is restoring to us the significance of how, by 1860, 14% of Savannah’s population (a quarter of its white population) was Irish-born — and, furthermore, was disproportionately of Wexford origin.
This story pushes against certain received notions of Irish migration, such as "No Irish Need Apply." In its issue of Friday 6 December 1850, the Savannah Morning News printed a favorable editorial comment in response to the arrival in Savannah of 125 steerage passengers. They had sailed directly from Wexford Town on the 500-ton barque Brothers, owned by R. M. & R. Allen of that port. "It is rarely we see," the piece averred, "a more respectable body of new comers than those brought by the Brothers."
In the telling of Famine-era Irish migration, another commonplace is the disease-ridden coffin ship. However, the Wexford vessels gained an "arrive alive" reputation. The 1850 sailing of the Brothers referred to above concluded in Savannah with the gift of a silver cup from the passengers to the captain, Laurence English. It was a token of their esteem for his kind-hearted caring during the 41-day transatlantic voyage.