In Search of My Irish

Today’s post comes to us from Jacque.

By the time you read this, I will be in Ireland. I could not get my head around how to tell one of these stories. It is cruel and overwhelming and unbelievable. It stopped me cold when I started to write it.

The group I am travelling with is a group of polymer clay artists who have been the students of our teacher from Jordan, MN, Maureen Carlson. She has for years had a teaching studio where people came to learn from all over the world.  One of those students is an Irish priest Father John.  Maureen closed her studio nearly 2 years ago to semi-retire.  He cut a deal with Maureen—let me come over for lessons one more time, and then the next year you can bring a group to the retreat center I run in Ireland for another 5 day lesson.  She said SOLD!  I was invited to attend.  I said yes.

Weirdly, this retreat center is located in the Irish county where my ancestors emigrated from in 1841 to Canada, County Down. That is my mother’s side.  You can the read the story of my great grandfather at this link:

That story is stereotypical. The Newells wanted a better life.  They emigrated to Canada, then Iowa to homestead and did very well.  I hope to travel to see the old stone house the Newells lived in on the sea.  It is still there, 25 miles from the retreat center

The story I found in on my father’s side knocked my socks off. I had no idea.  This is located in the county north of Down, in Antrim where Belfast is located.  I understand the Irish hatred of British after this one.  Sorry this is so long.  Here we go:

“The year was 1548 and it was in Ireland and it was time to pay Taxes to England . Ever year England would send a small army of tax collectors to Ireland to collect taxes, The people of Ireland had very little money and never enough to pay taxes to England . The tax collectors had been given the right from their King Edward V to take any thing of value to pay the taxes owed. It was the practice of King Edward and Mary Tudor to take Children in payment of the taxes. The children were taken to England to be trained as domestic servants and bonded labors.

This small village called Antrim, in the Ulster Province and of the MacDonald Clan was no different than any other village in Ireland everyone had to pay taxes one way or another, And this is where my story begins, Young children ages 12 years and older that looked in good health were taken from the family clans as payment for the taxes.From the time that the tax collectors picked the first children until they had over 100 children to go back to England it would take lest a week to 10 days. The children would be put into carts and wagons and most of the time their hands were tied to the racks on the carts to keep them from running away.

One young boy that came from Antrim was called James Antrim. His last name was from where he came from. He was being trained as a cord winder and rope maker. James Antrim was a hard worker and he learned well he also learned to read and write that would help him to get ahead in life. He lived and took his training at the family mansion of Sir Thomas Wyatt . During the five years of training young James Antrim had a hard time at first until his hands and arms got stronger, then he was as good a rope maker as there was.

It was on a spring day on a weekend that James went to the market with three men that he came to see for the first time a young lass with red hair , James had to know more about this young women. James found out that she was a cook’s helper at this master’s house and that her name was Colleen O’Shay . This was the first time that he seen his wife to be. The servant’s Masters was willing to let their servants have relationship with other household master’s  servants.  With the hopes that it would lead to a marriage. This way the servants children would be under the master ‘s care and they would become servants also and it would be cheaper than going to Ireland and bringing back young children to train .

Our ancestors were two of these servants that were married and two of their children came to Salem , Massachusetts, America in 1635. they were Thomas Antram and his wife Jane Batter, . And Thomas sent two of his sons John and James back to England in 1679 to bring friends and to raise funds to buy land in New Jersey. Our Ancestors were early America Pioneers.”

I hope that in our 5 days of touring we get to the Antrim area, as well. I want to know more about this practice of taking children for taxes.  It is guaranteed to create hard feelings that last for hundreds of years. It makes me think about how much I hate taxes sometimes.  Several times, while I owned my practice, I had to reach down deep to pay my taxes, but never did I have to make this kind of sacrifice—a 12 year old child.  I cannot come up with a question for discussion for this one.

What would you suggest as a question?

40 thoughts on “In Search of My Irish”

  1. Husband’s family were Scots who immigrated to the area around Belfast in the 1600’s. Many of them got fed up with how the poorly English treated them, and left for Virginia in the 1700’s. Perhaps a wuestion gor today would be “What would it take to make you immigrate?”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Your comment and question are good, Renee. I have one answer that came out of a course I once took in immigrant history. The single issue that forced a great many folks to strike out for the New World was war. That is, groups and individuals living in Europe would be commanded to serve in wars when they (for a variety of reasons) did not want to. Countries at war focused intense pressure on people to serve. Those who wouldn’t fight got on ships to Canada or the US.

      The less dramatic immediate reason for emigration was usually economic hardship, and I suppose that forced more people to emigrate than wars. The Irish potato famine was a particularly dramatic example of that. The great emigrations from Sweden and Norway in the 19th century were primarily driven by economics.

      And it is easy to think of examples of social and religious persecution driving emigration (especially persecution of Jews).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think lots of Scots ended up there, going first to Philadelphia, then moving west as land became more available, ending up in what is now West Virginia and Ohio.


  2. Thanks for putting this together before your departure, Jacque!

    I like Renee’s question – I think being forced to go to war, or worship something I totally didn’t believe in might make me emigrate elsewhere – IF there was the means to do so. I’m reading a well-researched historical novel (A mistake of Consequence by Winonan Terri Evert Karsten) partly about what emigrants went through as indenture.. A family of four would be indentured for at least 12 years to pay for their passage.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I am in County Down now. I just got back from visiting St. Patrick Center and the County Down Museum, where I met a guy at the museum who knows a descendent of my Irish ancestors. I will try to find my way to Kilkeel and the Mountains of Mourne where these folks lived for some time and where they are buried in the graveyard of the Mourne Presbyterian Church.

    It is all stunningly beautiful.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. My grandfather, Owen McDermott, came from County Roscommon and settled finally in Beaver Creek, MN. I never knew him since he passed on before I was born. My mother often told me how much he hated the English. He never went into any details nor communicated with any of his family after leaving. The history of this McDermott family is quite a mystery.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I have a lot of German and Austrian heritage, but I suppose my version of Jacque’s post would be “In search of my Roma”, since that is the ethnic group in my ancestral line that has the longest history of persecution and discrimination. My Roma genes are probably only about 1/64 of my heritage. Yet it seems to me that discouragingly few of this group have actually escaped the generational poverty that they suffer in Europe. Why did so many Irish emigrate, and so few Roma?

    In response to Renee’s question – what would it take to make you emigrate – I don’t think I would ever leave the U.S. at this point. Whatever happens, I will continue to stay and crankily vote against the nationalist/evangelical/racist/reactionary minority that seems to have seized power in spite of the efforts of the sensible majority.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. One of my favorite high school classmates is a Presbyterian minister in Fargo. She had the good sense to marry a Lutheran pastor and is supremely happy.


  6. Steve mentioned the Irish potato famine. Here’s Sinead O’Conner’s more radical take on that. The lyrics begin with:
    Okay, I want to talk about Ireland
    Specifically I want to talk about the “famine”
    About the fact that there never really was one
    There was no “famine”
    See Irish people were only allowed to eat potatoes
    All of the other food
    Meat fish vegetables
    Were shipped out of the country under armed guard
    To England while the Irish people starved
    And then on the middle of all this
    They gave us money not to teach our children Irish
    And so we lost our history
    And this is what I think is still hurting me

    Liked by 2 people

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