Famine emigrant ancestors

This guide was last updated in 2012

The failure of the potato crop in Ireland in 1845 and the subsequent famine heralded a million deaths and a wave of emigration.

It is believed that a million Irish men and women emigrated between 1845 and 1854. Those with the financial means fled the destitution, starvation, fever and unemployment in search of better prospects.

Land clearances by absentee landlords, whose response to the famine was to modernise their estates and clear their lands of tenants unable to pay adequate rent, gave momentum to this wave of emigration. Some landlords paid for their tenants to leave Ireland in the early 1850s under programmes of assisted emigration and others were simply evicted.

Many who were initially en route to America settled in Liverpool and other cities in northern England. Known as ‘Famine Emigrants’, locating their ancestors in Ireland can be challenging – as comedian Rosie O’Donnell discovered when she traced her ancestors back to Ireland for the US series of Who Do You Think You Are?.


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