The connection between Ireland and Newfoundland is as strong as the ice that engulfs the rugged island in the harsh winter. Prior to setting up my Irish genealogy business, Oak Ancestry, in 2013, I had passing knowledge about Newfoundland and its ancestral link with Ireland. It was not until I was commissioned to carry out research for a lady from Newfoundland with Irish roots that I began to understand this deep connection even more.
My client was coming to visit Ireland in the summer of 2014 to follow the path (in reverse) of her Irish ancestors who had emigrated from Waterford in the 1840’s. Her objective was to carry out this Irish family research before arriving to Ireland and bring her bound copy of her Irish Family Research Report with her as a genealogy and travel guide which would help her walk in her ancestors footsteps.
Upon beginning my research I read about Thomas Meagher from Newfoundland who settled in Waterford in the early 1800’s. His son, Thomas Francis Meagher, was the man who created Ireland’s national flag, the Irish Tricolour, and flew it proudly over the city on the 7th of March 1848.
It was fishing that brought many of the Irish to and from Newfoundland and it was fishing that brought my clients ancestor to the area. My clients ancestor, Thomas Farrell, was from Waterford city. Through family lore and our own research we found out that this young man had fished in the Grand bank on numerous occasions, returning to Ireland upon finishing his stint at sea. Fortunately, church records for Waterford City are quite extensive, with some records stretching back into the early 18th century. We located his parent’s names as well as some of his siblings, some of whom also emigrated to Newfoundland and onto mainland Canada.
The ports at Waterford and Wexford were the most popular departure points for those seeking to capitalise on the white gold found off the Grand Bank, Cod. Boats departed these Irish shores alongside French and British fishing boats. Waterford became the last port of call for many of the boats before crossing the Atlantic. Over 35,000 Irishmen, mainly from the south east of the country from Kilkenny, Tipperary, Wexford and of Waterford, sought a new life in the relatively unknown terrain of Newfoundland.
Eventually our man Thomas married a Waterford woman called Bridget Power and, once more, set sail for Newfoundland with his wife- this time for good.
For almost 80 years prior to Thomas and Bridget’s emigration, Irish men and women had been settling in Newfoundland. In the late 18th century, many of the Irish who arrived on the frozen shores were often just seasonal workers who were mainly employed on British ships. Between 1800 and 1830 over 35,000 settled there. In 1836, a census was carried out, it counted 75,843 living in Newfoundland with over 400 settlements listed. Over half of these were Irish.
The link between both places is still as strong as ever. I have been fortunate to chat to people who have visited Newfoundland through the Ireland Newfoundland Connections Committee. I have been told about the many traditions and customs that you will find around Ireland today are still very much part of thousands of households in Newfoundland. One of the most interesting things you will hear about Irish heritage in Newfoundland is how the south east accent, and more specifically, the Waterford accent, has continued on through generations of Newfoundlanders.
There is no doubt that the isolation in which many of those early Irish lived in Newfoundland has allowed Irish accents, customs and traditions to continue to remain rooted in the area to this day. However, it would be wrong of me to state that the only reason for this continued connection is simply geographical; it is much deeper than that.
Our Newfoundland client helped us see the deeper link that lies between these two small islands and it is something we are always grateful for. She was somewhat over-awed whilst following the footsteps of her ancestor as she went through the doors of the Most Holy Trinity Church in Waterford city where he married. She also stood on the cities banks looking out at the river Suir. She could picture Thomas setting sail alongside his wife Bridget as the boat drifted out of the mouth of the Three Sisters estuary and onwards to a new life in Newfoundland.
Researching your Irish Family History before coming to Ireland and bringing it with you on your “genealogy” tour is one I encourage greatly. All too often people contact us having just left Ireland on a recent holiday yearning for more information on their Irish ancestors, always wishing they had the foresight to carry out the research before their trip and wondering how much more impactful their trip “home” might have been.