From Connemara to Minnesota: The Nugent Emigration Scheme, 1880
Keoghan, Maxine Elida
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Abstract This study examines an assisted emigration scheme undertaken by Father James Nugent of Liverpool in June 1880. With the support of Bishop John Ireland of St Paul, Minnesota, Nugent transferred thirty-five destitute families from Connemara and south Mayo to Graceville, Minnesota. There have been previous studies of Nugent’s immigrants but these have have focused principally on Catholic immigration to the Minnesota prairies and in doing so considered Nugent’s immigrants as a part of this movement, and did not locate them within the context of nineteenth century assisted emigration. This study challenges the prevailing view that Nugent’s immigrants failed as homesteaders. Conclusions which identified the immigrants as failures necessitated attributing blame for their failure – either to the immigrants themselves or to the emigration society that supported the immigrants. Using a wide range of sources, both official and unofficial, this study takes a broader view. It looks in detail at conditions in the far west of Ireland in the decades that followed the famine, showing that the pre-famine traditions which were retained in that part of Ireland left communities vulnerable to famine and that there was ultimately a return of famine conditions in 1879-80. As a transnational endeavour, moreover, this study examines in detail Catholic Irish immigration to the United States and the expansion of the American west. Placing the immigrants’ experience in the context of assisted immigration it can be seen that the efforts of James Nugent and John Ireland were replicated and adjusted in the years that followed. In the 1880s, philanthropic endeavours informed by the experience of the Nugent scheme and supported by government undertook assisted immigration schemes which saw close to 10,000 people leave Connemara and north Mayo.
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