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Emerald Reflections Online

Table of Contents -- November 1999

You are viewing the electronic version of Emerald Reflections,
the monthly publication of the Shamrock Club of Wisconsin

The "Coffin Ships"

Update: State Meeting

Milwaukee President's Message

Milwaukee Volunteer Party

Dane County Shamrock Club

Rock County Shamrock Club

South Central Shamrock Club

Fox Cities Shamrock Club

Welcome New Members

Dues Notice

Set Dancing in Milwaukee

Daley Debutante Founder Honored

Auction to Offer O'Donnell Package

Irish Laughter

The Chilling End to Lord Rossmore

Milwaukee Calendar of Events

The "Coffin Ships"

by Desirée Roffers

Imagine you are leaving your home for the first time in your entire life, knowing there is little chance you will ever return. The ship you must travel on is crowded, and it is hard to imagine how any attempt at modesty will be made. You make your way through the dark tunnels marked "steerage," and you can't help but notice the overwhelming stench of urine and vomit. You are told that each day you will receive a small maggot infested biscuit and one-third of a quart of water. The water must be used for both cooking and cleaning, although, it is hardly sufficient for one or the other. Small bunks are nailed to the walls, and you wonder how all these people will find a space to sleep tonight. People are pushing and shoving in a whirl of confusion. You ask yourself what you are doing on this ship, leaving the only home you've ever known. It is too late to get off. The ship has already left port, and the captain won't turn back. Your only goal now is to survive.

These were the kinds of conditions that unlucky Irish emigrants were forced to live under. Though the conditions on the "coffin ships" would be considered intolerable today, nearly 1,800,000 Irish emigrants boarded American, British, and Australian vessels to escape the famine. They believed that it would be better to take the chance of dying on a ship, than it would be to remain in the midst of Ireland's death and disease.

During the terrible years following the black year of 1847, Irish emigration doubled the rate it had been only five years earlier, before the famine first struck. Total emigration from Ireland in 1825 was only 14,891, but in 1849, it was up to 299,498. Thousands of people were trying to escape their rich homeland that had been transformed by two years of famine and disease. Famine was not a new event in Ireland, but conditions in Ireland during the 1840s were just right to produce the most devastating and deadly famine in all of Ireland's history. Ireland was one of the most populous, and as a result, most poverty stricken countries in 19th century Europe. People were so poor that the entire nation of paupers found it necessary to survive on a single crop, the potato. It was grown because it produced the most amount of food in the smallest amount of space. When a fungus called Phytophthora infestans wiped out much of Ireland's potato crop in 1845 and 1846, millions of people were without the necessary income or food to feed their families. With no money for rent, whole families were evicted from their homes by their intolerant British landlords. Disease preyed on the Irish, now weakened from starvation. Without homes, people were left to die in the streets. Consequently, it is easy to see why a person would want to get away from such a place.

Although Ireland almost guaranteed its poor an early grave, many would argue that it would have been better to stay in Ireland and die with the comfort of your family surrounding you than to endure the horrible conditions aboard a famine ship. The famine ships or "coffin ships" were the unstable vessels that carried emigrants out of Ireland in the years following the famine. They were called coffin ships because so many people died on them. Like a coffin, one was trapped in a wooden confinement and almost ensured death. Many found this out too late. Most ships lost as much as one-third of their passengers to disease. This is not surprising since some have said that certain coffin ships reminded them of the slave ships that made the middle passage.

During the famine, religious persecution was at its worst in Ireland. Laws and personal prejudices prevented the Catholic majority from socially and financially advancing. When emigrants left Ireland, these discriminations came with them. It is not surprising that Protestant British ship owners treated their largely Catholic passengers badly. American ships; on the other hand, did not have the same prejudices. Consequently, ships flying the stars and stripes, as well as other emigrant ships, did not have living conditions which were quite as poor. For example, in Canada a ship carrying German passengers was said to have lost no passengers, and arriving passengers were all happy and healthy. Thus, most of the conditions on British ships were due to religious persecution.

To begin with, ships were large and usually had four levels. The storage deck was the lowest level in the ship and it was used to carry non-human cargo that would be sold at the destination. The steerage deck was directly above the storage deck. It held the steerage, or the passengers who paid the minimum fare. These were usually poor Catholic farmers who had very little money. The main deck was the third level. The quarter deck rose above the main deck at the stern of the ship. The quarter deck and the main deck held the captain's quarters, the ship crew's quarters, as well as the quarters for the cabin passengers. The cabin passengers paid the maximum fare and were given better accommodations. Cabin passengers were usually Protestants who had either converted to Protestantism or whose parents had converted. They could afford a better ticket because Protestants were offered better jobs in Ireland. Steerage could have easily fit a few passengers comfortably, but ship owners packed 300-600 people into the relatively small area. This allowed each family in steerage, some with as many as ten children, a six by six foot space to live in for weeks or even months. Their possessions were limited to one trunk which was mostly filled with provisions to be used by an entire family. Thus, ships, though large, produced extremely crowded conditions with little or no privacy.

The amount of food provided on the coffin ships was sparse. On some ships it was almost impossible to survive solely on the diet provided. Those who brought their own food were considered lucky and were more likely to survive the voyage. One law stated that a ship must provide the following to be issued per week per person in advance and not less often than twice a week: 3 quarts of water daily, 2.5 pounds of bread, 1 pound of wheaten oatmeal, 2 pounds of rice, 2 ounces of tea, ½ pound of sugar, and ½ pound molasses. Ship owners found ways around providing even such meager amounts. Furthermore, much of the food was rotten, but passengers could not refuse what they were offered. The starving Irish ate the moldy, hard, or maggot-covered food without complaint and longed for more. Malnutrition could be seen in the faces of all the passengers. First, they would get spongy gums and lose their teeth. Then, spots would appear on their skin. Soon passengers would develop scurvy and their ankles and legs would swell with fluid that would bleed into their mucous membranes. Finally, a passenger, depleted to skin and bones, would collapse and die.

The lack of privies or bathrooms also created a huge problem. On some ships there were no toilets. Even on ships where there were one or two water closets for several hundred passengers, people were often denied access to them during a storm. Of course, you can not prevent your bowels from moving, so people were forced to relieve themselves wherever they were, often below in the storage deck, with the company of the rats.

The over-crowded quarters, filth, and poor food led to the quick spread of disease. In fact, more people on the ships died of disease than they did of starvation. Some of the diseases a person could get while at sea were scurvy, dysentery, typhus, lice, diarrhea, or other gastric and intestinal disorders (Gallagher 211). One person carrying a disease could quickly infect the entire ship and send many to a watery grave before they reached their destination.

Though the conditions on the Irish "coffin ships" may have been worse than conditions in Ireland, emigrants had the promise of hope. They truly believed that they might have a better life in a new country. Some emigrants actually did have a better life across seas. The Irish who survived changed American history as well as the history of other countries. In fact, President Kennedy and Henry Ford both had ancestors who came across the Atlantic on emigrant ships

In conclusion, despite the unbearable conditions steerage passengers had to endure, millions of Irish emigrants preferred to leave Ireland on a "coffin ship" rather than remain in Ireland. People in Ireland were starving and constantly dying from diseases, as well as being evicted from their homes, yet they were in the comfort of their homeland. People on the famine ships lived with filth, disease, over-crowdedness, and starvation but they had the promise of hope in a new world.

Now, take yourself back to that emigrant ship, and imagine you have finally reached America. You are too weak to stand, but someone lifts you up. For the first time you breath in some of that sweet American air. Everything comes flooding back to you, and you remember why you left. Hope you had a dream for a new and better life for you and your children not yet born.

Update: State Meeting

LaCrosse has graciously offered to host the State Meeting. We will be discussing the agenda and we would like more input. The date is not determined as of this writing.

We have heard from Appleton and welcome them back. They have been inactive but are busy and waiting for the state meeting. LaCrosse and Dane County as well as South Central have responded on a very positive note.

Would like to hear from the rest of you so that we can work on finalizing this important event.

Cate Harris

Milwaukee President's Message

Folk Fair is the largest indoor multiethnic festival in the world. It lasts for three days Fri., Sat. and Sun., November 19, 20, 21 for the public. It goes on almost all year for Pete and Fran Dundon who make the menu and then shop for the best prices of food. Noreen Barclay and company always are looking for items that other people will want to buy. She not only does this for Folk Fair but Irish Fest as well. This is also a nerve racking job as Holiday Folk Fair is rather strict about the items that we sell. They can be Irish but not say Ireland on them. They prefer the items be imported. Then we have the Culture area and Mary McAndrews has been thinking about novel ways to present interesting culture to all the people. Now that I have told you of their labors of love, we need you to man the booths. Only four hours from you is all we ask. This year parking at State Fair Park will be free for the volunteers as space permits. Others will be $2-$3 for parking. At this time this is still being negotiated by Folk Fair and State Fair Park.

To work with Fran and Pete in food, please call them at 414-242-8245. Noreen Barclay can be reached at 695-8563 for sales booth and Mary McAndrews, our person of Culture, at 276-8779.

Sharon Murphy announced that the Shamrock Club has changed insurance companies. We are now using Security Insurance Agency. We have much more coverage for very little more money.

Muriel Crowley will be hostessing the open house at the Museum on December 9 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cottage will be open and she plans on having music, dancers and hopefully two crafts. Put this event on your "to do" list.

Lisa Blake is proposing an "Irish Open Mic Nite". Her proposal is to have a monthly Open Mic Nite in Parlor B from 8 to midnight promoting Irish focused music and literature performed by the audience on a sign up basis. For further information call Lisa Blake at 299-0467.

Bradley Center is in full swing. We received our full schedule this past week and we have 22 events of which 9 are Bucks games. Our commission for these events is usually high. If anyone would only like to work an event or two call and volunteer to work as an alternate. Please call my new right hand, Katy Voss and she will schedule you. Katy can be reached at 352-6479 or Cate Harris at 321-5153.

Chuck McLaughlin announced there will be no breakfast after the Mass at St. Patrick's Church on March 11, 2000, which is the day of our St. Pat's Parade.

We are still selling Entertainment Books. They are $35 and make excellent Christmas gifts and at the same time support the Shamrock Club.

We are sorry for any inconvenience that our notice in October Emerald Reflections stating that the A.O.H. spaghetti dinner and Mass ere on Oct. 30. The correct date was Oct. 9.

Happy Thanksgiving and best wishes to all November birthdays and anniversaries.

Cate Harris (321-5153)

Milwaukee Shamrock Club


DECEMBER 4, 1999

ICHC Upper Hall 7 p.m.

Dane County

In September, we were entertained by the American Irish Singers of Mazomanie. The group was enjoyed by all and we look forward to a repeat performance next year.

We are pleased to announce that in 2000, the Annual St. Patrick's Day events will be slightly different than you may be used to! We will hold a luncheon on St. Patrick's Day, immediately following the Annual Flag Raising Celebration. Details, of course, will follow.

If you have information that you would like to have in the Reflections, please contact Sheila O'Brien at 608 / 221-2431, or fax (608 / 221-0092) me the information.


  • NOVEMBER 9 General Membership Meeting, Jingles, 7:30 p.m. Mary McBride Writer and Humorist. If you have never heard of her, here is your chance! If you have heard of her, you will surely enjoy hearing her again. Don't miss it!
  • DECEMBER 14 Membership Dinner and Holiday Celebration, Jingles. Reservations will be accepted at the November meeting. Call Mary Hearn at 608/274-4369 or Barb Darcy at 608/837-3095 for all the details.

Sheila O'Brien, Scribe

Rock County


  • NOVEMBER 16 - Membership Meeting at the Janesville Senior Center, 69 S. Water St., 7:30 p.m.
  • DECEMBER 21 Club Christmas Party at Janesville Senior Center

September was a sad month for our Club. Jim Masterson died on September 16. Jim was a charter member of our club and one of our most active members. He was president of our club in 1984 and 1985 and was selected Irish Person of the Year in 1988. Jim was our St. Patrick in area parades for many years.

The members of the Sunshine Committee are Rosie Hughes (365-0663) and Mary Kennedy (752-3667). If any member knows of a member sick or of a death in their family, please call Rosie or Mary and let them know.

Our Christmas Party will be on December 21 at the Janesville Senior Center. More information on that will be in the next Reflections.

The annual attendance prize drawing was won by Mary Kennedy. The prize being membership dues for one year.

The officers are looking forward to seeing everyone at the November meeting and at the Christmas Party in December.

Tom Kennedy

South Central

We had our first general membership meeting of the year October 3, at Longley's Restaurant in Reedsburg, with 23 members present.

The following are officers for '99-2000:

  • President: Mike Hickey
  • Vice President: Bill Wilde
  • Secretary: Mary Stieve
  • Treasurer: Rose Lee
  • Directors: Donald McConaghy, Robert Judkins, John Geoghegan
  • Membership Chairman: John Langer
  • Parliamentarian: Joan Koscal

Our membership Chairman gave a report on our membership, which is 114. President Mike Hickey asked each member to bring in a new member this year.

Our calendar for the year 1999-2000 is as follows:

  • NOVEMBER 10 (Wed): Baraboo, Hi-Way House
  • DECEMBER 19 (Sun): Christmas Party, Reedsburg Country Club
  • FEBRUARY 13 (Sun): Endehouse Brewery and Restaurant, Reedsburg
  • MARCH 11 (Sat): we will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day at the Wintergreen in Lake Delton.
  • MAY 10 (Wed): Annual Meeting, Election of Officers will be held at Fischer's Supper Club, in Lake Delton.

After our meeting our Vice President gave a very informative talk on "New Grange," which is older than "Stone Henge." Bill and his wife have been to Ireland several times, and also visiting new Grange several times. All present enjoyed his presentation very much.

Mary Stieve, Secretary

Fox Cities


  • 10 Cabaret Dinner / Show. 6 p.m. Dinner. 7:30 p.m. Show. Columbus Club, 2531 N. Richmond St., Appleton.
  • 24 Board Meeting 7 p.m., Conkey's Appleton

Our club has been inactive for a while. However, it is very much "alive" again thanks to the efforts of our president, Bill Grogan.

We are recruiting new members and hope to become more visible once again in the Fox Cities.

Promoting and encouraging Celtic heritage and entertainment is a goal for us to achieve.

Everyone is welcome to our Cabaret Dinner / Show. Ticket info, telephone: (920) 733-5254.

Elaine Hoes, Secretary

Welcome New Members

LaCROSSE Robert McLee.

LAFAYETTE CO. Dares Hessling.

MILWAUKEE Peggy, Kayla, Jim Birmingham; Marlene Clark; Marie Cramer; Mauree McGinley Danowski; Mary Dermody; Jim and Debbie Dickminn (referred by Tom Cobb); Mary Dunsmore; Brett Johnson; Marty Family; Richard and Arlene McCue; Marty Ordinans; Geraldine O. Riepenhoff; Brendan and Kathleen Rowen; John P. Savage; Eugene and Viola Townsend; Maureen Fitzsimmons Vanden - Heuvel and Tom Vanden - Heuvel, Fawn, Emily, Nick, Allie Vanden -Heuvel.

NORTHEAST Carole Dessart

ROCK CO. Deborah Manning; Richard and Joan Whelan.



September and October Membership Dues are due. Please check your mailing labels and make all checks payable to Shamrock Club of Wisconsin.

Thank you,
Tom Smith

Set Dancing In Milwaukee

Major set dance events are scheduled for November and December as follows:

  • Saturday, November 27. Set dancing at the ICHC, 7:00 instruction and dancing from 8:00 until 11:00 to live music by Sue Van Dyke and Friends.
  • Saturday, December 18. Annual set dance Christmas Party. 7:00 instruction followed by dancing to the music of Rira from 8:00 p.m. until 11:00. At the ICHC.
  • Thursday, December 30. This special evening of set dancing will be held at the ICHC on the Thursday night preceding New Year's Eve. Music by the Public House Céilí Band. Dance from 8:00 p.m. Free. Please bring a snack or dessert to share.

For information call 414 258-3370 or send email to

Every Week Dancing at Nash's Irish Castle, 1328 W. Lincoln Avenue, continues every Thursday night with instruction beginning at 7:00 p.m. and dancing to live music from 8:00 until 10:00.

Daley Debutante Founder Honored

Sherry Daley Jung who heads the Daley Debutante Corps and is a Shamrock Club member, got the surprise of her life on a September Sunday when a special parade was staged in honor of her 60th birthday in front of her Wauwatosa home.

Sherry founded the Debutantes 45 years ago at the age of 15 and she still heads the group. About 150 Debutantes, including the Daley Dolls (small girls) and alumni took part in the parade. Her sisters, who now assist in running the Debutantes, Patti Daley Wertschnig and Marcy Daley Blaufuss, came out of retirement to twirl batons in the show.

The Debutantes have performed in many Shamrock Club parades and Irish Fest functions. In this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities they marched in the Dublin, Ireland parade.

Robert J. Higgins

Auction to Offer
O'Donnell Package

November 4 and 5, 1999 Wisconsin Public Television's Auction will be offering a travel package to see Daniel O'Donnell in Branson, Missouri. The tour is for the 1999 Christmas / Gospel Show which runs November 8-27 at Jennifer's Americana Theater. Watch the Auction for package details.

Daniel O'Donnell has been chosen as Ireland's Entertainer of the Year three times. For information about Daniel, call Jane Villbrandt, Fan Club Rep. and Rock County Shamrock Club member at (608) 756-2022.

Irish Laughter


A Cork hurler died and went up to the gates of Heaven. A bearded figure at the gate told the hurler to wait while he checked his record.

"I see here that you played with St. Finbarr's and that you scored the winning goal in an important match."

"That's right," said the hurler.

"But I also see that you fouled the goalkeeper deliberately. The referee didn't see it, but we did."

"'Tis true," said the hurler. "I'm sorry about that."

"Oh, don't worry about it. Come on in."

"Thank you, St. Peter," said the hurler.

"I'm not St. Peter. I'm St. Finbarr."

from Ireland's Own

The Chilling End
To Lord Rossmore

One of the strange and weirdest of stories had its beginning on a warm August morning 198 years ago. On August 6, 1801 at 2:30 a.m. Lord Rossmore, commander-in-chief of the British Crown Forces in Ireland, died at his home.

The evening before he had attended a vice-regal "drawing room" at Dublin Castle. To the people he met there, including Sir Jonah and Lady Barrington, he seemed in the best of health, and stayed at the party until near midnight. Before leaving, he invited the Barringtons to join a party he was holding in his house at Mount Kennedy, in Co. Wicklow.

Sir Jonah Barrington, an historian and judge, was an Abbeyleix man, and an extraordinary character. After being called to the Irish Bar, he was elected to the Irish parliament for three constituencies, Tuam, Clogher and Banagher. He voted against the Union with England, and afterwards became judge of the Admiralty's court, but was eventually removed from the Bench for the misappropriation of Court fees.

This then was the background of the man whom fate had chosen to bear witness to the unexplained and totally unexpected end that was to attend His Majesty's Commander-in-Chief in Ireland on that August night. Lord Rossmore had spent quite an ordinary evening one that seemed to contain no hint at all of the strange things to come.

At two o'clock in the morning, the story goes, Sir Jonah Barrington awoke in his bedroom and heard what was described as "plaintive sounds" outside the window, coming from a grass plot underneath it. He was to remember the banshee-like sounds all his life. Lady Barrington heard the sounds too, and so did a maid. And finally, at 2:30 a.m., Barrington heard a voice call "Rossmore! Rossmore!" and then there was silence.

The following day the Barringtons were shocked and horrified when they heard that their host had died. Apparently Lord Rossmore's servant had also heard the strange sounds coming from his room during the night. He rushed into the bedroom and found his master in a convulsed state, and at the point of death. He noted that Lord Rossmore had passed away exactly at 2:30 a.m.

"Lord Rossmore was actually dying the moment I heard his name pronounced," Sir Jonah wrote later. He afterwards confessed that it was one of the most nerve-shattering experiences he had ever undergone, a mystery he could not solve. To the Irish staff, however, it was no mystery, for they knew it was the banshee Barrington had heard.

The banshee has a special place in Irish lore. The alleged apparition is supposed to be a fairy woman hence the name from the Gaelic: bean (woman) and sidhe (fairy). It is said to wail and cry when members of certain families are about to die. It has never been established, however, why the banshee follows some families and not others.

In old Gaelic legend, music and poetry were said to be fairy gifts and the possession of these showed a fatal kinship with the "Duine shee," or the people of the spirit race.

Carolan, the great Irish harper, said that he obtained some of the wildest and most beautiful music through hearing the fairy harpist playing while he lay asleep in the moonlight on a fairymound.

The banshee is believed to be an unearthy attendance of the ancient families of Ireland, the true descendants of the noble Gaelic race those who have the Mac and O to their names.

Some authorities aver that this Harbinger of Dealth is actuated by a feeling inimical to the person she laments. Irish people of bygone ages, however, did not concur with this opinion.

They were convinced that the banshee once walked the path in the light of loveliness and immortality, and that she was a staunch friend of the particular sept or clan she followed.

About this an expert said: "The very fact of the unearthly creatures always crying their sweet sad song of sorrow at some misfortune bears this out, for if otherwise than a friend, why should the song be not one of rejoicing instead of lamentation?"

The wail of the banshee has been described as a peculiarly mournful sounds of the hollow wind, and having the tone of the human voice, and is distinctly audible at a great distance.

"She is usually presented as a small though beautiful maiden, dressed in the fashion of Ireland's early ages, who, with her mournful and melancholy cry, bewails the misfortune about to fall on the family she loves."

In later years, Sir Jonah Barrington often repeated that it was definitely the banshee he had heard that night in August 1801, when he was a guest at Lord Rossmore's house. This fact was borne out by local people who swore that she had also been heard when other members of his family were about to die.

Leo Bowes,
for Ireland's Own