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Ballykilcline Rising

From Famine Ireland to Immigrant America

Mary Lee Dunn

Publication Year: 2008

In 1847, in the third year of Ireland's Great Famine and the thirteenth year of their rent strike against the Crown, hundreds of tenant farmers in Ballykilcline, County Roscommon, were evicted by the Queen's agents and shipped to New York. Mary Lee Dunn tells their story in this meticulously researched book. Using numerous Irish and U.S. sources and with descendants' help, she traces dozens of the evictees to Rutland, Vermont, as railroads and marble quarries transformed the local economy. She follows the immigrants up to 1870 and learns not only what happened to them but also what light American experience and records cast on their Irish “rebellion.” Dunn begins with Ireland's pre-Famine social and political landscape as context for the Ballykilcline strike. The tenants had rented earlier from the Mahons of Strokestown, whose former property now houses Ireland's Famine Museum. In 1847, landlord Denis Mahon evicted and sent nearly a thousand tenants to Quebec, where half died before or just after reaching the Grosse Ile quarantine station. Mahon was gunned down months later. His murder provoked an international controversy involving the Vatican. An early suspect in the case was a man from Ballykilcline. In the United States, many of the immigrants resettled in clusters in several locations, including Vermont, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, and New York. In Vermont they found jobs in the marble quarries, but some of them lost their homes again in quarry labor actions after 1859. Others prospered in their new lives. A number of Ballykilcline families who stopped in Rutland later moved west; one had a son kidnapped by Indians in Minnesota. Readers who have Irish Famine roots will gain a sense of their own “back story” from this account of Ireland and the native Irish, and scholars in the field of immigration studies will find it particularly useful.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xiv

I thank, first, my mother, Frances Allen Dunn, who started me down this road and helped at every step, and my father, Walter Charles Dunn, who died in 1991 but was very much interested to see it happen and would have been pleased, and probably surprised, when I found some of his family in County Kildare in 1992. I thank my sons, Daniel Dunn...

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Introduction and Methodology

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pp. xv-xxii

The Irish have a long past, and yet it is paradoxical that so many Irish-Americans possess only a short history which stops at the Atlantic in the nineteenth century, a history abridged by the trauma of uprooting and relocation that was their forebears’ exodus from their native land in famine time or earlier. Family Interrupted: they don’t know where they came from....

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Chapter 1. The Story of Ballykilcline

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pp. 1-35

In the third year of the Great Famine and the thirteenth year of their contentious rent strike, the people of Ballykilcline were forced from their Kilglass Parish homes in Roscommon by British government agents, who evicted them from Ireland. In seven struggling groups during 1847 and ’48, the several hundred tenants—couples, children, single and old...

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Chapter 2. Shifting Ground in Roscommon

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pp. 36-70

By the 1830s, when the rent strike began, the Irish had opposed the British in Ireland for centuries. A major battle in the Williamite War took place at the River Boyne in 1690 when the Protestant William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II for the Crown of England, an outcome with enormous repercussions for Ireland. Soon after, the English...

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Chapter 3. Resettling in Rutland

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pp. 71-95

Nathaniel Hawthorne described the bustling port of Burlington just as John and Sabina Brennan Hanley arrived in Vermont from Ballykilcline and as their relatives and neighbors at home began their rent strike. The couple may have been part of the “infinite tribe” that mesmerized Hawthorne, though no information on the Hanleys’ route has survived. Hawthorne...

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Chapter 4. To Battle with a “Two-Edged Sword”

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pp. 96-107

When the British went after Young Ireland’s firebrand leaders in Dublin in 1848, John Cain made certain that his Rutland Courier readers knew about it: “The Government have [sic] arrested W. S. O’Brien, and Messrs. [Thomas Francis] Meagher and [John] Mitchel [sic], for sedition” (April 12, 1848). Cain’s columns kept the Irish in Rutland informed...

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Chapter 5. Family Paths [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 108-134

An individual’s actions and a family’s choices after eyeing the paths open to them may reveal their conflicts, priorities, memories, and daily experience in making their way. How the tenant farmers of Ballykilcline behaved around Strokestown, where perhaps their greatest losses occurred, may tell what the subsequent record does not, but what happened...

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Chapter 6. Quarry Actions—Striking Again

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pp. 135-150

Their experience breaking rocks on the public works in famine Ireland equipped the Irish for marble quarrying, it has been said (Healy communication, July 2002). More likely, though, it was the Kilglass men’s experience in the stone quarries of their home parish or the limestone ones in adjacent Kilmore, whose product was used both for construction...

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Chapter 7. Still Standing in the Gale

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pp. 151-168

Many of the Ballykilcline immigrants in the United States avoided the worst fears envisioned for them by their primary storyteller, Robert Scally, who worried darkly after resurrecting their history that they might have ended up as skid row charity cases (Scally 1995, pp. 226, 227). In fact, many of them did far better than Scally envisioned, though...

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pp. 169-170

Just as Ballykilcline Rising headed to press, the independent Vermont researcher William Powers and the author found new data about some of the Colligans in Rutland, whose story is told in a family letter in Chapter 3, which identified them certainly as Ballykilcline evictees. The family is that of Patrick and Annie Colligan and their six children. While Patrick...


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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-189

Works Cited

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pp. 191-202


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pp. 203-218

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760840
E-ISBN-10: 1613760841
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496583
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496580

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 609330782
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ballykilcline Rising

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Quarries and quarrying -- Vermont -- Rutland -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 19th century.
  • Famines -- Ireland -- Roscommon (County) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ireland -- Emigration and immigration -- History -- 19th century.
  • Rent strikes -- Ireland -- Ballykilcline -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ballykilcline (Ireland) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Rutland (Vt.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Irish Americans -- Vermont -- Rutland -- History -- 19th century.
  • Immigrants -- Vermont -- Rutland -- History -- 19th century.
  • Irish Americans -- Vermont -- Rutland -- Biography.
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