The story of Orphan Girls of Mountbellew Workhouse who travelled to Western Australia has long been forgotten. Stephen Corrigan meets Paula Kennedy who has been working to link their families in Australia with their ancestral home.
At first glance, it might be difficult to see a connection between Mountbellew and Western Australia – but the ties between these two hugely different places have been traced thanks to a group of local researchers.
So what links this small town in the North East of Galway with a vast State in Australia that’s over 30 times the size of Ireland? The answer lies with 32 orphan girls who were transported to the far side of the world way back in 1852 – escaping some of the worst poverty and deprivation in the aftermath of the Great Famine.
Two years ago, a group of people with a shared interest in genealogy and local history came together to examine the forgotten orphan girls of Mountbellew Workhouse – those who made the five-month-long journey aboard the Palestine ship in 1852.
Paula Kennedy, a genealogist working on the project, says that it all started when somebody got in touch with her trying to find their ancestors.
“A lady got in touch with me and she was eager to find her ancestors and as I read her story about the Mountbellew Workhouse, I knew this had to be done.
“I decided later that I would put it in the paper to see who was interested in doing the project with me. Kathleen Connolly came on board – she had researched one of the girls because she worked in the resource centre in Moylough and these visitors came in one day and asked for information on the Palestine Girls which piqued her interest.
“Then Martin Curley is a genealogist and works in the schools – he is interested in the DNA side. Local researcher, Mary McLoughlin, helped out, so, between us, we had a lot to give,” says Paula.
Once they established the list of people who had made the journey, they began to research further and seek out people in Australia who believed they could be linked to the Palestine Girls.
“Our records here for that period are just terrible so it was Australia that had more information than we had and I suppose that we were just the glue that brought the two together and tried to match everything up,” says Paula.
“In the last 12 months, a lot of the descendants have come home and I show them around the local area; I bring them to where the workhouse was and to the graveyard behind it.
“If we know the locality where they are from, we will show them that – it might just be a gate now and there might be no house but it is lovely for them and they get to feel that connection,” she continues.
While there is no way to be certain, Paula and her colleagues have come to the conclusion that the young women would have been eager to make the break from Ireland.
“We have reason to think that they were actually jumping to do it – that is our gut feeling and we have done presentations on this and we have asked for people’s views and if you think about it, the workhouse was not a place you’d want to be.
“Their parents were dead and they were big families – we’re talking about 10, 12 or 14 children.
“The grandparents may have taken a few but the rest would go into the workhouse and they went in knowing, sometimes, that they would go abroad and they would have a better chance because there was nothing here for them at that stage – there was no food, no job prospects,” explains Paula.
Despite a considerable lack of documentation, the minutes of meetings of the workhouse Board of Guardians are available and they give some insight into how those who travelled were chosen, says Paula.
An agent of the State would decide to take a certain number of the girls from each workhouse – with their main aim to provide wives for the ex-convicts in Britain’s newest colony.
For this reason, ships like the Palestine became known as ‘Irish bride ships’.
“Each girl that was travelling had to have calico [fabric], they had to have a bonnet, a comb, a certain amount of dresses for the voyage and soap.
“They left Galway and travelled to Dublin; from Dublin, they travelled to Plymouth and they usually stayed two or three days in Plymouth.
“From there, they travelled to Western Australia and that took five months. On this particular journey, there was six births and 12 deaths.
“They were looked after very well on the ship from what I can understand and when they got to Western Australia, they had to walk something like 60 miles over a day or two to get to where they were going,” says Paula.
While the prospect of a new life was a huge motivation for these teenagers aged between 14 and 18, it was different to the Australia we know today.
“They were hit with heat, spiders, snakes and they had not ever heard of aboriginals – during that time, the land settlements were going on and the aboriginals were losing their land so there was conflict with the English,” she says.
Prior to the Palestine, between 1848 and 1850, 4,000 Irish girls were brought to the Australian Colonies under the Earl Grey Scheme and so the practice was not new.
While it continued for some time, worries about their Catholicism and a lack of skills leaving the workhouse meant the practice would stop.
However, some of the Palestine Girls researched by Paula and her colleagues done very well and their legacies live on today.
The Cunningham sisters, Catherine and Mary, were two of the 32 that travelled. Mary’s son had a marked impact on law and order – significant because of his poor background and religion.
Her son, William Charles Sellenger, retired in 1928 as Chief Inspector of the Western Australia Police Force.
The Sellenger Centre for Research in Law, Justice and Social Change at the Edith Cowan University in Perth is named after him.
Mary Dooley was another of the women who went on to have a significant impact on modern Western Australia as she and her cousins, the Scanlons, became the first midwives in the area and delivered a whole generation to the new Australian State.
DNA testing kits have become easier to access in recent times and as a result, Ellen Hansberry, one of those who travelled, has been linked to Nuala Healy of Clonkeenabbert, Abbeyknockmoy – bringing to an end the separation of the families since Ellen’s departure.
While a stigma still exists today about those who had relatives in the workhouses, particularly among the older generation, Paula hopes that this history can be kept alive by talking about it.
“It is unbelievable that from just this segment of Galway, its DNA has gone over there and established huge amounts – we need to keep it alive and to keep it in people’s thoughts.
“We never knew anything about these girls that went abroad but they are part of our history and they shouldn’t be forgotten about,” says Paula.
Ceremony marks culmination of two-year research effort
In May of this year, a commemorative ceremony will take place to remember 32 young women who left Mountbellew Workhouse for Western Australia in 1852 – the culmination of two years of research into their lives.
In pursuit of a better life than what was on offer to them in a country decimated by famine and poverty, they stepped aboard the Palestine ship for a five-month-long journey – not knowing what they were facing.
Now, almost 170 years later, some of their ancestors will return to Galway to trace their footsteps and celebrate the impact they have had on Australian life.
Local genealogist, Paula Kennedy, says they hope the event will mean a lot to those who are travelling all the way from the Southern Hemisphere – in search of where their story began.
“Their legacies are huge within that part of Australia. For us, as Irish people, most of us know all about our great grandparents but for Australians, they may not have that connection,” she explains.
From Friday, May 4, a weekend-long itinerary has been drawn up which includes a visit to Ruane’s Pub in Glentane for a rambling house session.
This will be followed by a conference in Portumna Workhouse and a talk from Bill Marwick, a descendant of Mary Ann Taylor who left Mounbellew Workhouse on the Palestine.
Finally, a mass will be held in Mountbellew and a gathering of all the ancestors who are visiting the area – while there will also be an opportunity for those visiting to explore their ancestral locality.
“It’s like it is going full circle – they will be coming back to their homeland because this is their legacy,” says Paula.
She says that the group have had huge support from Irish groups in Australia and that those links have helped them to grow this project and make contact with the relatives of those who settled in Western Australia.
They hope to make a permanent memorial to the orphan girls of Mountbellew Workhouse in the near future and to find a link to the families of all 32 who travelled.
“It was a horrible time in Irish history but it shouldn’t be forgotten about,” says Paula.
Connemara native goes online for revision courses and online weekly classes
Julie Kilmartin, from the Heart of the Gaeltacht in Connemara has switched all of their Easter Revision Courses to online access commencing early April 2020. Julie watched the crisis unfold in Italy and realized that the closure of Irish schools was only a matter of time. The week prior to the closure, Julie contacted her team of excellent teachers and requested that they prepare to record the courses in advance. Incredibly, the majority of teachers responded and agreed.
Upon the announcement of school closures, with the uncertainty of Easter and schools still been closed, Julie and her team made the decision to switch all courses online. Time was critical if these courses could be rolled out, online for early April.
According to Julie Kilmartin- this is simply a mammoth task. We have so many courses on offer and to record professionally in a very limited period is going to be incredibly demanding. However, we are delighted with our progress and we are on target. I have to pay tribute to our Amazing Team of Teachers and Wendigo Medial from Limerick. We are currently recording 10 hours per day, 7 days a week. Our college in Limerick has turned into a Mini Hollywood Set!
Kilmartin Educational Services will offer a Comprehensive Revision Course Package for both Junior and Leaving Certificate students. Students will have full access to all recorded courses. These courses are ideal in this current COVID-19 crisis where students must stay at home. Now students can access Revision of Vital Exam Topics at the click of a button with the ability to Revise – Rewind- from the comfort of their home with the back up of revision notes for every course.
Julie Kilmartin is responding to the needs of Junior and Leaving Cert. students. Together in Separation where we are physically distanced and digitally connected. Julie is bringing her Amazing team of students to the homes of Irish students in April 2020.
Students can access these Packages for only €300- full access to everything recorded within Revision Course Package. Full details available at: https://www.kes.ie/easter-2020
Kilmartin Educational Services also are rolling our weekly LIVE and Pre recorded tuition classes for students in a variety of key subjects. Full details: https://www.kes.ie/onlinegrinds
Silver lining found in battle with superbugs
By Patrick Murphy, Medical Herbalist
Looking back in history, colloidal silver was the number one remedy to stop the spread of viruses. Colloidal silver is claimed to be anti-viral, anti-fungal and a great infection fighter.
Medical firms including London listed Smith & Nephew are turning to the old remedy of silver as they seek innovative ways to combat the nasties and superbugs. Silver has anti-bacterial/anti-viral properties and is often a critical element in bandages used to treat surgical wounds. I am pleased to report an in vitro laboratory study conducted by Smith & Nephew indicated that a silver coated dressing could kill anti-biotic resistant superbugs. The product is already on the market as a dressing for burns.
In my humble opinion, bacteria and viruses have great difficulty in developing immunity to silver because the silver breaks down cell walls and interferes obviously with their respiration and reproduction.
Before World War 2, the most powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal substance known to medicine was colloidal silver, or small parts of silver, colloidal in size, suspended in distilled water. It was effective against more than 650 different illness-causing bacteria, viruses or fungi. In fact, these days it has been used aggressively to coat vital hospital equipment.
Michael Dirienzo, executive director of the Silver Institute said today’s advances in technology have enabled medical equipment producers to introduce silver coated instruments for use in treating patients, eliminating on contact, every bacterial, fungal and viral exposure [June, 2013].
Colloidal silver can be used in the home for wound disinfecting, mouth-wash, hand disinfecting, spray on cutting boards, counters etc. Disinfect your toilet, shower and bath with colloidal silver. Children all too often put toys in their mouths. Spray the toys with the silver solution.
I am a Medical Herbalist based in Tuam, Co Galway and market top-class colloidal silver. You can purchase my colloidal silver online by going to www.skinherbalist.com or phone 093 27033.
This article is for educational purposes only. Patrick Murphy makes NO medical claims.
ALT AR ‘COLLOIDAL SILVER
le Patrick Murphy, Luibheolaí
Fadó, bhí ‘airgead’ nó ‘silver’ as Béarls, ar ceann de na príomh eilimintí nádúrtha ar fail chun cosaint ó víris, baictéir agus fungais.
Roimh an Dara Cogadh Domhanda bhí sé ar ceann de na frith-vireas, frith-baictéir agus frith-fungais is cumhachtaí agus éifeachtach a bhí ann.
Tá gnéithe nádúrtha san eilimint ‘airgid’ agus tá sé cruthaithe mar díghalraigh chun troda go tréan in aghaidh na víris, baictéir agus fungais éagsúla.
Úsáidtear ‘airgead’ nó ‘silver’ i gcónaí san ospidéal mar sciath ag clúdach na h-uirlisí tábhachtacha leighis. Leis an dul chun cinn i teicneolaíochta le blianta anuas tá sé á úsáid chun cuidiú le lucht táirgeadh uirlisí leighis freisin.
Is féidir ‘colloidal silver’, atá déanta as ‘airgead agus uisce driogtha, a úsáid mar chosaint sa bhaile. Cuir i gcás ar ghoinn, ar lámha (mar díghalraigh), ag ullumhú bia, sa seomraí folcadh agus sa leithreas. Is iomaí uair, mar shampla, a chuireann páistí a bréagáin ina béil. Cuir ‘colloidal silver’ ar na bréagáin chun cosaint in aghaidh ionfhabhtú.
Tá an Luibheolaí cáiliúila, Patrick Murphy, ag táirgeadh ‘colloidal silver’ agus tá sé ar fáil uaidh.
D’fhólaigm Patrick faoin eilimint ‘colloidal silver’ agus módhanna déantar é breis is 30 bliain ó shin. Fuair sé an t-eolas faoi ón Dr Keith Courtney, saineolaí cáiliúila domhanda ar ‘colloidal silver’.
Tá Patrick le teagmháil ar 093 27033, nó ar www.skinherbalist.com
All set for the surge
The heroes of Galway’s health system are redoubling preparation efforts for the expected ‘Covid-19 surge’ by adding new beds, more staff and life-saving ventilators to treat more virus-hit patients.
And while doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are ‘flat out’ on the frontline saving lives, their colleagues in several state agencies and organisations have joined forces to ramp-up testing for coronavirus at new centres across the city and county to clear a backlog of tests.
The head of Galway’s public hospitals group, Saolta, has moved to assure the public that the system locally is coping with increased presentations and admissions of Covid19 patients – and ‘escalation’ plans involving the city’s two private hospitals are at an advanced stage.
Dr Pat Nash, Chief Clinical Director of the Saolta Group and consultant cardiologist at Galway University Hospital, also praised front-line staff in the local health system, and he urged the public to reduce social contacts to slow the rate of transmission so ‘we can manage the expected surge’.
He said UHG would take the bulk of Galway’s Covid-19 cases and so far has sufficient capacity but is being reconfigured to add extra beds and Intensive Care Unit facilities. If UHG reaches capacity, the secondary escalation plan is to use Merlin Park and Galway’s two private hospitals, Bons Secours and Galway Clinic.
Only essential surgeries, such as emergencies, cancer, or heart disease such as bypasses, are taking place at Portiuncula in Ballinasloe and UHG.
See full story – and 18 pages on Galway’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops today. You can also buy a digital edition online from www.connachttribune.ie or have a paper included with your supermarket shop delivery.